Tuesday, December 13, 2011

ECHO Farm Global Conference

Last week, I had the pleasure of volunteering at ECHO, a non-profit organization whose vision is Honoring God through Sustainable Hunger Solutions. ECHO's mission is to equip people with resources and skills to reduce hunger and improve the lives of the poor.

ECHO is an amazing organization, and an amazing resource. The research facility is located in North Fort Myers, Florida. There they have a working farm, a seed bank, library, tropical nursery, and bookstore. ECHO provides training and technical assistance in the areas of agriculture, community organization and empowerment, and how organizations can work with the poor in underdeveloped areas to most appropriately meet the nutritional needs of the communities they serve.
Last week was ECHO's annual Global Agricultural Conference. Click here for more information about the conference and an overview of the speakers and topics presented. It looked like a really, really neat conference. This stuff is right up my alley. Although my background is in Public Health, not agriculture, many of the strategies for empowering communities and planning and evaluating programs is the same. In addition, agriculture, in the countries and communities that ECHO serves, is directly related to nutrition, which is Public Health. ECHO's agricultural work impacts healthy communities, maternal and child health, and disease prevention.
My role as a volunteer was to help prepare and serve lunch. I helped with salads- how appropriate! Haha- that was not planned, that's just how it worked out. At first, I was a little disappointed to see that the salads started with huge commercial size bagged salad mix, considering we were literally standing in the middle of acres of food, at an organization that teaches people how to grow their own food. But never fear, the salads were completely redeemed- to the base of salad mix (we were feeding 200 people, after all) we added lots of yummy edibles right from the ECHO farm- plenty of avocados, katuk, chaya, and, of course, moringa (if Kristi is reading this, I'm sure she's grinning). ECHO uses moringa for everything. Also available from ECHO farm produce: Tangerines, Fresh lemonade made from Meyer lemons, Lemonade made from Meyer lemons and red lime, and calamondon juice. One of the volunteers also made a jam from the pods of a cranberry hibiscus- which Joan and I actually have growing in the back yard. Sometimes I will add the hibiscus leaves to a smoothie or a salad, but I wasn't sure what else we could do with it. It was neat to learn that we could make a jam (I tasted it, it was good). The rest of the lunch was standard feed-large-numbers-of people fare: pasta in tomato sauce (with or without meat), garlic bread, rolls, fresh pears, apples, soft drinks and water. The food was donated by a local church.
Calamondin juice (I tried it, it was yummy) Those are calamondins on top of the cooler.
Everything is recycled or composted
Closer view of the "please compost" signs (click for larger image)
We might be able to grow bananas and papayas, but we don't grow apples : )
Ed, this photo is for you : ) 
There were hands-on sessions after lunch, and my role was to sit at the information table at the entrance to the farm and help point people in the right direction to find the sessions they were looking for. I noticed some of the afternoon sessions covered grafting, cooking ECHO edibles, and low-technology irrigation. Some sessions were offered in French for the Haitian and African delegates in attendance. I heard many languages spoken throughout the day, and lost count of how many different countries I saw printed on attendees' name badges.
Sitting under the papaya tree
Not only was it a beautiful day to be outside, and a worthwhile organization to which to donate my time, but I got to meet other ECHO volunteers who were simply amazing people. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this day- being at the farm, feeling like I helped with something worthwhile, and meeting other kind, wonderful people with similar interests in food and faith. It was a beautiful day in a very deep sense of that word, and I was honored to play a small part in it.
A few of the reference books available for purchase. Topics included everything from fruits and vegetables, to llamas, chickens, and goats; even program evaluation and public health.
Bananas on the tree!
This is not the Cavendish variety you find in your local grocery store.
I sincerely look forward to volunteering again at ECHO. If you live in or visit the Southwest Florida area, I would highly recommend that you visit the farm. They have farm tours at 10am and 2pm each day except Sunday, and an annual Farm Day event in March.


  1. i WAS smiling! so, you remember moringa muffins and pancakes and side dishes and... my dad loved that place and so do i.

    actually, the moringa tree is still growing (very tall) so I can get you some leaves/seeds if you're interested... well, yes you can get them at echo, but these'd be free...

  2. I DO remember- but I don't think I had any idea what that meant at the time : ) I'll ask my landlord about the seeds. Thanks! Which reminds me, our herb garden needs some serious TLC right now...