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!