“I’m thrilled,” remarked Danielle Flood, Communications Director for ECHO, of the response to the first day of the ECHO Global Food and Farm Festival. This is the first year ECHO has chosen to expand the popular festival to two days.
The goal of the festival is to teach attendees to focus on sustainable living, agriculture, and food. ECHO’s overall mission is to end world hunger and poverty globally.
“Saturday has been successful for many years,” Flood said, “but we don’t have a lot more parking and space on Saturday to share with different audiences and different people. So, we decided to expand to Friday. The topic-specific workshops seem to be very popular. So we’re thankful for the community support. Because everything we do here at this festival is to be educational but also to promote being a part of ending world hunger.
“One group that was working on their backyards specific to local foods and things that they can add to their diet. And then, another group had a goal to learn what kinds of herbs you can buy at the grocery store or farmers market to add to your beverages. It’s still the educational aspect of it that we love.”
What started as a small farm in 1981, is now a major international organization with a large staff of workers and volunteers at the North Fort Myers location.
“We have about 40 staff at this property,” Flood noted. “We have also 800 volunteers a year. They help us in the gardens. They work in the offices. They fold brochures. They mail things.
“All of those things work together to accomplish ECHO’s vision around the world. We have offices in Thailand, Tanzania and Burkina Faso. So we’re able to train people with the same hands-on knowledge. It’s not for fun, so much, it’s for survival. We equip small-scale farmers with the ability to survive, to provide for their families, to take their plants to market more effectively. Then to improve their livelihood forever. Knowledge is something that can’t be taken away.”
It was never ECHO’s plan to be a tourist attraction. It just happened.
“We’re an accidental tourist attraction,” Flood explained. “We didn’t start out giving tours. But people would stop by and say, ‘Could you show me what you’re doing?’ Our founder saw the value of sharing the mission with people. He started by saying, ‘Come by Friday at 10 and I’ll give all of you a tour together.’ When I started, they began charging for tours to see if it would lessen the amount of free tours we gave—and the number of tours doubled.
“Now about 10,000 people per year come on a tour of ECHO and we get to share with them our mission of ending hunger and poverty globally. And share with them the gardens. And show them how they can have a more nutritious and healthy lifestyle and to share that around the world.”
There were actually co-founders of ECHO.
“It was kind of a combined effort,” stated Flood. “Dick Dugger, a businessman in the 1970s took a group of kids to Haiti on a trip. He really saw poverty for the first time. So he came back to Indiana and thought, ‘How can I be part of making a difference? This is bigger than I ever thought.’ So he started as a convener, he brought people together to overcome some of these challenges.”
Dugger worked with Dr. Martin Price to found ECHO. Price had a degree in botany and chemistry and was a chemist. He had a deep passion to use science and technology to help the poor. So, his passion, combined with convener Dugger, was the combination that started ECHO.
ECHO works by sharing knowledge and an extensive seed bank with impoverished people around the world. They also share practical applications. Flood recalled a specific instance when ECHO solved a dire nutritional problem.
Flood shared a story over how ECHO works. “In 1981, Dr. Martin Price moved to this property from Ohio. He had never worked in Florida before, but he started gardening here and sharing things that he had learned from development workers and missionaries from around the world. At that point, there was no internet. No technology sharing. The development worker would say, ‘We have a nutritional issue in my clinic. I can treat them with medical tools all I want, but it’s not making them any better. How can I improve their nutrition?’ Dr. Price would write back and say the mooring tree has good nutrients. It’s high in vitamins. If people eat that leaf more it will supplement their nutrition.
“The Doctor found it in their hospital compound but said no one would eat it, because in their culture only animals eat grass. It was considered culturally taboo. Then Dr. Price wrote back and told them to dry it with a solar dehydrator, then pound it into a powder and administrate it as medicine. Have them take the powder three times a day with their meals. They saw a tremendous improvement in their nutrition. So he was able to share where it came from. He showed them they could make their own medicine. He showed them how to re-introduce a crop that had historically been part of their cultural history. As a development worker, he was able to learn this from ECHO and share it. So that’s an example of how we work. How we connect with the people who are there and already know the culture.”