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.  

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

ECHO Global Farm Tours Named One of North America’s Best Tours

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Many travelers visiting Fort Myers know the area for its picture-perfect beaches, but there’s more to this stretch of Southwest Florida than meets the eye. ECHO Global Farm Tours is one of those under-the-radar organizations that’s providing once-in-a-lifetime experiences while improving the world for the less fortunate. And that’s why the travel industry experts at Canada’s leading online global travel agency, Flight Network, named ECHO Global Farm Tours to their recently released list of the top 42 tours in North America.

Why ECHO Global Farm Tours Was Featured

Those who have experienced an ECHO Global Farm Tour know our tours are unlike any others in the world, and we’re glad the travel experts at Flight Network took notice. Our ECHO Global Farm Tour takes visitors on a fascinating journey through the most creative working farm you’ll ever visit. The tour includes demonstrations, rare plants and the techniques used by farmers in developing countries. Visitors also enjoy interactions with goats, chickens, fish, ducks, rabbits and other animals from around the world. Here, you’ll find one of the largest collections of tropical food plants in the country.

Flight Network chose ECHO Global Farm Tour as one of the top tours in the country for the unique experiences and charitable efforts this company offers. They acknowledged our tour for highlighting the difficult farming and gardening conditions around the world and demonstrating fascinating ways to produce food in harsh conditions. ECHO brings global diversity to Southwestern Florida, introducing visitors from around the state and the country to the needs of people in the farthest reaches of the world.

About Flight Network

Flight Network is Canada’s leading online global travel agency. They send their team of intrepid travel writers around the globe in search of the very best destinations, accommodations and experiences. This collection of the top 42 tours in North America is one of many ways they encourage travelers to go off the beaten path and experience the best that our continent and the world have to offer.

What are you waiting for? Come experience our ECHO Global Farm Tour in Fort Myers, Florida today.