I knew that I was in for a working vacation that would fit me like a glove when the Lee Publications Outreach Committee selected me earlier this year to go on a Christian Mission Trip with the Fellowship of Christian Farmers International organization to the ECHO Global Demonstration Farm in Fort Myers, FL.
This 2013 trip marked the seventh year in a row that the New York State Chapter of the FCFI helped organize and partipated in mission at ECHO. Attendees at this year’s Oct. 26-Nov. 2 trip included Christian farm-related participants from New York, Indiana, South Carolina, Idaho, Pennsylvania and Canada. Many of the approximately 20 participates had already attended in prior years.
This, my first Christian mission experience, began on the 86th anniverary of when my distant cousin, Pearl Palmer, began a 35-year career as a United Methodist missionary to India in 1927.
I and the other volunteers worked at the Global Farm from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday (OK — we left at 2 p.m. on our scheduled “half-day” on Friday!). The go-to guy for projects around the farm during the week was Physical Plant Supervisor Pete Singer. Pete has been with ECHO since 2010, after spending 35 years in the construction and property management fields. Singer’s work experience can be seen in ECHO’s clean and well-organized facilities. Before volunteers show up, Singer has already made detailed instructions concerning proposed projects and every last tool that will be needed for the job. The shop or work areas are also already supplied with the construction materials and supplies needed for the job.
ECHO provides unique solutions to world hunger through research and training that they share with a network of 180 countries around the world. For example, ECHO staff is currently researching ways of raising Minature Zebu cattle on small-acreage farms prevalent in third world countries. The research will evaluate the management of pasturing, milking and breeding of Zebu Cattle.
“We are in the process of reevaluating cattle and goat numbers in our small ruminant program. We are improving our pasture management and rotational grazing program,” said Andy Cotarelo, ECHO farm manager. “We are looking for a move to two cows and three goats,” he predicted.
I learned about the ECHO’s research with Zebu cattle from fellow FCFI volunteer Kent Brown of South Carolina, who was in a group asked to make one feed bunk for the Zebu and the goats already at the farm.
Kent was excited to know that his work at ECHO will have far reaching implications for farmers raising goats and cows around the world. Cotarelo said the new feeders will be very important as the Global Farm completes its study in reevaluating its on-going small ruminant program. At the beginning of the week, this job was projected to be the construction of just one feed bunk. However, the skilled volunteers did such a good job that the interns asked for a second feed bunk to be built!
Miniature Zebu Cattle originated in India but are now raised in many third world countries including nations on the African continent. ECHO has three ECHO Impacts Centers on the African continent in Tanzania, Burkina Faso and South Africa — to be closer to the farmers they serve. A fourth Impact Center is located in Thailand.
The Miniature Zebu cow is a beef animal that is less than half the size of traditional beef cattle breeds raised in America’s colder climates. The Zebu can tolerate the hot and wet conditions found in the tropical rainforest and other warmer climates around the world.
“Zebu can be raised in any warm weather area where cattle are accepted,” Cotarelo said. He noted that dairy and beef cattle raising is prohibited in many areas of the world due to cultural and religious restrictions.
The ECHO Global Farm is set up with regions of the farm representing the climate condictions of all the world’s regions which suffer from poverty and hunger. Marie Shelli, Community Garden intern, explained the various regions of the farm’s parts. Shelli, who worked at riding stables in New York State’s Westchester County before accepting her internship at ECHO one year ago, said the farm includes areas that represent the following global climates: Monsoon, Mountain, Tropical Lowlands, Semi-Arid, Urban Garden, Rain Forest, Community Garden and Market Garden.
Shelli said there are 10 interns at ECHO at any one time. Internships last 14 months. “The community time period overlaps by two months. It includes two months with the last person (departing intern) then 10 months by yourself and then the final two months as the predecessor for the next intern.”
Tim Albright, Chief Operations officer, said that ECHO Global Farm is visited by 12,000 to 15,000 people per year. In addition to the interns working at the farm year-round, approximately 400 to 600 people volunteer at the farm each year. Albright noted that Florida is most seasonable for volunteer workers from across the country from November through Easter, when two groups of “highly skilled Christian farmers organizations and a Methodist group” come to help at the farm like “nomads.”
“We save the ‘high skilled’ level jobs for these organizations,” Albright admitted. “We also have professional volunteer hours — people in real life jobs who do the types of things they do at their jobs here at the farm.”
“In 2012, 595 volunteers donated 24,000 plus hours — which was estimated at over $1 million in donated time,” Albright said.
“We are all about training people. We are about sharing information,” the COO said. “The echonet.org site was started in October 2011 and currently we have 165 countries that visit the site on a regular basis,” he said. In September 2013, there were 6,369 visitors internationally. People from 132 countries around the world are logged in as members of the website.
The group I worked with built nine greenhouse tables to replace the old rotting tables in the greenhouse. In a tropical rain forest, wood rots and metal rusts quickly because of the natural environment. It is hoped that the new tables — made of treated lumber beams and galvanized metal pipes — will last at least five years despite the environment.
At different times during the week, members of the FCFI worked at the seed bank. In the past fiscal year, ECHO has sent more than 2,500 seed packets to countries overseas.
I would like to thank the Fort Plain community and the Lee Publications Outreach Committee in securing the funding necessary to send me on this trip. Moreover, the Outreach Committee donated funds to my hometown community of Fort Plain, NY, as we recovered from a devastating June flood, for which I am also grateful.
I very much enjoyed my working vacation with FCFI at ECHO and hope to go again in future years to see how ECHO continues to grow both at home and overseas. If anyone has any questions regarding this trip, I can be reached at 518-673-0143.
For more information about ECHO, call ECHO, Inc., at 239-543-3246; email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://echonet.org .
The Fellowship of Christian Farmers International can be visited at www.fcfi.org or you may contact Bill and Kathy Brown at 315-736-5964 or 315-749-6823.