I am proud to have received my first sunburn of 2012. This happened while I was on an afternoon field trip to the ECHO Global Farm and Research Center here in Fort Myers.
As an organization, ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) is an organization that does hands-on agricultural development and education. It dedicates itself to developing farming techniques and simple innovations, as well as agricultural development and know-how, in order to help communities across the world learn how to farm well in their own specific climates. They prove that anyone – and any community – can do simple things to create abundant and sustainable food sources. It is an amazing way to address hunger in the world, and to help fix the hunger problem rather than just offering relief. It is real change, in garden form.
I had the opportunity to tour the Global Farm and Research Center here in Fort Myers. They literally simulate climates and soil conditions from all over the world, and learn what plants grow, and how to irrigate, and how to adapt farming for best yield. It is a demonstration farm, where staff and interns develop farm plots, play with simple and innovative technologies, and then teach what they discover to mission partners across the world.
I learned many things during my visit.
I learned about how you can take any variety of container, and with a little knowledge, you can grow anything from lettuce to butterfly weed to a starfruit tree.
I learned about this crazy Moringa bush, which is truly a miracle plant. It grows easily and quickly. Its leaves are edible (tasty – sort of like extra-peppery arugula!) and contain a ridiculous number of vitamins and nutrients. You can dry the leaves, which will retain most of the nutrients, and then crush them up to use as a nutritious additive to food and baby formula. Its seeds can be crushed up and – get this – they can purify water! They can remove nearly 95% of bacteria in water, and if you they put the water out in the sun and let UV rays get to it, you can get that water nearly 99% clean!
I learned that you can take common “found items,” in any community, in any country, and build tools, irrigation systems, rain barrels, trellises, stakes, and any other number of agricultural tools.
I learned that you can be smart with how you raise animals so that you can make the most of the circle of life…and, to be honest, how to harness the power of poop. ☺
I learned about how you can use plants as tools and architecture: living fences, deep-rooted plants on hillsides to build tiers and to prevent erosion, taking advantage of acacia trees that shed leaves in the spring and grow shade in the winter under which to grow sun-sensitive plants.
One member of our group talked about the experience in terms of “abundance out of scarcity.” And it’s true. ECHO showed us that you can take the worst of the worst “soil” and to turn it into an overflowing bounty. It taught us that with dedication and ingenuity, you can do simple things to create sustainable gardens and farms in any climate, for any people. All it takes is one seed to create more seeds, and you are off and running. One tree becomes many. And you can feed a village!