Occasionally while driving you spot something which sparks your curiosity. So it went with the sign for Echo Global Farms I spotted in Lee County. The thought of a local farm possibly having global impact piqued my interest. I wondered what they did and how I hadn’t heard about it before. Recently, we went back to tour Echo Farms, and not only did we learn what they did and how they impact areas all around the tropics, but it was truly a moment of zen in my otherwise chaotic life.
The name Echo perfectly describes the basis on which the entire program works. Like a pebble dropped in water, the resulting rings traveling outward wider and wider. Here the pebble is a solution or successful process identified and documented and entered into a database. The information is then available to share, helping those in areas confronted by similar issues of poor economic and poor soil conditions.
What starts off as simple workable solutions, spreads to other areas in need. For some populations, this knowledge is crucial for food production and survival; successful processes, such as extending harvest periods. Instead of a two-month harvest for one type of avocado, other varieties with different maturities are planted alongside, the result is a harvest period extended from two months to nine months. Use of terracing for water conservation or planting pest resistant crops such as neem or marigold, along the outside of more sensitive insect prone crops as a solution. Testing rice in slightly drier fields to investigate increased yield. Information on successful processes are shared with others in need.
Along the tour we tasted a common Florida garden plant. It would make a great addition to any salad! We learned about the medicinal uses for the neem plant used to treat a variety of health conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema, teeth and gum ailments, or headaches. We also learned about its insect repellent properties. We learned about the moringa plant which has a high nutritional value complete with Vitamins A, C, E, iron, folate and protein. Plus, seeds of the moringa are used to purify water, reducing the particulate and bacterial content of contaminated water. It is a fast-growing multi-purpose plant which can serve the needs of many.
We toured Echo Farms on a Saturday morning. It is an amazing place! Our tour began inside with a short film and an explanation of the organization and its mission as an information hub or resource center for solutions to fight world hunger. One brochure says it equips people with the agricultural practices and techniques to reduce hunger and improve the lives of the poor. The tour demonstrates several successful farming techniques. Echo Farms was formed 35 years ago, the echo effect has grown to have volunteers and developmental workers in more than 165 countries. Through global resource centers aligned along the tropics it has impacted 5.8 million people with sustainable agricultural solutions and training where it is needed most. Echo Farms maintains a seed bank and it also provides seeds for farming and forestry. It has a digital resource library available in 30 languages and it has published books: “Amaranth to Zai Holes: Ideas for Growing Food under Difficult Conditions,” and “Edible Leaves of the Tropics and Agricultural Options for the Small‐Scale Farmer.” Not only does Echo Farms have interns visiting from other countries, but it works with colleges and universities around the world as well.
The 50-acre “demonstration” farm offers a two-hour Global Farm tour available three days per week followed by a separate Appropriate Technology Village tour. I didn’t think I’d have interest in the latter, but the technology is extremely clever hands-on solutions to everyday problems confronted by low (or no) budget farmers. It’s as interesting as the first tour and shouldn’t be missed! If you take the technology tour following the main tour, it will be half price. A plant nursery featuring some of the plants found on the tour, fruit trees and tropical vegetables is onsite and open to the public. Inside, next to a classroom, is a book/gift store with unique items for all ages and interests, many of which directly benefit the village or organization from where it came. Echo Farms is an amazing place!
Echo Farms is an international non-profit Christian organization. The highly esteemed Charity Navigator has rated Echo four stars for five years in a row. There are several gifting options available to donors as well as volunteer opportunities.
Echo Farms is located at 17391 Durrance Road, North Fort Myers, FL 33917. Check them out at www.echonet.org or call 239-543-3246. Call for admission info and times.
If you go: Take Exit 143 (Old 26) off I-75. Go one-mile east on Bayshore Road (Rt. 78). Turn left on Durrance Road at the prominent ECHO sign. Turn in at the second left to park.