This Saturday morning we took a break from our typical running routine and went on a field trip to the ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) Farm in Ft. Myers. They are a Christian organization that works to train volunteers and solve crop issues of third world countries in the subtropical regions, using sustainable and innovative ideas and resources.
We had a two hour tour lead through the gardens by a volunteer, who was well versed in all the life in the garden. From banana trees (which are technically herbs), to mangoes and then fruits I have never heard of, the guide provided an education experience with problem solving techniques. He also introduced other edible species, that provide tons of nutrients, which seeds and growing methods are shared with these countries. Other highlights include:
Simple technologies for irrigation, using only resources available in these third world countries were employed and tested throughout the ECHO gardens.
Solutions for livestock such as goats were demonstrated by containing them with a “living fence”, meaning living trees as a border. This border is a multi purpose fence also providing firewood and other raw materials.
The idea of clearing tropical rainforest for crops then burning the underbrush away has been rejected. If the land is cleared, it should not then be burned, as the organic matter is needed for fertile land.
New solutions for growing rice with less water are also demonstrated at the farm. This technique would aid in drought protection.
These gardens are therefore living, breathing training grounds for missionaries and volunteers to learn from and gather experience to bring to the countries that they aid.
One of my favorite sections, was that of urban gardening, or what used to be called rooftop gardens. As our tour guide said, many rural inhabitants may move to the cities to try and find work then run out of money and not be able to afford food for themselves. Therefore, they encourage gardens in small spaces, that are shallow and do not even require soil. Some of these gardens are planted on top of an old carpets with pine cones, and old tires and plastic kiddie pools are employed as “pots” to hold plants bearing edible fruits and vegetables.
ECHO is also an invaluable resource for Southwest Florida gardening, stocked with books, selling seeds and small trees, and ran by very knowledgeable people. There website also hosts information about their mission and resources for gardening.
Obviously, now I am on my own mission to learn as much as I can about the climate and growing seasons in Naples. I want an avocado tree and maybe a pineapple tree. I am going to grow my own fresh herbs and also dive into additional produce as well. ECHO supports organic growing methods and is a non-GMO organization, which will aid me in my preference not to use fertilizers and other chemicals. Click here to find out my about ECHO or go to http://www.echonet.org/