Like many people in this slumping economy we’re staying close to home. We remind ourselves that people come here to enjoy our beaches, our tropical weather, and our wildlife. So we check out the tourist brochures, enjoy the side trips, and try to see things with fresh eyes.
That’s how we stumbled upon a national treasure; take that back–a global treasure. If you’ve heard about ECHO (Educational Concerns (for) Hunger Organization), you know what I mean. “Wow!” was all I could manage the first time I visited this incredible place.
On my second visit, I was so excited I felt like shouting “Wake up America–here lies the answer to world hunger!”
I longed to tell ECHO’s amazing story, but how could I do it in 1200 words or less? How do you eat an elephant? You keep it simple. So come with me on the most remarkable journey of my life.
Twenty-five minutes north of Fort Myers on I-75, and then a right turn on exit 143 to Bayshore Road (route 78), we are greeted by a sign welcoming us to ECHO Global Farm and Nursery. A short left down Durrance Road, and we arrive at the white frame visitor center an unpretentious building with a gravel parking lot. We enter from a country porch that serves as a “sample-and-taste” area for the tropical fruits and vegetables grown on ECHO’s 52 acres.
Inside, a seed shop and book store peaks our curiosity. Saving the shopping for last, we pay our admission fee: adults $8, children under 12 free. Each year, over 9,000 tourists enjoy ECHO’s guided tours; moneys from these ventures amount to less than 25% of ECHO’s income and goes back into the ministry to serve the poor and for the Glory of God.
ECHO receives NO government funding and depends solely on hundreds of volunteers and generous donations. A volunteer greets us and directs us to a small auditorium where another volunteer presents an overview. Afterward, a ten minute film explains ECHO’s history and mission. From that point on, we are hooked.
In 1981 Co-Founder Dr. Martin Price traveled to Haiti to learn about a “miracle tree” called the maringa. Indigenous to the Philippines, the maringa tree has unique restorative and nutritional powers. “Mothers who were malnourished,” Price noted, “began lactating again after eating the maringa leaves. Children with distended stomachs were running and playing after only three months on a maringa diet.”
Thanks to Price, the maringa is recognized as one of the most nutritious vegetables in the world, and has become the most respected and requested seed and plant species at ECHO. The starvation and poverty that Price witnessed in Haiti became the impetus for the founding of ECHO and its vision for the future.
ECHO’s mission is lofty: “a ministry to bring glory to God and a blessing to mankind by using science and technology to help the poor.” For 28 years ECHO has worked to bring this mission to fruition. Why have corporations and governments failed to solve the canker of world hunger: because they simply throw money at the problem and then walk away.
ECHO is people driven not power and profit driven. They are an inter-denominational Christian organization that serves over 180 developing countries worldwide, and 3400 mission organizations. They don’t just feed the poor. They teach them the skills they need to grow their own food; foods that will thrive and survive in their own unique part of the world.
These global growing areas are represented on our tour. As we walk from one miniature setting to another, our guide explains the soil type, elevation, and rainfall of each specific climate. These global areas become a “living classroom” giving us a chance to see vegetation and typical growing conditions in each climate. For a few moments, we are able to see, sniff, taste, and experience the conditions that exist around the world.
The ECHO farm provides education and training for “community development workers, missionaries, volunteers, and interns who take their hands-on agricultural experience on overseas assignments. This process of ‘training the trainer’ has proven to effectively empower the poor with solutions of HOPE.” Past ECHO interns are now helping earthquake victims in Haiti, and I suspect Chile, to get back on their feet.
The newest addition to ECHO is the Technical area. Here interns and employees devise systems for smokeless cooking and power. Solar panels made from foil, plastics, and wood frames are used to support cell phones and computers.
Alternative fuel sources are being developed that help poor families save money and improve their health and standard of living. A simple bio-gas fuel system uses cow manure and water in a recycled 55-gallon drum to produce methane gas; “enough to cook two meals a day for an entire family for up to four months!”
As we move into the Tropical rain forest area, a watering pump is demonstrated. The pump was designed from materials that a developing country might have on hand. A young boy in our group jumps on board and begins pumping with his feet. The water moves from an overhead tank, through a hose, and into an adjoining garden row.
The urban gardens are next. What do you do when you don’t have land space? You grow food on the roof. Small gardens are made from kiddy wading pools and rubber tires. These mini-gardens require very little soil. Carpet on the bottom keeps the soil moist. Empty pop cans on the top keep the plants upright. A drip system waters the plants with minimal water. Good things to know should a food shortage ever occur in our own country.
ECHO takes pride in their seed bank. Many of the seeds are grown on the ECHO farm. There are over 350 varieties of vegetables, multi-purpose trees, fruits, and other crops that have the potential for producing under extreme conditions. Each year, ECHO “sends free trial packets to overseas leaders who report back on their performance and community acceptance of the plants. In some cases, a pack of ten seeds has multiplied into thousands of plants,” and have, in some cases, introduced a new crop.
On tour, we see live maringa trees. The trees are kept short so families can easily harvest the leaves. In a dry powdered state, the leaves contain 27% protein, 38% carbohydrate and 19% fiber. We sample the fine green leaves which taste like water cress, having a light peppery taste. Fresh maringa leaves can be cooked or used in salads. The roots and the seeds have vital uses. The entire tree is edible.
We learn that every 16 seconds a child in a third world country dies from drinking polluted or contaminated water. The maringa tree has the cure. One crushed maringa seed can purify a bottle of water in about 90 minutes. The remaining 10% can be purified by leaving the bottle in the hot sun for another 30 minutes. One seed per bottle multiplied many times over can save a lot of lives.
Neam is another tree that Dr. Price discovered in his travels. The leaves contain an anti–bacterial oil that can be used for psoriasis or other skin ailments besides keeping mosquitoes and bugs away. The locals use neam twigs as a toothbrush and make toothpaste from the leaves. Their white teeth and lack of cavities indicated to Price that this was a tree ECHO should grow and share with other poor countries.
There is so much more to learn. We’ve only brushed the surface. Because of what ECHO does, lives around the world are made better, richer, and healthier.
Check out their web site: http://www.echonet.org/
Better yet, plan a trip to ECHO and take the tour yourself. You won’t be disappointed.