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ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

ECHO - "Fighting World Hunger"

As our country faces economic collapse, we search for more efficient and economical ways to feed our family and livestock. Moving to our off-grid homestead has been a major learning experience as we look to become more sustainable and less dependent on the fragile food transport system. We are also increasingly concerned about the growing levels of toxins in purchased foods as GMO farming monopolizes our food sources.

Some countries, like Cuba, have learned from necessity how to grow their own food abundantly and healthfully. We can learn much from them. But there are opportunities to see it demonstrated first-hand without leaving the country. One way is to visit ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) in southwest Florida, dedicated to honoring God through providing sustainable hunger solutions to the world’s poor. We may not be considered poor (yet), but we can certainly benefit from what they teach about sustainable agricultural practices in other countries.

Last week we took a field trip to Ft. Myers and visited the Global Farm at ECHO. What an enlightening experience! We also took their Appropriate Technology tour which demonstrates simple technologies made from local or recycled materials that we could learn to make ourselves, such as a PVC water pump, simple rocket stove, homemade solar dehydrator, sand water filtration system, and more. But that is for another post! Now I will attempt to share a bit about their global farm.

Our first stop on the tour was the fish and duck pond, fenced in to keep the ducks in and predators out. A duck house was built over the water so the duck droppings fall into the water to feed the vegetation, which feeds the talapia. The ducks go into the house to eat, drink, lay eggs, and roost at night. The droppings are swept out of holes in the floor.

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

The duck house sits over the pond

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

The duck droppings fall into the pond

Next were the rice paddies. They are experimenting and training students to grow rice using the SRI method (System of Rice Intensification) which increases productivity of rice over traditional methods. They are using several methods and comparing the results.

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

The rice paddies

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Planting the rice

Of great interest to us were the raised rows of perennial fodder crops (mostly trees and shrubs) to feed their goats, chickens, and rabbits. In return the livestock provide meat, milk, eggs, and manure fertilizer for the garden. The fodder crops used are usually fast growing, nutrient dense, and easy to grow. They are grown on wide raised rows and pruned to a height for easy regular harvesting. Our favorites were moringa, mulberry, chaya, leucaena, and comfrey.

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Rows of fodder crops

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Young moringa trees in the background

Moringa trees deserve a post all their own, as we have been growing two since last fall and are already reaping benefits. Its leaves are a green super food, containing seven times the vitamin C of oranges, and twice the protein in milk. It is very fast growing, but can be maintained at a manageable height. We recently planted seeds in pots. Now I can’t wait to plant them out.

We have a small mulberry tree in a pot, waiting to be planted near the chicken yard so the chickens can eat the berries that drop. But at ECHO we saw how to plant a hedge of mulberry trees (bushes) and harvest the new growth regularly as fodder for the livestock.

Chaya is another very productive bushy tree also called the spinach tree. Its leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach. Raw they are toxic to humans but not to livestock.

Leucaena is a nitrogen fixing legume that makes excellent livestock fodder. A reader of this blog kindly sent me some seeds (thanks, Kathy!), and I hope to plant them this week!

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way


I knew comfrey as a bone-knitting herb that heals wounds and injuries quickly, but didn’t know it was also beneficial as animal feed. I have seeds for this as well, but am taking my time to plan where it should grow permanently as it is nearly impossible to eradicate from an area once established.

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way


There were other perennials we brought home (or we already had) because they produce salad greens or other edibles year round, year after year, especially in a warm climate like ours. Here is a list of them:

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

Farmer Boy eats Cranberry Hibiscus

Cranberry Hibiscus – A burgundy-colored bush with fruity-tasting tender shoots and leaves. Our tour guide invited us to try it, and the children had a hard time stopping. Farmer Boy (seven yrs old) especially took a liking to it. It also grows pretty edible flowers.

Katuk – A shrub whose leaves, flowers, and small fruits are tasty in a salad or cooked. The flavor reminds us of peas or almonds.

Edible Hibiscus – This fast growing bush grows tall and produces large leaves used like lettuce, large enough to cover a piece of bread in a sandwich.

Sweet Potato – We brought home two of their varieties, and can’t wait to see how they produce.

Barbados (Acerola) Cherry – Grows little tangy and mildly sweet fruits that contain an adult daily dose of vitamin C in each berry. Imagine growing our own vitamin C “pills!”

Malabar Spinach (red) – A fast growing and productive succulent vine. Not a true spinach, its pretty red and green leaves have a mild flavor.

Okinawa “Purple” Spinach – Also not a real spinach but a pretty purple and green plant tasting much like it (I think it’s better). We’ve had this growing in a protected area of our backyard since last fall, and it is an attractive and meaty addition to salads.

Perennials take less time and work than annual vegetables, and often they contain more nutrients. On our new homestead we’re focusing first on getting these longer lasting and higher producing plants established in our edible landscaping, after which we will turn our attention to the annuals. As time goes on I hope to report on how well these plants produce for our family.

In another post I will share some alternative methods of gardening and irrigating demonstrated at ECHO.


ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

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ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way

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31 Responses to “ECHO – Growing Massive Amounts of Food the Fast Way”

  1. Michelle says:

    Very interesting post, cant wait to see what else you learned there! I bet this was an excellent learning trip for your children. The duck house idea is very smart, thanks for sharing.

  2. Renee DV says:

    Chaya is actually used in the Yucatan Peninsula as a medicinal plant. Additionally, they make a drink out of it which is quite refreshing, I love it. You can find out more about it if you google Chaya drink.

  3. Looks like an interesting tour. I like the idea of the duck house; very clever idea! I’ve also grown Malabar spinach and it tastes pretty good. Because it’s a vine it grew like crazy and knocked over the trellis we had it on…this was in good garden soil. We had way more than what we needed too. Another great summer green is New Zealand spinach. We planted it once but it reseeds and we get it every year. Thanks for your post!

    • Rose Petal says:

      We had Malabar spinach before moving here as well, and we enjoyed it. I just planted seeds, but some naughty chickens broke out and scratched out the the beds so I’ll probably have to do it again. I saw New Zealand spinach at ECHO as well…I’ll have to try it next. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Amber Green says:

    My chickens won’t eat the fallen mulberries. Do I need to pen one up and let her sit hungry until she’ll eat a mulberry, then let her teach the others to eat them?

    • Rose Petal says:

      Ha Ha! Maybe that would work…our chickens grew up scratching for bugs and berries, and eating anything we threw to them. But I have noticed chicks we’ve raised only on chick start have more trouble identifying other foods. You do sometimes have to “teach” them how. I would try starting out cutting them up into smaller “bites,” perhaps mixing them with their regular feed. Once they get a taste you won’t be able to stop them. Sometimes taking your fingernail and “pecking” it helps them focus on it. Chicks raised with a mama hen simply learn from watching her peck, so your finger can do the same.

      Do you throw them any food like scratch or scraps otherwise? If so you could throw them a few berries till they become familiar. As you mentioned, if you can get just one hen to start eating them, the others will probably follow.

      I’m curious how it will work for you, so I’d love to hear how it goes.

  5. Thanks for linking up at the Creative HomeAcre hop. Good to know it was such an enlightening visit. I got a real sense of hope, when I read about the ECHO project. Hope to see you again at

  6. Jill says:

    I just love the ECHO organization! I have bought seeds from them for years, but two years ago I was able to tag along on a business trip my husband had to take to Naples and persuaded him to take me on a tour of the ECHO farm in Ft. Myers. Like you, I loved the duck house and tilapia pond. I raise rabbits and I wasn’t aware that moringa was a good food for them. I will have to start some seeds this year and try it. I do grow comfrey and have not found it to be too invasive in the garden up here in N. Fla., but I have read conflicting reports on whether it is good for livestock or not. Every once in a while I do give some to the rabbits in the spring, but I primarily use it for my own herbal poultices. Thanks again for an interesting post.

    • Rose Petal says:

      My daughter Evenstar has a rabbitry and since her rabbits didn’t grow up on Moringa some of them don’t really like it yet. She thinks it’s because it is slightly “hot” like horseradish. They sniff and take a few bites, then leave it alone. Some of them have learned to enjoy it. Once we can spare more for the rabbits, she wants to work with the others and “teach” them to like it by offering it when they are really hungry.

      I know there are conflicting reports about comfrey. I agree it is great for poultices and salves, but I also tend to think that ingesting it in moderate amounts is not harmful (but please don’t take just my word for it). When feeding livestock we plan to offer a wide variety and not feed them too much of any one plant. Perhaps Florida’s heat and sandy soil makes comfrey less invasive, as it does for mints.

      Thanks so much for sharing.

  7. Michelle says:

    Hi Rose Petal,

    I was wondering what you guys do for phone or internet while living off the grid? We currently live in the city and have internet and satellite tv, we use the internet for our phone service. We gave up cell phones years ago, and haven’t missed them since.

    Now with our upcoming move off the grid, we are trying to decide what to do. We really would love to give up tv, and internet. But that would mean we would have to get a cell phone… And I just HATE cell phones. I wish there was some way to have a home phone without all the other stuff (tv and computer) but where we will be this wont be an option.

    Just curious what your family does, for these services.


    • Rose Petal says:

      Hey Michelle,
      How are things coming with your upcoming move?

      We’ve never had TV, but we do have limited internet through a Verizon Five-Spot which is like a hotspot that receives a 3G signal for internet service. With it we maintain the blog and email, but we don’t do much video or anything else. I think they now have a similar device that receives 4G. We can’t have a landline phone, so Silver Oak and I each have a very basic cell phone (no GPS or anything). One idea for you would be to have a cell phone that you set into a base just like a landline phone, and leave it there when you leave. In other words, just treat it like a landline phone. My brother has a phone like that. I would talk to a tech at Verizon or another phone service company for advice. That is what we did…sometimes there are available devices that are not well known that would be just what you need.

      Hope this helps!

  8. Jenny says:

    This is fascinating. I love what they have done with the duck house. We’ve really enjoyed growing and eating malabar spinach in our own garden. So nice to have those greens through the summer when it gets too hot for lettuces. Thank you for linking this up to the HomeAcre Hop! Look forward to having you back tomorrow:

  9. Ewa says:

    What an interesting post! Thanks for sharing!

  10. What a wonderful resource and well of knowledge. I really liked the duck house design.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Please join us again Thursday at:
    The HomeAcre Hop


  11. Gretchen` says:

    What an inspiring place and a wealth of information!

  12. Alix says:

    Great information!! Thanks for linking up at Wildcrafting Wednesday!

  13. Heidi Tijssen says:

    Growing a lot of food… always interesting. Last year I bought a book ‘How to Grow More Vegetables’. Interesting, but to me disappointing. Not because the book wasn’t good, but because most of it I learned already from my mom! That shows you: if you want to learn about growing food, don’t forget the so called old fashioned people in your area. They have a store of knowledge which formed from generations of experience!

    • Rose Petal says:

      They sure do, and it’s all being forgotten unless we pick it up from them and carry on. I was a little disappointed by that book too, but think it is probably great for someone starting out.

  14. [...] most popular gardening post was from the The Live Ready Now Blog. We get to go on a virtual tour of ECHO in South Florida and learn a lot about sustainable [...]

  15. happy momma says:

    what an informative post! I want to learn more about edible lanscaping. For now I am saying “my Dandilion patch is part of my food storage”. I would like to have some real edible plants besides danelions growing in my yard. I wish more people would be aware of these things. Thanks for helping raise awareness to the fact that there is more than one way to farm.

    • Rose Petal says:

      You are right about awareness. If there is a major crisis in this country most will go hungry and die with food growing all around them, but they have no idea!