This past Saturday, Gardening Tutorial took a field trip to the headquarters’ of ECHO Inc. in North Fort Myers. ECHO is an organization that aids in world hunger and supports small-scale farming around the world by providing agricultural and “appropriate” technology training to development workers in over 165 countries. The gardening class went on an adventurous and educational tour led by tour guide Vic Estoye, known to be the “bravest” of the guides.
The tour started with a video explaining some of ECHO’s goals and accomplishments and introducing some of the agricultural activities the group would see on the tour such as sustainable farming techniques and the various models of permaculture implemented throughout ECHO’s main farm.
The tour then moved outside to be led through the utopian-like recreations of Earth’s land and introduced to ECHO’s collection of fascinating plants and trees. Estoye began the educational tour with a tree that produced Jack-fruit, a massive fleshy fruit which produces a sort of sap that is sticky enough to be used as organic glue in some developing countries, such as the Philippines, where Estoye grew up.
A the tour moved throughout the farm, Estoye provided the group with remarkable facts about ECHO, entertaining remarks and the eccentric and the practical uses of each plant. He stressed that ECHO makes use of techniques such as companion planting to avoid the use of chemicals at all costs. ECHO was once the source of the widest variety of citrus trees and currently has 40 different varieties of Bamboo.
Among the many plants found at ECHO are the Citron plant – without the pulp of which you could not make a traditional fruit cake – Kava-Kava or the Mexican pepperleaf which used to be the main ingredient found in Root Beer but was banned in America when it was discovered that the flavoring oil contained safrole (when crushed, Kava-Kava leaves give off an aroma of freshly made old fashioned root beer).
Some plants found at ECHO with more applied uses include Chaya, Moringa and the Miracle Fruit. Chaya is a fast-growing, hardy plant high in antioxidants, protein and iron, all of which are much needed by people with sickness in developing countries. Chaya must be cooked before consumed to avoid cyanide poisoning, Estoye told the group as he took a big, crunchy bite out of a Chaya leaf.
The Moringa tree, which can be found behind the Four Winds, is often referred to as the miracle plant as consuming one of its small leaves is equivalent to eating a multi-vitamin it is so rich in nutrients; the growth of this tree is a vital resource in places where malnutrition is prevalent. Miracle fruit is famous for its ability to make anything taste sweet; it can make a lemon taste like an orange, Estoye told the group.
ECHO prides itself in the practice of sustainable agriculture. The tour experienced many of the different agriculture technologies, permaculture techniques and systems. Some of these include drip-irrigation, worm compost bins, the imitation of tropical highlands, the rice seeder, the Biogas Digester (an invention used as a charcoal or wood substitute to make fire), an “Aquaponic System” and a treadle water purifying pump.
[My favorite part was] I guess the terracing permaculture with all the different stories trying to replicate different terrains,” second-year Jordan Colbert, a student in the gardening tutorial and member of the ECHO group tour said. “It’s trying to imitate a country within this little area.”