Thursday, November 6, 2008

Life at ECHO continues this week much as it does every week: weeding, planting, harvesting; construction, seminars, and trainings. The weeks seem to fly by, but I feel as if I'm finding my place here.

We butchered some of our rabbits a couple of weeks ago, which was the first such experience for me. I had been anticipating/dreading the activity, but it was actually easier than I thought. And it's always good to know where your food comes from. We'll be butchering some of my and Heidi's chickens next week, and hopefully goats as well.

I am posting a few more pictures to the blog, and there are more new ones on the online album (the link is on the right).

This is a drip irrigation system, such as are used around the farm. The barrel is placed 1 meter above the ground, and a rubber hose is connected to the bottom and laid across the planting bed. Small holes are placed on the hose, and so the water drips out of the holes with no water pressure except that provided by gravity. I built this one last week for the rooftop, built primarily out of scrapwood found around the farm.

This is the Neem tree, native to India. It's not edible at all, but has a number of other uses. In India people will use the stems of leaves like a toothpick or as an alternative to brushing the teeth. The tree actually has antibiotic properties that make it very effective at cleaning bacteria. Oil from the tree can also be used as an insect repellent which is organic, does not harm the plants, and is relatively accessible to poor farmers. In the bookshop at ECHO we sell a number of Neem products, including a lotion. One of the interns has a mild eczema on his hands; the prescription he had didn't help, but the Neem lotion cleared it right up. Snowbirds, when heading north for the summer, often buy several tubes of our Neem toothpaste. Apparently some people swear by it. It's also a beautiful tree, and would be great for climbing in if I was allowed.

I've had a lot of opportunities to talk with other interns about development and the Kingdom, and between that and the great teaching at EPC, a church I've been attending, I really feel as if God is growing me in this season of my life. I've been thinking a lot about community, and the biblical injunction to hospitality. I don't necessarily think I'm a hospitable person naturally, but I hope to nurture that trait.

I hope y'all are doing well, I miss seeing everybody...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Of Plants and Poultry

I have now worked as an ECHO intern for a full week and change, and think I now have a better idea of what my life will look like for the next 55 weeks. I wanted to update y'all on a couple of things...

What does ECHO do?

ECHO does a lot of things, but perhaps the most important role we fill is one of networking. Missionaries and development workers in the field can become part of the ECHO network. Members of the network receive the periodic ECHO Development Notes which give practical advice on subsistence level farming techniques, and also have access to ECHO's tech request program. Basically, missionaries in the field send their questions and problems to ECHO staff/interns, who troubleshoot solutions. E.g. the corn crop is not producing, but there's no sign of obvious pests.

Interns and staff responding to tech requests have a number of resources at their disposal. In addition to the constant experimentation that happens on the ECHO farm, we have an extensive research library full of obscure and hard-to-find texts and files. After a few hours of dedicated research, a detailed response is sent to the missionary giving possible solutions to their problem.

In addition to providing information, ECHO also provides seeds to missionaries in the field in order to facilitate crop experimentation. Our seedbank is constantly being expanded, and is refreshed by the many varieties of edible crops grown on the farm.

ECHO does a lot more than this, but networking is a key part of their work.

What have I been doing?

This week I took over a couple of new responsibilities, in addition to continuing my orientation. Heidi (the intern whose Monsoon garden I will eventually take over) is on vacation for the week, so I am in charge of caring for the chickens and chicks in her absence. We are currently trying to wean them away from commercial feed and towards forage, which is a better option for poor farmers with limited funds. This means I cut branches from trees such as Moringa, Lucaena, and other nutrient-rich varieties and hang them in their pen. I also gather eggs, clean the coop, and all the other things you'd expect with chicken-care. I'm currently researching effective ways of upping their protein-intake, as they are not laying as much as they should.

I have also taken over the responsibility for watering one of the nursery areas, which has been a more challenging job. I am not yet an expert in judging which plants need water and how much (bamboo is thirsty, papaya doesn't like much water.). I'm hoping that repetition and practice will allow me to attune better to the needs of the individual species.

This post is getting long, so...

Plant Spotlight: Moringa

The Moringa tree is one of the plants that we highly promote here at ECHO. Moringa is an incredibly hardy tree (assuming you're in the tropics; it doesn't freeze well). It grows back from heavy pruning, and so can be maintained at head height, although it will grow into quite a large tree if left alone. It is perennial, drought resistant, and quite tasty with a slight horse-radishy flavor.

The primary value of Moringa is its nutrient content. Every part of the tree is edible, and the leaves are often dried and then grinded to a powder. One teaspoon of Moringa powder has more beta caroteen than a carrot, more protein than a glass of milk, and is also chock full of fiber and several important amino acids. Moringa powder added to a staple crop diet (e.g. yams) has been shown to significantly increase health indicators. It is often effective when given to infants in the breast feeding stage, as it can contibute necessary nutrients not provided by malnourished mothers. In combination with other nutrient-rich plants such as amaranth, Moringa has been shown effective in slowing the progress of AIDS - comparable to medication!

Moringa has numerous other uses too: it makes a great animal fodder. Moringa seeds, crushed, act as a water purifying agent when stirred in polluted water. The list could go on, but this post is too long already.

Final Thoughts

I will try to update more regularly with shorter posts. I will also continue to tell you more about important plants and crops, if you are interested.

Please feel free to post comments or email me with any questions you have; I love to talk about this stuff.


"A church full of life and love, working for the good of the community in which God has placed it, is the proper end of mission. Transformational development that does not work toward such an end is neither sustainable nor Christian"

-Bryant Myers, Walking with the Poor

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tomorrow is my first official day at ECHO! Here is an overview of what I'll be doing for the next several months...

During the month of October I will be primarily completing orientation tasks. In the mornings I'll alternate working with five of the six interns in their various garden plots: the Tropical Lowlands, the Rainforest, the Urban Rooftop, the Tropical Highlands, and the Semi-Arid garden. The only garden I will not work with is the Monsoon garden, which I will eventually inherit the maintenance of.

In November I begin shadowing Heidi, who is the current intern over the Monsoon garden. For the entire month I'll be learning the garden by working alongside Heidi, so that at the end of the month I can take over the maintenance and planning of the area. This also includes caring for the chickens and the Moringa trees.

From December on I will work a more constant schedule: work in the Monsoon garden and plant nursery, trainings and seminars on Mondays and Wednesdays respectively, large project farm work on Thursdays, and other tasks including leading tours of the farm and working in the bookshop. Next August I'll begin training my own replacement.

We work 6 days per work: 7:30 - 5:00 (although often later) on Monday through Friday, and then Saturday mornings. I recognize that it will be difficult work and long days, but right now I can't wait to start.

During these few days before the internship I have been hospitably welcomed by a lot of people. The Johns and Valkenburg families have both welcomed me into their homes and fed me, and their warmth has definitely eased the transition to life in Fort Myers. I have also enjoyed getting to know the rest of the staff here at ECHO. The girls living in the India house had the guys (Asia house) to dinner one night, which was incredible (even though they fed us caterpillers. No lie.).

Anyway, thanks for bearing with my long post. If you have any questions or just want to say hello, I'd love to get emails from some of y'all!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Early ECHO Pictures

I will update more thoroughly later and post some pictures here with explanations, but for now I encourage you to click the link "My Photo Album" on the right side of the webpage >>>>>

The pictures currently up are only what I could take in about an hour of wandering the farm, so they're not all of good quality. They should give you a better feel of the types of plants we're working with here!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

First Impressions

I'm at Fort Myers, and today was my first day here at ECHO. I don't officially begin work until the 6th, so I've got one week to meet everybody and settle in.

So far, I couldn't be more excited to begin. I took a tour of the farm today, including the Monsoon garden which I will eventually manage. I've already seen and learned a number of cool things...
  • I learned how to keep elephants out of a garden (fences, clearly, are ineffectual)
  • I saw a contraption that converts barrels of dung into methane gas, which fills an innertube and then fuels a stove.
  • Saw and tasted the Moringa trees. Very, very cool. I'll have to dedicate a post to them sometime.
Anyway, there's a ton more I could write about but it will have to wait. I've been meeting my fellow interns, and they all seem very cool, and very knowledgeable about subsistence farming.

I haven''t been able to take pictures yet because it's raining, but I promise they are forthcoming!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Setting Out by Wendell Berry
Even love must pass through loneliness,
the husbandman become again
the Long Hunter, and set out
not to the familiar woods of home
but to the forest of the night,
the true wilderness, where renewal
is found, the lay of the ground
a premonition of the unknown.
Blowing leaf and flying wren
lead him on. He can no longer be at home,
he cannot return, unless he begin
the circle that first will carry him away.

I recognize, of course, that Berry's poem is about a far more final "setting out" than my trip to Florida. Nonetheless, I think it's a beautiful picture of leaving home. This is my final week in Marietta before leaving for Fort Myers. I am scheduled to move in to ECHO on the 29th, so I'm quickly running out of time to tie up all my loose ends here: cleaning, voting, friends, odd-jobs around the house that remain unfinished... and packing, at some point!

I'll confess to being a little nervous about starting life in Florida. I recently spoke with one of the other interns, and discovered that he has both an undergraduate and Masters degree in Agriculture, whereas I have no previous exposure to agriculture at all. I'm trusting that the staff didn't make a mistake when they accepted my application; and I know that God is in control of these next couple years of my life.

Needless to say, my digital camera and my laptop will be making the pilgrimage to Florida with me, so I'll try to get pictures and thoughts up soon after I arrive.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Once again I have failed to update for a long time. Heather and I have been home for a couple of weeks now, and if you want to know more about our trip across Europe you can go to her blog here. Although I think even it is only updated to cover half the trip so far. I'll post some pictures to give you a general idea...

Now that I'm home I'm more or less biding my time until the ECHO internship in Fort Myers, FL begins in October. My knowledge of farming is limited to reading Wendell Berry short stories and having a killer farmer's tan. So I should have a lot to learn when I reach Florida. I can't wait to start.

During the trip and since returning I have had a lot of opportunity to read, which has been a nice change from the busy schedule of the school year. Purely out of spite, I'm going to inflict last month's reading list on my readers...

- Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco - I found this book really enjoyable, though I hardly think Eco considers himself a friend of the church.

- The Road, Cormac McCarthy - I read this book at Jeff Pipe's suggestion, and it was haunting, if a bit (intentionally) sparse. It's by the same guy who did No Country for Old Men, so don't expect a terribly bubbly story.

- All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy - I actually enjoyed this more than The Road, and can't wait to read the other two related novels.

- Peace Like a River, Leif Enger - An author/blogger I've been reading picked this book as one of his favorites, and it very well may be one of mine now as well. Couldn't put it down.

- Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy - Potentially the least depressing Hardy book I've ever read. I liked it.

- Two Ears of Corn, Roland Bunch - This is not a novel, but I'm reading it in preparation for my ECHO internship. It's about general good practice for doing agricultural work, including things like introducing appropriate technologies. Crucial if you're interested in Ag. Dev. Otherwise skip it.

- Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien - Hardly my first time.

- Two Crichton novels - State of Fear and Congo. Good quick reads.

- King Solomon's Mines, H. Rider Haggard - I had never read any Haggard before, but both Mr. Narayan and Heather (who read him at Oxford) recommended him. This one is a great adventure story, and a fun read. You do have to deal with the unthinking racism of Haggard's time (England was still an empire).

- She, H. Rider Haggard - Still reading this one, but so far I like it more than King Solomon's Mines.

I'm probably forgetting a couple. Anyone read anything recently they recommend?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

La Ville-lumiere

Tomorrow is our last full day in Paris, after which Heather and I part ways with my parents and grab a train to Strasbourg. Heather hasn't been home since March, and I think she's more or less ready to see the States again. Still, I think this should be a good trip.

Some highlights from Paris... we saw Victor Hugo's house, the Pantheon (which contains among other things Foucault's pendulum and the aforementioned author's remains), Saint-Sulpice, the Eiffel Tower (of course), and Saint Chapelle. We viewed a large amount of impressionist and realist art at the Musee d'Orsay, and today we spent a few hours at the Louvre (where I could have spent a week). We also saw the Opera Garnier, which is the opera house that inspired Leroux to write the Phantom of the Opera (the French book, not the musical). It has subterranean water and everything. Tomorrow we're catching an early train to Versailles.

The pinnacle of the trip for me, however, was our visit to Notre Dame Cathedral. The cathedral itself was spectacular, and not just because of its associations with Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame. After touring the inside of the sanctuary we climbed the tall spiral staircase up to the first landing at the base of the two towers, right near the entry to the belfry where the fictional Quasimodo made his home.

There is a belfry at the base of each of the two towers of Notre Dame, one containing a full complement of cathedral bells and the other a single, gargantuan bell. While wandering around the top of the cathedral, amidst the gargoyles and chimeras, the bells began to sound. The clamor was enormous, almost to the point of being painful; the vibrations could be felt across the entire stone edifice. They sounded for a good fifteen minutes, and those fifteen minutes overlooking Paris and listening to the bells of Notre Dame were the best fifteen minutes of this trip.

In my opinion.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Traipsing the Old World

Heather has officially finished her term in Oxford, and thanks to her study abroad-ing and my father's hoard of frequent flyer points the whole family is over here now to visit the university town with her. It was great meeting some of the UGA students she studied with. And it was obviously cool to see the colleges, shops and pubs of Oxford. Several of the pubs we've eaten at are older than the U.S. The majority of them, actually. Just to put things in perspective.

Being here gives one strange ideas about graduate work abroad, though the cost would be prohibitive. Especially at 2 dollars per pound. Though they have a great D.Phil program in Development studies, with focuses in Economic Development, Anthropological Research, Forced Migration...

Anyway, we're off to Paris tomorrow from whence Heather and I will be hitting hostels across Europe.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hell in a Handbasket?

"For the Time Being"
Annie Dillard
Is it not late? A late time to be living? Are not our heightened times the important ones? For we have nuclear bombs. Are we not especially significant because our century is? —our century and its unique Holocaust, its refugee populations, its serial totalitarian exterminations, our century and its antibiotics, silicon chips, men on the moon, and spliced genes? No, we are not and it is not. These times of ours are ordinary times, a slice of life like any other...

There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been: a people busy and powerful, knowledgeable, ambivalent, important, fearful, and self-aware; a people who scheme, promote, deceive, and conquer; who pray for their loved ones, and long to flee misery and skip death. It is a weakening and discoloring idea, that rustic people knew God personally once upon a time—or even knew selflessness or courage or literature—but that it is too late for us. In fact, the absolute is available to everyone in every age. There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less. There is no less holiness at this time—as you are reading this—than there was the day the Red Sea parted, or that day in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as Ezekiel was a captive by the river Chebar, when the heavens opened and he saw visions of God.... In any instant the sacred may wipe you with its finger. In any instant the bush may flare, your feet may rise, or you may see a bunch of souls in a tree. In any instant you may avail yourself of the power to love your enemies; to accept failure, slander, or the grief of loss; or to endure torture. Purity's time is always now.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

And then school was over

"My Utmost for His Highest"
Oswald Chambers
We are apt to imagine that Jesus Christ constrains us and when we obey Him, He will lead us to great success. We must never put our dreams of success as God's purpose for us; His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired end; He is not. The question of getting to a particular end is a mere incident. What we call the process , God calls the end.

What is my dream of God's purpose? His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the end the purpose of God. God is not working toward a particular finish; His end is the process-- That I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God.

God's training is for now, not presently. His purpose is for this minute, not for sometime in the future. We have nothing to do with the afterwards of obedience; we get wrong when we think of the afterward. What men call training and preparation, God calls the end.

God's end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now. If we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate present: if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Benefits of Off-Campus Life

None of the roommates has class on MWF mornings, so this morning all of us (Wilson, Dan, James, and myself) got up at 7:30 and ran a few miles. And by a few I mean 2; it's a start. After cooling down we all hung out in the kitchen and made bacon and chocolate chip pancakes. Which almost certainly offset all the health benefits of the run. All together, though, it made for a great morning. I'm not usually a morning person, but it always feels good to get an early start to the day.

In other news, I should hear this week from both ECHO in Florida and (potentially) the organization in Nairobi that has my resume. I'm probably equally excited about both opportunities: if I get a "yes" from both organizations I will have a tough decision ahead of me. On the other hand, if I get a "no" from both organizations I'm not sure where I'll turn to.

David Scott called me a couple of nights ago to say that he was looking into moving into an immigrant area of downtown Atlanta, and either working for a non-profit in the city or just getting a normal job and focusing on cross-cultural relationships for about a year. He suggested that if I don't have any plans, I should live with him. I'm thinking about it. If Kenya and ECHO both fall through, I will think about it even harder.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Still here... biding time...

"...he is, of course, absurdly young--not twenty-one--and he will be engaged to be married at twenty-three. He has no knowledge of the world; for example, he thinks that if you do not want money you can give it to friends who do. He believes in humanity because he knows a dozen decent people. He believes in women because he has loved his mother. And his friends are as young and as ignorant as himself. They are full of the wine of life. But they have not tasted the cup--let us call it the teacup--of experience, which has made men of Mr. Pembroke's type what they are. Oh, that teacup! To be taken at prayers, at friendship, at love, till we are quite sane, quite efficient, quite experienced, and quite useless to God or man. We must drink it, or we shall die. But we need not drink it always. Here is our problem and our salvation. There comes a moment--God knows when--at which we can say, 'I will experience no longer. I will create. I will be an experience.' But to do this we must be both acute and heroic. For it is not easy, after accepting six cups of tea, to throw the seventh in the face of the hostess."
~E.M. Forster, The Longest Journey

For all his oft-times muddy social critiques, I cannot seem to get enough of E.M. Forster. Which is unfortunate, because if Wikipedia is to be trusted (and indubitably it is) I have now read almost everything he ever published.

This is becoming a difficult semester, due not to an abundance of work but to a complete lack of motivation. It's not that I want to be lazy, but rather that other things feel so much more important than my classwork. The people I see daily now but mayn't see again after May; the Lookout Mountain moonlight dripping through heavy fog is more enticing by far than the desk covered in work sheets that stands between tonight and graduation. Even the collection of Dostoevsky short stories that has, unopened, adorned my desk these past weeks feels more urgent than my daily reading for Science class and my looming research papers.

On the other hand, I'm in no hurry to graduate and leave this place. It's a dangerous business, going out your door. And it's almost time for my class to step out onto the road and see where it sweeps us off to.