We can all be a learner: A first timer's view of the ECHO Global Farm

By McKenzie Van Loh, Abby Petersen and Beret Leone

We woke to the light of morning shining through the leaves of papaya and avocado trees next to the A-Frame on ECHO’s farm. As we sauntered to the second level to toast bagels and sip coffee, the heat of a Florida November had already begun to rustle the tips of the bamboo shoots nearby. At our home, Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., the leaves are already off the trees. But at ECHO Farm, everything is alive.

    We, four students from a small journalism program, had never heard of silvopastoral systems or sustainable agroforestry. We came to ECHO as learners - and we learned. More than anything, we learned how much we don’t know about our world and those who hunger in it. We met agriculturalists from Australia, Haiti and Brazil, as well as from all over the U.S.

    For the short visit we had at the ECHO conference we had one goal: find stories and serve others by sharing these stories. We quickly came to realize our plan wasn’t so simple.

One person in particular who caught our attention introduced himself to us as Michel. Traveling from Haiti, Michel and his friend David offered to be in the video we were producing for ECHO - a small project intended to get a sense of why ECHO matters to the people it affects. Michel translated for David, who spoke Haitian Creole. We sat back in awe while the lilting tones of the Haitian language bounced back and forth through the ECHO yard. We came to serve ECHO, but the people of ECHO continually served us.

    Chatting with passerbys on the porch outside of the ECHO gift shop quickly attracted a gentlemen bearing a ‘PRESS’ lanyard; a fellow journalist. He was a sports reporter reporting for the North Fort Myers Neighbor newspaper who heard we were students and wanted to ask us a few questions. It was humbling to have the spotlight turned over to us, but helped us refocus on what ECHO is all about and what message we wanted to share. As the reporter, Chuck Ballaro, simply put; “it’s about giving a man a fish versus teaching a man how to fish.”

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After talking to several people about their experiences with ECHO, we came across one vibrant woman. She pulled aside the brown, wooden rocking chair we had been using and plopped down while she ate from a bag of popcorn in her hand. She smiled up at us struck a conversation. We asked her if we could interview her about what ECHO means to her.

“My husband and I founded ECHO,” she said with a chuckle. We spent the next twenty minutes listening and learning from Bonnie Price and the experiences she and her husband have shared.

We spent the rest of the afternoon traipsing past the sheep, being followed by the local cat and enjoying the balmy air of Fort Myers. We learned that the guacamole we ate for lunch was made from a recipe created by a neurosurgeon. We learned how to make an agroforestry joke. Mostly, we closed our mouths and learned.

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    What a blessing it is to learn. What a blessing it is to serve our fellow children of God. How humbling it is to meet the hands and feet of Christ at ECHO. 

Silvopastoral... and other words you didn't know you needed to know

ECHO International Agriculture Conference 2016 is the coolest conference ever!

Refreshing! Is that a term that normally is connected to long hours and busy days? For anyone with interest in agriculture and sustainable development, the ECHO conference fits that bill and more. 

Delegated huddle together discussing new trends in sustainable development and share both challenges and successes.

Stan Brown presents about wild fruits from Central Asia

Stan Brown presents about wild fruits from Central Asia

Plenary speakers share years of experience in their fields, spurring other practitioners to try a proven technique or method. 

The ECHO conference welcomed 189 delegates this year working in over 20 countries around the world. 

Hands-on workshops include how to make Chaya green tortillas.  

Hands-on workshops include how to make Chaya green tortillas.  

Evening settings included Silvopastoral systems in Brazil, livestock management in jungle pastures, and other in-depth expert-led topics.