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Posts Tagged ‘ECHO’

text by Art Friedrich, urban farmer, member of Urban Oasis Project
photos by Antonio Guadamuz, member of Urban Oasis Project

Saturday, Nov 28, 2009

Art Friedrich and partner Luigi (in flannel) touring ECHO

Getting out beyond SE FL to see what other things are happening in organic and sustainable agriculture in Florida, 16 folks headed out to ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) Global Farm and Worden’s Organic Farm in N. Ft. Myers and Punta Gorda, respectively. The group consisted of a number of the workers and WWOOF’ers from Bee Heaven Farm, as well as the big brain behind it all, Farmer Margie. Joining them were a number of local food enthusiasts from Urban Oasis Project and some of the new batch of Master Gardener Interns. [Note: Margie organizes a trip to ECHO and Worden every year during the Thanksgiving weekend, for the purpose of enlightening her farm interns and volunteers, and others who want to make the trip.]

Our first stop was the ECHO Global Farm, a christian based project started over 25 years ago to combat the problem of world hunger, primarily in the tropical zone, using the most concrete and long-lasting ways. Tours are available daily, and are well worth the $8. The tour consists of two hours of seeing and hearing about numerous fascinating plants, and methods of growing highly nutritious foods using unconventional and conventional methods that require little monetary outlay. There are six different recreated environments, such as a rainforest, an arid area, a monsoon climate (like we have, with 6 months dry and 6 months really wet), and the fascinating urban garden section.

Container gardening taken to a new level.

The urban garden section showed some great examples of reusing trash, such as old tires, to create containers. Also fascinating was the wicking gardens that are mostly made up of a carpet with a little bit of soil in top and some gravel or even cans wrapped in socks for the plants to have structure to grow on. You fill a closed bucket with a hole in the bottom with water, stick it on an edge of the carpet, and let the garden suck the moisture out as it needs it! This is a great way to use a minimum of water and soil. While some of us had questions about the safety of carpet material, other types of substrate could be developed. Probably any old canvas or woven mat material would do. They try laying the carpet out in the natural UV rays of the sun to break down harmful chemicals.

I also enjoyed the mention of their research using human urine as fertilizer — it is packed full of good nutrients and is sterile! In some countries, this has been government sanctioned for a while, such as in Sweden, where some housing developments have been built with urine diverting toilets that drain to some big tanks. When the farmers need fertilizer, they just pull up, pump some of the liquid gold out, and spray it right on their fields! The savings in water and fertilizer are stellar, and it is only cultural taboo that makes the subject so difficult.

Urban homesteading at its finest!

The Moringa tree is a favorite plant there. They call it the Miracle Tree. One can eat almost any part of it, and it is incredibly dense with nutritive value, and the tree grows in almost any condition. I’ve started my own little plantation at my house in S. Miami.

Rustic raised bed

ECHO is also a seed bank, and they send seeds all over the world to see what works, with attention to both the physical and the cultural aspects. This aspect impresses me. It is applied science that recognizes humanity’s needs as a driving force in experimentation. And the needs of the global poor are great, but with sensitivity and ingenuity, the poor can be given the tools they need to improve their own lives in a sustainable and self-empowering way. ECHO taps into their own knowledge and traditions and offers a broader knowledge base for them to work with.

Endless fields at Worden Farm

The second half of our day was visiting Worden Farm in Punta Gorda. The farm is a brilliant example of hard work and smart planning to generate massive amounts of organic vegetables, sold all along the Gulf Coast. The farm is 55 acres, with about 35 in production, and is only six years old. The soil is almost pure sand, so lots of chicken manure is used as their fertilizer, as well as cover crops to slowly improve the quality. Long rows of raised beds made with plastic sheeting make upkeep relatively easy, and the veggies all looked absolutely flawless.

Drip irrigation system at Worden Farm

The plastic sheeting with drip tape irrigation underneath also helps limit water use, as well as the extra work of short watering cycles very frequently. Extra work to reduce the negative environmental impacts of the farm is a tradeoff they are happy to make. Those plastic sheets at the end of the season don’t hit a trash pile. They go to an agricultural plastics recycler.

Touring Worden Farm by electric cart. L-R: Wwoofer, Eva Worden, Cesar Contreras, Margie Pikarsky (back turned), Melissa Contreras

Farm Ferrari

Cow at Worden Farm

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