Around the World in Two Hours: A Look Inside an ECHO Tour

A rooster crows within the fencing of a coop near the community garden. Inside the coop, hens lay eggs which are collected by interns and sold to ECHO staff members.

A rooster crows within the fencing of a coop near the community garden. Inside the coop, hens lay eggs which are collected by interns and sold to ECHO staff members.

A Look Inside an ECHO Tour

By Zach Walker

The leaves tasted like mashed peas and the berries like cotton candy. Even the little girl who kept begging to be picked up by her mom scurried around the tour guide to get a taste.

The college student asked questions about planting procedures while the missionary took pictures of an outhouse and then used it. The girl with mud in her sandals talked to the pigs.

There are abundant reasons to care about hunger and malnutrition around the world. The Bible commands it, our humanity demands it. For us, it’s a profound privilege.
— David Erickson, President/CEO

ECHO offers summer tours of its global farm three times every week. Guests arrive at 9:30 on Tuesday, Friday, or Saturday to learn about the tropical produce, agriculture practices, and mission of equipping the world with knowledge through two-hours of walking. Tours are also offered December through April on a more frequent basis.

Four fans whirled in tandem to offer air-conditioned comfort before the group ventured into the forest. Lines of plastic chairs faced a projector screen while Matt Cunningham, the tour guide, welcomed each new guest.

With a tap of his laptop trackpad, Matt introduced the group to ECHO’s global mission through a video that began showing the impacts of international research and training.

The screen projected animations of ECHO’s process with simple cartoon farmers and visual aides representing global impact. 

A family from Tanzania was shown as an example of sustainable farming practices such as sack gardens and biogas stoves. To conclude, ECHO CEO David Erickson appeared on screen to speak about the mission.

“There are abundant reasons to care about hunger and malnutrition around the world,” Erickson said. “The Bible commands it, our humanity demands it. For us, it’s a profound privilege.” 

Matt Cunningham explains the reasons behind ECHO’s mission to his tour group. ECHO serves an average of 167 countries every month by equipping farmers with knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices.

Matt Cunningham explains the reasons behind ECHO’s mission to his tour group. ECHO serves an average of 167 countries every month by equipping farmers with knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices.

Matt led the way swinging his 32 oz. metal water bottle around his fingers. The group crossed the road and entered a different world. A world of chirping cicadas and mango trees. Of rainforests and mountains and humid lowlands. 

A mango hangs from a tree near the start of the tour path. Mango trees are plentiful at ECHO and line many paths on the farm.

A mango hangs from a tree near the start of the tour path. Mango trees are plentiful at ECHO and line many paths on the farm.

The group halted whenever a large white sign came into focus. Each one announced a reason as to why ECHO’s mission matters.

“75% of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and 5 animals species,” one sign read.

“There are close to one billion people living in hunger the world world today.”

“A child dies from hunger-related causes every 12 seconds.”

Guests asked Matt to identify fruits and explain why that papaya didn’t look like the papayas in their backyard. The little girl pointed at the tree while her mom smiled and listened. 

Banana trees and palm fronds passed on each side of the dirt path as the group traveled to the hot humid lowlands. One of seven distinct environments on the ECHO campus, the lowlands mimics the agricultural conditions of humid countries like Thailand and the Philippines. 

Billy Arthur, the lowlands intern, trims tomato plants near the tropical highlands mountain. The seven sections of the farm border each other but mimic each environment individually.

Billy Arthur, the lowlands intern, trims tomato plants near the tropical highlands mountain. The seven sections of the farm border each other but mimic each environment individually.

Matt pointed to a rice paddy cultivated using the system of rice intensification, or SRI. A bamboo shack stood in the trees to the right.

The path snaked through a field lined with pineapples where an intern was clipping tomato plants. Matt reached up toward his favorite plant on the farm, the caimito tree. The golden undersides of the leaves shimmered in the afternoon sun.

A man-made mountain towered over the group, the cornerstone of the tropical highlands area built to match the conditions of the sloped farms found in hilly countries like Lesotho and Honduras. A woman snapped close-up iPhone photos of the same leaves and stems used by highland farmers to stay alive.

Hawken Sawyer, the semi-arid intern, mixes cow manure with water to create biogas. The gas is then fed underground to a burner where tour guests can observe the resulting flame, a demonstration of biogas utility in villages across the world.

Hawken Sawyer, the semi-arid intern, mixes cow manure with water to create biogas. The gas is then fed underground to a burner where tour guests can observe the resulting flame, a demonstration of biogas utility in villages across the world.

An intern pulled a wooden rod caked with liquid manure from a plastic drum. He explained the process of making biogas, a renewable fuel made from animal waste and water that can provide heating needs to low-income families in Africa. Matt lit a burner and produced a hot blue flame fueled solely by biogas.

Goat bleats and pig snorts accompanied the slight smell of manure in the air as the group departed the biogas area and approached the urban gardens, Matt’s speciality, which are designed to test plant performance in areas without open farmland. Rabbits chewed on banana leaves while plants sprouted from tires and kiddie pools. Green stems and colorful flowers contrasted with concrete.

After the urban gardens, Matt walked toward the end of the tour. A few more edible plant samples and explanations of the work being done overseas were given before reaching the final destination.

One more sign stood within a riot of branches and leaves. Two children forever smiling on the white plastic beside the words “Do You See What’s Possible?”. Matt encouraged the mother and child and the sandal girl and the missionary and the rest of the group to become part of ECHO’s efforts by volunteering or giving financially. Heads nodded and smiles spread.

“Thank you all,” Matt said. “Have a great rest of your day.”

You, too, can be part of ECHO’s mission of empowering the world with knowledge and escaping the grips of hunger. Sign up for our monthly newsletter, make a financial contribution, or simply learn more through our website. We hope you consider coming along for the journey.  

Propagating Purple Sweet Potatoes

It is a gorgeous late Spring day on ECHO’s farm this morning! Today, our talented Propagation Manager shows us how to propagate some beautiful, purple sweet potato cuttings.  We utilized “soft-wood cuttings,” a type of cutting that is perfect for growing sweet potatoes. It is easy, efficient, and incredibly sustainable. If you have access to a particular sweet potato variety, you may want to hold onto it and grow it! Currently, ECHO has about 9 varieties of sweet potato on the farm—all of which have different qualities.

A mature sweet potato plant is flowering in the morning sun. Planted on ECHO’s research farm in Fort Myers, Florida.

A mature sweet potato plant is flowering in the morning sun. Planted on ECHO’s research farm in Fort Myers, Florida.

Before we begin the propagation process, ensure all of the materials you need are in front of you:

  • One (or a few) plastic planters

  • Compost/soil mixture

  • cutting shears

  • isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle (used to sterilize the shears before cutting)

  • 1 paper marker, to mark the date & variety of cuttings

  • 1/4 cup of fertilizer

Start by filling your planter(s) with a well-drained soil. For today’s propagation, we used a combination of sand, bark chips, and compost. The bark and sand help excess water drain off, while the compost holds onto the necessary amounts of water—keeping the balance perfect for dry and wet. Our propagation manager recommends NOT using fertilizer pre-mixed in this mix, because there are specific times when a grower would want to use that in the growing process.

The soil used for the propagation of purple sweet potatoes is a combination: sand, bark chips, & compost.

The soil used for the propagation of purple sweet potatoes is a combination: sand, bark chips, & compost.

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Our propagation manager proceeds to sprinkle about 1/4 cup of fertilizer around the perimeter of the pot, and afterwards, evenly distributed another layer of soil on top to cover it.

When your planter is full, you can proceed by sterilizing your cutting shears with your alcohol spray. This crucial step ensures fungi and bacteria are not passed from one plant, to another.

Ensure your shears are completely sterilized by spraying both sides completely with the isopropyl alcohol.

Ensure your shears are completely sterilized by spraying both sides completely with the isopropyl alcohol.

Next, begin to make cuttings from a current growing plant—you can see below, our propagation manager snipping a vine off a young purple potato plant.

From here, she cuts a few stems off of the vine. Make sure to choose ones with small growths—this is a good indicator if a thriving, strong plant (see below)

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When the stems are trimmed off, you can start to cut off most of the leaves, we left about 3 or so on the stem, and then cut them in half (see below).

Leaves can be compared to solar panels—they feed the plant, but also pull moisture from the soil. In order to reduce transpiration, the key is to reduce the number of leaves.

Place your final cuttings into your planter.

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The cuttings need water but not saturation: make sure to wet the soil and cuttings with a shower-like water pressure and keep the soil moist. The cuttings don’t have roots yet, and can’t pull enough moisture out of the soil, if you over water them, they will rot instead of flourish. Treat your cuttings as if they are recovering from surgery, you wouldn’t want it exposed to direct hot sunlight, or drenched in a ton of water; think of a more controlled environment.

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If you have access to a green house, you can place your planter towards the middle of the floor—away from the sun and elements that the plant would have been exposed to, if it were placed directly to one side. Greenhouses receive about 50% shade, so placing it in the middle, ensures your cuttings receive 50% sunlight as well. Once your cuttings start growing new leaves, then you can move them to full sun. Luckily, sweet potatoes can handle either sun or shade really well.

If you don’t have access to a greenhouse, place your planter in a slightly shadier spot, away from full direct sunlight.

Be sure to label everything you do and record any information you would want to keep for future reference. This is essential when propagating several cuttings in separate planters.

 As the grower, you can control what a specific cutting needs—some things need a ton of drainage, some things need more rich soil. However, each plant and environment is different. Research what plants flourish the best in your area—and from there you can determine what cutting technique is most efficient for the plant you want to grow.

One of the greatest aspects of propagation, comes from the ability to sustainably grow more crops in less time, compared to the amount of time needed to grow your crop from seeds.

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Picture taken 2 weeks following propagation.

ECHO has been using this propagation technique for decades, all across the globe. It is a vital practice for several third-world farmers and their families, who struggle to effectively grow food in challenging conditions; whether that be poor soil, droughts, lack of usable seeds, etc. ECHO’s mission involves not only solving hunger problems, but also the promotion of sustainable farming techniques; by introducing nutritional plants, and appropriate, reliable technology. The steps are well-tested and proven to be successful throughout various environments around the globe—from our research farm—all the way to Asia—these techniques give us all the opportunity to learn, grow, and become anew.

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sweet potato 4 weeks.JPG
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Pictures taken 4 weeks following propagation.

Summer Deals for Families at ECHO's Global Farm

FORT MYERS, Fla. (May 22, 2019) – This summer the ECHO Global Farm is offering special tour rates for families. Bring your entire family for a maximum cost of $30. Applies to parents of, and accompanying, children under 18 years of age. OR, from June 1 through July 31, visitors may bring a child, 12 years old or younger, for free. One child will be admitted free per one paid adult tour ticket when you mention this promotion.

On June 15 & July 20th, join us for a the third annual Family Fun Farm Tours! These tours are especially designed for families with kids ages 5-12. Families will participate in activities that teach how all the resources in the world are shared, and what amount of the earth's surface is usable for food production. Special discussion questions will help you contextualize world poverty and food security in ways your child will understand, making your family a stronger force for good in the world. Space is limited. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling 239.567.3301

Or, join us at 10am on the first Saturday of each month for the Summer Garden Workshop Series! This event is free! Find more information here.

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ECHO's Global Farm Tour is a fascinating guided, walking tour of the most creative working farm you have ever experienced. Along the way you will find unique demonstrations, plants, and techniques useful to farmers and urban gardeners in developing countries.

Experience the seven settings of the Global Farm which feature crops, techniques, and animals from around the world. Goats, chickens, ducks, fish and rabbits are all found on our farm; and ECHO is home to one of the largest collections of tropical food plants in the United States.

You won't want to miss the demonstrations in our Urban Garden, a perennial favorite, which features some wacky, yet effective ways to grow crops where there is little or no soil.

After the tour, stop by our global nursery and take home some of the tasty edibles that you sampled on your tour. While supplies last, papaya plants are 20% off and and strawberries are 25% off.

Our Global bookstore features hundreds of fair trade items, books, gifts, honey, and much more.

Visit the market garden on Friday mornings for in-season local produce!

Visit the market garden on Friday mornings for in-season local produce!

ECHO Global Farm Tours are offered Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at 9:30 am.

For tour times and additional information, visit the website at www.echonet.org or call 239-543-3246

A Day in the Life of an ECHO Intern

Interns have been a long-standing legacy at ECHO.
— Maddie Christy

From the moment one arrives to ECHO’s Global Farm, you discover that the interns are an integral part of ECHO’s mission. However, many wonder: What do the interns actually do? What role do they play at ECHO? What do their lives look like during their 14 months here?

Interns have been a “long-standing legacy at ECHO,” according to the Florida farm’s storytelling intern, Maddie Christy.

In the early stages of the organization, ECHO’s founding CEO, Dr. Martin Price, hired a recent college graduate who was intrigued with international development to serve for one year as an intern.

The internship was meant to give recent graduates a chance to get hands-on experience, and become well-equipped in agriculture, before entering the mission field. To no surprise, the internship was a success! ECHO added two new interns in 1985, and by 1989, ECHO had acquired six interns on their staff.

Pictured above: ECHO interns working on Global Farm

Pictured above: ECHO interns working on Global Farm

The internship program has been thriving ever since, now hosting 8 interns at a time. This Spring in 2019, ECHO welcomed their 257th intern onto the staff! In an attempt to capture the daily life of an ECHO intern, Maddie Christy, our storyteller, gives us the closest inside scoop thus far, about what goes on in a typical day on ECHO’s Global Farm, in the eyes of Elizabeth Casey—an ECHO intern

This Spring in 2019, ECHO welcomed their 257th intern onto the staff!
A Day in the Life of our ECHO interns!

A Day in the Life of our ECHO interns!

THURSDAY

7:20AM

Most interns are scrambling around the house getting ready for the day. Some reach for tea, coffee, or just a few mangoes. Elizabeth settles for some scrambled eggs—fresh from the chickens on the farm!

7:30 AM

The first important meeting of the day is just a few feet outside the front door, in the courtyard between the intern homes. Everyone gathers closely together to listen for important reminders for the day, plan for lunch, and most importantly, take time to pray and reflect before conquering a long day.

8:00 AM

The meeting ends, and the interns routinely split off to fulfill their morning duties. Elizabeth’s first stop is to re-check and record the total rainfall for each day. Elizabeth is referred to specifically, as the “monsoon intern.” In other words, it is her responsibility to track the water the Farm collects each day, and let others know the total so they can account for it in their work.

Heading off the the main chicken coop, Elizabeth opens the main latch to release the chickens inside. They will stay out for most of the day, only returning to the coop when Elizabeth approaches with feed.

Onwards toward the other side of the Farm, Elizabeth heads straight to duck and tilapia pond. She allows the ducks to scurry out before shutting the door behind them. Here, she rinses off the deck and collects any eggs the ducks may have laid the day before. After this is done, she fills the feeder with plenty of food and watches as the ducks hurry back in to devour their breakfast.

9:00 AM

With most of the morning side-work complete, Elizabeth is now free to focus on her individual tasks for the rest of the morning. These tasks often include weeding, planting, or completing a project. Interns are also able to request help of ECHO volunteers during this morning time slot! On this day, Elizabeth had the goal of working on her raised garden beds and requested an extra set of hands. Moments later, three highly motivated volunteers joined us for the “morning in the monsoon.”

The specific tasks including weeding, composting, and mulching four of her raised beds. After countless trips to the compost and mulch piles, water breaks, and one interruption to go catch escaping chickens, our work was finally completed by noon. What would have normally taken Elizabeth a week to do on her own, was easily checked off the list in one morning. Not to mention, group work always makes it more fun!

12:00 PM

The daily lunch plans tend to change, but today there was a special intern lunch gathering. The male interns hosted everyone in their home. Gabe, the urban garden intern, prepared a homemade stew, served with a side of mangoes. As the host, Gabe also prepared an inclusive activity for some group reflection and manifestations. With the addition of two new interns earlier that week, the group utilized this time to share new ideas and goals of what they hope to accomplish together. It was a sweet and tender moment of casting vision for the upcoming months, and the future work in which they are preparing for.

Pictured above: Interns attending their afternoon meeting—lead by farm manager, Andy Cotarelo.

Pictured above: Interns attending their afternoon meeting—lead by farm manager, Andy Cotarelo.

3:00 PM

As the mid-afternoon sun falls lower in the sky, the interns return to group farm work. At 3:00 p.m. exactly, staff, interns, and volunteers integrate for a brief meeting to divide and conquer responsibilities. This afternoon was set aside for smaller, more specific projects around the farm, assigned by farm manager: Andy Cotarelo.

The best thing is, not one afternoon is ever the same. Monday and Wednesday afternoons are reserved for seminars. Interns are merged into a classroom, with a hands-on environment—to learn about vital agricultural information. ECHO’s recent intern seminars have covered a wide variety of topics including: mangoes, beekeeping, bamboo harvesting, and the Biblical basis for ECHO.

Tuesday and Friday afternoons are reserved to work in either the seed bank or propagation. Each intern is assigned to one of these duties for the duration of their internship.

This leaves Thursdays available during the week for ECHO interns and volunteers to join together and complete whatever projects on the farm that could use some extra attention and work.

3:30 PM

As far as farm work, this week Elizabeth teamed up with Feo, the rainforest intern, to overcome a mulching project near the urban garden area. This mulching project quickly became an irrigation problem! To solve it, we began to clear the two main areas of weeds and overgrown greenery with hoes and rakes. Prior to burying the mulch to prevent weeds, we checked to make sure the irrigation in that area was functioning properly- which it was not.

We found a few leaks along the pipe and made repairs before completing the mulching. After confirming with the Farm Manager and multiple trips to the shop, Feo was able to demonstrate how to repair the holes. We polished off the job by dumping and spreading mulch all over both areas.

6:00 PM

The sun sinks lower in the sky as the interns wrap up for the day. Everyone takes careful time to clean, and organize the farm’s tools and golf carts. They are returned to the shop so they are ready to go for tomorrow. Some interns hurried off to their own evening commitments—dinner, bible study, gardening, a pickup volleyball game, or some volunteering.

8:45pm

Elizabeth’s final task of the day was to feed and cage her chickens, similar to the chores we completed that same morning. With her work boots back on and her headlamp to guide the way, we ventured into the dark farm. The mature chickens were far easier to interact with—they even perched themselves for the night inside their coop. We shut the door and admired the beauty, just for a sweet moment.

Treading towards the young chickens, we detoured to the the laying box to pick up a few eggs from the day! We arrived at the teenage chicken’s coop to find that some had gotten out through a small crack again. We returned them to the enclosure, before coaxing the whole group into the left side of the structure for safekeeping from critters overnight. And lastly, the ducks had one more feeding before the hatch closed them in for the night.

9:30pm

It’s now officially the end of the day. Most interns have retired to their respective houses for the night. After a long day of hands-on work in the sun, interns tend to head to bed as soon as they can. Often interns joke about “missionary midnight” which comes at about 9 p.m; signaling the end of the day in the life of an intern.

My ECHO Experience Explained:

I loved following Elizabeth around for the day. I got a tangible sense of what the everyday life of an intern is like. They work in the tropical heat in Florida. Most of their time for 14 months is centered around the farm. But their work has purpose, and there is joy in it. These interns are the backbone of ECHO. The work the interns put in reaps a bountiful harvest— for ECHO, and for the communities the interns are preparing to work alongside. These interns are ECHO’s trainers, partners, and network members. They are quite literally training to be sent out as the hands and feet of Jesus and to be manifestations of the knowledge of the ECHO network. The interns are crucial to ECHO’s mission and have a beautiful role in the work of the Kingdom.

That’s a big deal.