Growing Farmers

11/01/2023
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    Leah Phillips, an ECHO intern, stands in front of two rice paddies. She holds a mechanical weeder. (Lilly Smith)
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    The urban garden section of the Global Farm demonstrates ways to grow food in cities. People can grow plants in tires and cinder blocks. (Lilly Smith)
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    The tropical highlands section of the farm is built on a small hill. The red-leafed bush in the foreground is cranberry hibiscus. Its leaves can be eaten in salads or with cooked vegetables. (Mary Smith)
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    ECHO farm workers research agricultural methods using fields like this one. (Mary Smith)
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    Cambodians prepare moringa leaves for drying. The Strongs’ team made powder from the dried leaves. (David and Doris Strong)
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    A man trims leaves on a moringa tree. (David and Doris Strong)
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Farming is a hard job. And many people around the world don’t get enough to eat. Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, known as ECHO, seeks to help while sharing God’s love.

ECHO’s Global Farm is located in North Fort Myers, Florida. The farm’s goal isn’t just to grow food. Staff and volunteers there demonstrate and research agricultural techniques. Three Impact Centers in Thailand, Burkina Faso, and Tanzania also provide training and resources to farmers and development workers.

Leah Phillips is one of eight interns at ECHO’s Florida location. Each intern takes over one area of the farm designated for plants for different regions—from the tropical highlands to semi-arid regions to urban gardens.

Interns “learn the way they will teach someday,” Phillips says. For example, ECHO staff in Tanzania may teach a small farmer the same method the interns learn.

Phillips manages the tropical lowlands section of the farm. It includes plants such as banana trees, taro root, and maize. She also grows two paddies of rice. Those demonstrate a method ECHO teaches. One paddy is planted the traditional way. It’s flooded all the time. Many rice seedlings are planted close together. The other paddy uses the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). The field is alternately watered and dried. Fewer seedlings are planted farther apart. Although SRI requires more labor, it uses less water and produces more rice.

ECHO’s work is meant to affirm the dignity and knowledge of farmers. Farmers know the most about their land. ECHO simply empowers them with tools they can use to determine the best techniques.

“Information sharing and knowledge sharing are a huge part of what ECHO does,” Phillips says.

David and Doris Strong know that first hand. The couple served as development workers in Cambodia for years. Many of the women Doris worked with did not get adequate nutrition. The Strongs had learned about the moringa tree through an ECHO network member in Burkina Faso and ECHO Development Notes, a journal that contains practical information about growing food. They thought that nutrient-rich moringa could be a helpful supplement.

Moringa already grew in Cambodia, but it wasn’t plentiful. Older Cambodian locals knew that it was a good leaf for nutrition, but they ate it only a few times in a normal month. The Strongs’ team worked with Cambodian officials to promote use of the plant.

In the team’s work, “we always connected it to the Creator God,” David says. “What a tremendous resource God gave the Cambodian people.”

Why? Ever since the fall into sin, farming has been difficult, but it is still critically important. Groups like ECHO assist farmers in their life-giving work.

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