A Week at ECHO

Evensong carefully hoes around the tiny moringa seedlings at ECHO

Finding solutions for sustainable living to benefit people around the world to bring glory to Christ; that is what ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) is all about. Our whole family was privileged to spend a week of independent study at their global farm and training center in Fort Myers a few weeks ago, as preparation for our upcoming move to South America. We’d already learned so much from them that we have tried to implement here on our off grid homestead. The week spent there was such a boost!

We came to appreciate the wealth of information and resources in ECHO’s library.  One could spend weeks or months in that building alone! But much of our time there was spent hands-on.  The first afternoon we joined the interns for a workshop about making and using a biogas digester to produce methane gas from manure.  This process captures the methane gas produced by the breakdown of the manure, so it can be used as fuel rather than be released into the atmosphere.  We enjoyed chai tea made on a burner fueled by methane they had produced from cow manure. The residue will become fertilizer, so nothing is wasted. We are hoping to try this in South America as an alternative to propane.

The biogas digester is made of 55 gallon barrels; an inner-tube indicates the volume of gas.

Making tea on the methane-burning stove.

We helped with various work projects on the ECHO farm. Dr. Motis set up a test plot for moringa, experimenting with various companion plants to determine the best results. The tiny moringa seedlings were only a few inches high, and so were the weeds that had sprung up. We gently weeded the plot with hoes, careful to not trample or hoe the tender seedlings. It took us parts of two days, but it was satisfying to make a difference. We eagerly await the test results to apply on our new homestead in South America.

Weeding the moringa patch. Next time we visit we hope to see a small forest of moringa trees.

A tiny moringa seedling.

Sometimes we split up and helped the 10 interns with various jobs. Silver Oak helped repair some irrigation, some of us did more weeding or watering, others helped plant sweet potatoes and banana trees and harvest black sapote (a delicious tropical fruit tasting like chocolate pudding) and tropical lettuce seeds. There was always plenty to do, and we enjoyed learning to know the interns and staff we worked with. Most of them have already lived in a foreign country, or are planning to use their skills somewhere abroad in the near future.

Butterfly helps clean water bowls for the ducks by the duck and talapia pond

Farmer Boy and Silver Oak help remove dry vetiver grass mulch before leveling the beds in the lowlands area

Little Bird and Evensong help harvest black sapote on the "mountain."

Honey Bun removes seed heads from tropical lettuce for the seed bank.

Later, after a winnowing process, Farmer Boy and Blossom help sort the seeds for packaging.

One highlight was participating in the sugarcane harvest. It was interesting to see the variations in the process differing from how we have done ours. They have a different variety of cane, which drops most of its leaves before harvest, saving the step of stripping the canes. However, the bare canes were mildewed, so they were pressure washed and dried before squeezing the juice, which is a step we have never done. Their old-fashioned press is designed to be mule-powered, but in the absence of a mule it was powered by interns and volunteers.

Pressure washing and drying the canes.

The people-powered cane press

Evensong and Blossom help feed canes into the press.

Cooking the cane juice to make syrup

Another highlight that day was preparing lunch for the crew. We thought it would be fun to make a meal using things growing on the farm, so we gathered leafy greens and edible perennials, eggplant, squash, and a few edible weeds and flowers for the event. The interns had to slaughter a few ducks to lower the male population on their pond, so we added duck to the pot, which was delicious! On the menu was a tossed salad, veggie (and duck) topping over brown rice, sour dough bread, corn bread, cane syrup (for the breads), kefir kraut, and apple crisp for desert. We also made lemonade with freshly picked lemons, and ice tea made from lemongrass, spearmint, and ginger leaves, sweetened with raw sugar and cane syrup. We had a great time preparing and eating it, and learning to know the interns a bit better.

Picking malabar spinach for the special meal.

Slaughtering the ducks.

The whole family helped prepare various greens for the salad and rice topping.

Intern ladies go through the food line.

Farmer Boy displays his plate of food.

Ingredients from the farm.

After lunch the syrup was bottled.

The result of all the hard work. Yum!

It was a huge blessing to consult with staff about the work in South America. Tim and Brad gave tons of good advice about planning the infrastructure of a sustainable farm, and various ways to have mutually benefiting relationships with interns and others who help. Holly helped us determine how to best transport seeds, and the process we must go through. Craig instructed and answered many questions about cooking with rocket stoves and ovens, as well as solar dehydrators. There is so much to learn!

ECHO's example of a terraced hillside which we may need to implement in South America.

Posing with our new friends the last day.

Now we continue preparing to move, and wait to finalize a contract with a neighboring organization for the sale of our property. We appreciate your prayers for wisdom and timing.

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Off Grid Homestead For Sale!

Note:  My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing and critiquing this post.

Linked w/The Art of Homemaking, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.