Work team serves ECHO for 24th year

By Maddie Christy

Every summer for 24 years, John Hanson has volunteered at ECHO. Adding up each two-week trip to the Global Farm in Florida, he’s totaled almost one full year of volunteering!

Mr. Hanson is the leader of a volunteer work team comprised of students from the Indiana area who are part of the Reformed Presbyterian denomination. The high school and college students come each year to serve alongside the staff members and interns at ECHO Florida.

“It’s about helping and blessing the workers here at ECHO who have dedicated their lives to this mission,” said Lauren Daniels. “We want to come and partner with the work that’s being done globally by serving the long-term staff here.”

Ellen Smith (left), eight-time return volunteer from Indiana, works alongside Andy Cotarelo (center), ECHO Farm Manager, to clear a research plot at the Global Farm in North Fort Myers, Florida.

Ellen Smith (left), eight-time return volunteer from Indiana, works alongside Andy Cotarelo (center), ECHO Farm Manager, to clear a research plot at the Global Farm in North Fort Myers, Florida.

ECHO’s farm manager, Andy Cotarelo has had the opportunity to work with the team for 12 years. Cotarelo expressed what a blessing it has been to have extra hands on deck for big projects and general farm work over the years. He and Mr. Hanson have also cultivated a friendship during the 12 years they’ve known each other. 

Lauren Daniels, a senior at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, has served at ECHO three times with this team. She jokes about how unglamorous the work is, but counts it a joy to serve missionaries who equip people around the world. 

“Getting out in the heat of Florida and doing hard physical labor on the farm has done wonders for my character,” Daniels said. “We are doing this work and nobody is going to know our names. That’s why it matters. That’s why it’s important that we do this.” 

Ellen Smith, a volunteer who has served at ECHO for eight years, acts as the mother of the group. While the students are working in the morning, she prepares lunch and does laundry before joining them on the farm. 

“This trip was invaluable for me when I was in high school,“ Smith said. “I want to play a role that provides that same opportunity for other students.” 

The Indiana Work Team, as ECHO staff refers to them, has certainly left their mark over the years. Returning members look around the farm and point out the rice paddy they revamped, fences they built, and fields they cleared that now bear fruit. Each year, the team works on a couple big projects. This year they’ve re-thatched the roof on the hut at the Anderson Appropriate Technology Center, tarped and replanted the bamboo field, and cleared out the research plot. When they’re not working on group projects, the students split off with ECHO interns to work alongside them in their areas of the farm.

“I can’t say enough about the influence of the interns on the lives of the high-schoolers,” Mr. Hanson said. “They are just a few years older and have been through exactly what those students are going through. The interns really encourage and inspire my students.”

Both parties have benefited greatly from this long-standing relationship. The high-school students are quick to recognize that this mission trip is about pouring into people who are used to doing all the serving. Along the way, they often learn about themselves and who they are in God’s kingdom. For ECHO staff and interns, the hard work and friendships that come with the group are a great encouragement. They are thankful for the willingness of Midwest students to spend part of their summer serving in an unconventional way. 

The Indiana Work Team is a testament to the Lord’s faithfulness to ECHO. Those who give of their time and resources help to sustain our work all throughout the world. Whether it’s a tradition of 24 years and counting, or a first-time volunteer, ECHO is greatly blessed by those who choose to come and partner with us in our mission to honor God by empowering the undernourished with sustainable hunger solutions.

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. 

A "Once-in-a-Generation" Chance

Your Generosity Grows ECHO’s Impact

From a nominal five acres of rented land in 1981, the ECHO Florida campus has grown steadily to meet the needs of this expanding international organization.  Through the years, neighboring plots of land have become available as homeowners sell their property.  And each time God has graciously provided – through many of you – the financial resources to seize these opportunities to grow ECHO’s space.

As ECHO grows, we continue to be humbled by and thankful for the opportunity to be faithful custodians of the gifts entrusted to us through many of you. With these gifts we, together, reduce hunger and improve lives.
— David Erickson, President & CEO

For the last 10 years, the ECHO campus has had a “keyhole” shape, as one parcel of land remained privately owned between the ECHO Global Farm and visitor housing. In many different ways, this “gap” was a challenge to the full, effective, and efficient utilization of parts of our campus. This parcel, highlighted in red below, is the “gap” property that recently became available for purchase.  Through negotiations and prayer, ECHO and the property owners agreed upon a substantially reduced and reasonable purchase price.

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As word of this opportunity was circulated, a groundswell built.  In just a few short weeks, 22 generous individuals and families contributed the funds needed to buy the property outright, pay the closing costs, and finance the site work needed to integrate the space into the rest of the ECHO campus. Once again God graciously provided – through many of you – and we were able to close on the property on April 1st! 

We are so grateful for this opportunity, and the support that enabled us to seize it. This new potential grazing and growing space will enhance the training and equipping that we do at ECHO Florida for years to come. 

If ECHO's mission around the world has inspired you, please join us to provide the resources to continue to make it possible. We need YOU to reduce hunger and improve lives around the world!