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I Hear an ECHO

By Kathleen Walls

ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) introduces you to some of the strangest plants and animals you will ever meet.

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The Miracle Fruit Photo Credit Scott Zona

You can sample produce like guavas, cassava, Carabola, called the star fruit because of its star shape when sliced and experience the taste changes caused by the Miracle Fruit. When you chew this berry first, lemons and other sour or bitter food will taste sweet. Who wouldn't love the Peanut Butter Fruit?

You will visit a simulated tropical rainforest, learn to cook with a solar cooker, pet a hairless sheep or a Nubian Goat, view barnyard animals like chickens, rabbits and ducks, see Blue Talapia swimming in a pond.  You can crush a pod of the Lipstick Tree which is used for food coloring. Watch the iguanas frolic in a semi-arid garden environment. [For those of you who are familiar with south Florida, you will know creating the illusion of a semi-arid anything is miraculous.]

All this is interesting to visitors but it serves a greater purpose. ECHO believes it is better to give a hand up rather than a hand out. They are busy developing simple agricultural techniques and producing better seeds and more profitable livestock for the third world farmers who often live on a subsistence plot. They provide learning opportunities for missionaries and other agencies who strive to improve the plight these farmers.

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Lipstick tree Credit Kathleen Walls

At their test farm in North Fort Myers ECHO experiments with such plants as the Moringa tree and the winged bean. The Moringa is known as "mother's best friend." Its leaves provide a calcium and vitamin rich baby food and supplement for nursing mothers, the young pods and roots can be eaten. The foliage can feed livestock. Because of its fast growth, the trees can be planted to provide a living fence to protect the family garden. The winged bean provides a "supermarket on a stalk." The leaves can be eaten like spinach, the pods like green beans and blossoms are delicious raw or fried. The dried beans are a substitute for butter or oil.

Because subsistence farmers in third world countries have few resources, the farm experiments with simple techniques such as using an old bicycle to power an irrigation system made with bamboo stalks. It makes use of empty soft drink cans to cover tomato beds. It demonstrates the efficiency of a tri-level rabbit cage. The roof covered with old tires used as roof planters, the cage floor made of a small wire mesh and the ground beneath used as a small scale fertilizer factory where plant matter is mixed with the rabbit dung is a curiosity to us but a lifesaver to third world farmers.

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Moringa Photo Credit Xufanc

In order to pass the knowledge and seeds to those who need them most requires help from those who have the most.  Volunteer graduate students spend a year there learning the farm. Then they have the option to spend a three months in Haiti as missionaries.  Other people help with tours, computer work or any of the dozens of tasks that are needed to run the program. All told, over one hundred volunteers from all walks of life, participate.

ECHO provides seeds and information to over 140 countries and has one of the largest collections of tropical food plants in Florida.. You can purchase some of these unusual seeds as well as books on how to grow things at their Edible Landscape Nursery and Bookshop.

Whether you have a green thumb or a black one, you will enjoy this tour. Tours of their demonstration farm are offered for $10 for adults and $5 children.

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Peanut Butter Fruit Photo credit Asit K. Ghosh

Times of tourss: April through November: one guided tour at 10 a.m. Tue., Fri., and Sat.

December through March:  tours at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. Tue.-Fri. Sat. 10 a.m. & noon. 

Tours take approximately 2 hours. Reservations cannot be made for the public tour.  Please arrive early to fill and sign a registration form and secure a spot on the tour. Times may change so call to check.  (239) 567-3319.


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