Propagating Purple Sweet Potatoes

It is a gorgeous late Spring day on ECHO’s farm this morning! Today, our talented Propagation Manager shows us how to propagate some beautiful, purple sweet potato cuttings.  We utilized “soft-wood cuttings,” a type of cutting that is perfect for growing sweet potatoes. It is easy, efficient, and incredibly sustainable. If you have access to a particular sweet potato variety, you may want to hold onto it and grow it! Currently, ECHO has about 9 varieties of sweet potato on the farm—all of which have different qualities.

A mature sweet potato plant is flowering in the morning sun. Planted on ECHO’s research farm in Fort Myers, Florida.

A mature sweet potato plant is flowering in the morning sun. Planted on ECHO’s research farm in Fort Myers, Florida.

Before we begin the propagation process, ensure all of the materials you need are in front of you:

  • One (or a few) plastic planters

  • Compost/soil mixture

  • cutting shears

  • isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle (used to sterilize the shears before cutting)

  • 1 paper marker, to mark the date & variety of cuttings

  • 1/4 cup of Lime (can be found at most gardening stores, or online)

Start by filling your planter(s) with a well-drained soil. For today’s propagation, we used a combination of sand, bark chips, and compost. The bark and sand help excess water drain off, while the compost holds onto the necessary amounts of water—keeping the balance perfect for dry and wet. Our propagation manager recommends NOT using fertilizer in this mix, because there are specific times when a grower would want to use that in the growing process.

The soil used for the propagation of purple sweet potatoes is a combination: sand, bark chips, & compost.

The soil used for the propagation of purple sweet potatoes is a combination: sand, bark chips, & compost.

sweet potato ECHO.JPG

Our propagation manager proceeds to sprinkle about 1/4 cup of Lime around the perimeter of the pot, and afterwards, evenly distributed another layer of soil on top to cover it. Lime is primarily used to increase soil pH, which is optimal for plants growing in containers.

When your planter is full, you can proceed by sterilizing your cutting shears with your alcohol spray. This crucial step ensures fungi and bacteria are not passed from one plant, to another.

Ensure your shears are completely sterilized by spraying both sides completely with the isopropyl alcohol.

Ensure your shears are completely sterilized by spraying both sides completely with the isopropyl alcohol.

Next, begin to make cuttings from a current growing plant—you can see below, our propagation manager snipping a vine off a young purple potato plant.

From here, she cuts a few stems off of the vine. Make sure to choose ones with small growths—this is a good indicator if a thriving, strong plant (see below)

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When the stems are trimmed off, you can start to cut off most of the leaves, we left about 3 or so on the stem, and then cut them in half (see below).

Leaves can be compared to solar panels—they feed the plant, but also pull moisture from the soil. In order to reduce transpiration, the key is to reduce the number of leaves.

Place your final cuttings into your planter.

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The cuttings need water but not saturation: make sure to wet the soil and cuttings with a shower-like water pressure and keep the soil moist. The cuttings don’t have roots yet, and can’t pull enough moisture out of the soil, if you over water them, they will rot instead of flourish. Treat your cuttings as if they are recovering from surgery, you wouldn’t want it exposed to direct hot sunlight, or drenched in a ton of water; think of a more controlled environment.

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If you have access to a green house, you can place your planter towards the middle of the floor—away from the sun and elements that the plant would have been exposed to, if it were placed directly to one side. Greenhouses receive about 50% shade, so placing it in the middle, ensures your cuttings receive 50% sunlight as well. Once your cuttings start growing new leaves, then you can move them to full sun. Luckily, sweet potatoes can handle either sun or shade really well.

If you don’t have access to a greenhouse, place your planter in a slightly shadier spot, away from full direct sunlight.

Be sure to label everything you do and record any information you would want to keep for future reference. This is essential when propagating several cuttings in separate planters.

 As the grower, you can control what a specific cutting needs—some things need a ton of drainage, some things need more rich soil. However, each plant and environment is different. Research what plants flourish the best in your area—and from there you can determine what cutting technique is most efficient for the plant you want to grow.

One of the greatest aspects of propagation, comes from the ability to sustainably grow more crops in less time, compared to the amount of time needed to grow your crop from seeds.

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Picture taken 2 weeks following propagation.

ECHO has been using this propagation technique for decades, all across the globe. It is a vital practice for several third-world farmers and their families, who struggle to effectively grow food in challenging conditions; whether that be poor soil, droughts, lack of usable seeds, etc. ECHO’s mission involves not only solving hunger problems, but also the promotion of sustainable farming techniques; by introducing nutritional plants, and appropriate, reliable technology. The steps are well-tested and proven to be successful throughout various environments around the globe—from our research farm—all the way to Asia—these techniques give us all the opportunity to learn, grow, and become anew.

sweet potato 4 weeks .JPG
sweet potato 4 weeks.JPG

Pictures taken 4 weeks following propagation.

Summer Deals for Families at ECHO's Global Farm

FORT MYERS, Fla. (May 22, 2019) – This summer the ECHO Global Farm is offering special tour rates for families. Bring your entire family for a maximum cost of $30. Applies to parents of, and accompanying, children under 18 years of age. OR, from June 1 through July 31, visitors may bring a child, 12 years old or younger, for free. One child will be admitted free per one paid adult tour ticket when you mention this promotion.

On June 15 & July 20th, join us for a the third annual Family Fun Farm Tours! These tours are especially designed for families with kids ages 5-12. Families will participate in activities that teach how all the resources in the world are shared, and what amount of the earth's surface is usable for food production. Special discussion questions will help you contextualize world poverty and food security in ways your child will understand, making your family a stronger force for good in the world. Space is limited. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling 239.567.3301

Or, join us at 10am on the first Saturday of each month for the Summer Garden Workshop Series! This event is free! Find more information here.

Experiencing the farm through the eyes of an earthworm! ECHO’s Global Farm is full of educational opportunities for young and young at heart!

Experiencing the farm through the eyes of an earthworm! ECHO’s Global Farm is full of educational opportunities for young and young at heart!

ECHO's Global Farm Tour is a fascinating guided, walking tour of the most creative working farm you have ever experienced. Along the way you will find unique demonstrations, plants, and techniques useful to farmers and urban gardeners in developing countries.

Experience the seven settings of the Global Farm which feature crops, techniques, and animals from around the world. Goats, chickens, ducks, fish and rabbits are all found on our farm; and ECHO is home to one of the largest collections of tropical food plants in the United States.

You won't want to miss the demonstrations in our Urban Garden, a perennial favorite, which features some wacky, yet effective ways to grow crops where there is little or no soil.

After the tour, stop by our global nursery and take home some of the tasty edibles that you sampled on your tour. While supplies last, papaya plants are 20% off and and strawberries are 25% off.

Our Global bookstore features hundreds of fair trade items, books, gifts, honey, and much more.

Visit the market garden on Friday mornings for in-season local produce!

Visit the market garden on Friday mornings for in-season local produce!

ECHO Global Farm Tours are offered Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at 9:30 am.

For tour times and additional information, visit the website at www.echonet.org or call 239-543-3246

A Day in the Life of an ECHO Intern

Interns have been a long-standing legacy at ECHO.
— Maddie Christy

From the moment one arrives to ECHO’s Global Farm, you discover that the interns are an integral part of ECHO’s mission. However, many wonder: What do the interns actually do? What role do they play at ECHO? What do their lives look like during their 14 months here?

Interns have been a “long-standing legacy at ECHO,” according to the Florida farm’s storytelling intern, Maddie Christy.

In the early stages of the organization, ECHO’s founding CEO, Dr. Martin Price, hired a recent college graduate who was intrigued with international development to serve for one year as an intern.

The internship was meant to give recent graduates a chance to get hands-on experience, and become well-equipped in agriculture, before entering the mission field. To no surprise, the internship was a success! ECHO added two new interns in 1985, and by 1989, ECHO had acquired six interns on their staff.

Pictured above: ECHO interns working on Global Farm

Pictured above: ECHO interns working on Global Farm

The internship program has been thriving ever since, now hosting 8 interns at a time. This Spring in 2019, ECHO welcomed their 257th intern onto the staff! In an attempt to capture the daily life of an ECHO intern, Maddie Christy, our storyteller, gives us the closest inside scoop thus far, about what goes on in a typical day on ECHO’s Global Farm, in the eyes of Elizabeth Casey—an ECHO intern

This Spring in 2019, ECHO welcomed their 257th intern onto the staff!
A Day in the Life of our ECHO interns!

A Day in the Life of our ECHO interns!

THURSDAY

7:20AM

Most interns are scrambling around the house getting ready for the day. Some reach for tea, coffee, or just a few mangoes. Elizabeth settles for some scrambled eggs—fresh from the chickens on the farm!

7:30 AM

The first important meeting of the day is just a few feet outside the front door, in the courtyard between the intern homes. Everyone gathers closely together to listen for important reminders for the day, plan for lunch, and most importantly, take time to pray and reflect before conquering a long day.

8:00 AM

The meeting ends, and the interns routinely split off to fulfill their morning duties. Elizabeth’s first stop is to re-check and record the total rainfall for each day. Elizabeth is referred to specifically, as the “monsoon intern.” In other words, it is her responsibility to track the water the Farm collects each day, and let others know the total so they can account for it in their work.

Heading off the the main chicken coop, Elizabeth opens the main latch to release the chickens inside. They will stay out for most of the day, only returning to the coop when Elizabeth approaches with feed.

Onwards toward the other side of the Farm, Elizabeth heads straight to duck and tilapia pond. She allows the ducks to scurry out before shutting the door behind them. Here, she rinses off the deck and collects any eggs the ducks may have laid the day before. After this is done, she fills the feeder with plenty of food and watches as the ducks hurry back in to devour their breakfast.

9:00 AM

With most of the morning side-work complete, Elizabeth is now free to focus on her individual tasks for the rest of the morning. These tasks often include weeding, planting, or completing a project. Interns are also able to request help of ECHO volunteers during this morning time slot! On this day, Elizabeth had the goal of working on her raised garden beds and requested an extra set of hands. Moments later, three highly motivated volunteers joined us for the “morning in the monsoon.”

The specific tasks including weeding, composting, and mulching four of her raised beds. After countless trips to the compost and mulch piles, water breaks, and one interruption to go catch escaping chickens, our work was finally completed by noon. What would have normally taken Elizabeth a week to do on her own, was easily checked off the list in one morning. Not to mention, group work always makes it more fun!

12:00 PM

The daily lunch plans tend to change, but today there was a special intern lunch gathering. The male interns hosted everyone in their home. Gabe, the urban garden intern, prepared a homemade stew, served with a side of mangoes. As the host, Gabe also prepared an inclusive activity for some group reflection and manifestations. With the addition of two new interns earlier that week, the group utilized this time to share new ideas and goals of what they hope to accomplish together. It was a sweet and tender moment of casting vision for the upcoming months, and the future work in which they are preparing for.

Pictured above: Interns attending their afternoon meeting—lead by farm manager, Andy Cotarelo.

Pictured above: Interns attending their afternoon meeting—lead by farm manager, Andy Cotarelo.

3:00 PM

As the mid-afternoon sun falls lower in the sky, the interns return to group farm work. At 3:00 p.m. exactly, staff, interns, and volunteers integrate for a brief meeting to divide and conquer responsibilities. This afternoon was set aside for smaller, more specific projects around the farm, assigned by farm manager: Andy Cotarelo.

The best thing is, not one afternoon is ever the same. Monday and Wednesday afternoons are reserved for seminars. Interns are merged into a classroom, with a hands-on environment—to learn about vital agricultural information. ECHO’s recent intern seminars have covered a wide variety of topics including: mangoes, beekeeping, bamboo harvesting, and the Biblical basis for ECHO.

Tuesday and Friday afternoons are reserved to work in either the seed bank or propagation. Each intern is assigned to one of these duties for the duration of their internship.

This leaves Thursdays available during the week for ECHO interns and volunteers to join together and complete whatever projects on the farm that could use some extra attention and work.

3:30 PM

As far as farm work, this week Elizabeth teamed up with Feo, the rainforest intern, to overcome a mulching project near the urban garden area. This mulching project quickly became an irrigation problem! To solve it, we began to clear the two main areas of weeds and overgrown greenery with hoes and rakes. Prior to burying the mulch to prevent weeds, we checked to make sure the irrigation in that area was functioning properly- which it was not.

We found a few leaks along the pipe and made repairs before completing the mulching. After confirming with the Farm Manager and multiple trips to the shop, Feo was able to demonstrate how to repair the holes. We polished off the job by dumping and spreading mulch all over both areas.

6:00 PM

The sun sinks lower in the sky as the interns wrap up for the day. Everyone takes careful time to clean, and organize the farm’s tools and golf carts. They are returned to the shop so they are ready to go for tomorrow. Some interns hurried off to their own evening commitments—dinner, bible study, gardening, a pickup volleyball game, or some volunteering.

8:45pm

Elizabeth’s final task of the day was to feed and cage her chickens, similar to the chores we completed that same morning. With her work boots back on and her headlamp to guide the way, we ventured into the dark farm. The mature chickens were far easier to interact with—they even perched themselves for the night inside their coop. We shut the door and admired the beauty, just for a sweet moment.

Treading towards the young chickens, we detoured to the the laying box to pick up a few eggs from the day! We arrived at the teenage chicken’s coop to find that some had gotten out through a small crack again. We returned them to the enclosure, before coaxing the whole group into the left side of the structure for safekeeping from critters overnight. And lastly, the ducks had one more feeding before the hatch closed them in for the night.

9:30pm

It’s now officially the end of the day. Most interns have retired to their respective houses for the night. After a long day of hands-on work in the sun, interns tend to head to bed as soon as they can. Often interns joke about “missionary midnight” which comes at about 9 p.m; signaling the end of the day in the life of an intern.

My ECHO Experience Explained:

I loved following Elizabeth around for the day. I got a tangible sense of what the everyday life of an intern is like. They work in the tropical heat in Florida. Most of their time for 14 months is centered around the farm. But their work has purpose, and there is joy in it. These interns are the backbone of ECHO. The work the interns put in reaps a bountiful harvest— for ECHO, and for the communities the interns are preparing to work alongside. These interns are ECHO’s trainers, partners, and network members. They are quite literally training to be sent out as the hands and feet of Jesus and to be manifestations of the knowledge of the ECHO network. The interns are crucial to ECHO’s mission and have a beautiful role in the work of the Kingdom.

That’s a big deal.

What Does Spring mean to ECHO?

March 21st was the official first day of Spring, and with a new season comes new joy and experiences. The ECHO team recently asked our interns and volunteers on the farm in Florida, what Spring means to them.

It was a gorgeous day on Friday, not a cloud in the sky and the temperature barely crept over 80 degrees. The sun was beaming down on the abundance on the farm, bringing new life and more growth. This was truly a sight to see this morning: interns and volunteers working tirelessly to ensure the farm is in tip-top shape and the plants are thriving! To learn more about seasonal produce and our current favorite recipes, check out this post for some inspiration for fresh Spring meals!

Striding down the dirt path towards the urban garden, there was a smile on every face as we questioned our team members what Spring means for them, and what they were thanking God for this season. The first volunteer we stopped this morning was Kassie Jahr, a volunteer from Taylor University in Indiana:

God makes all things anew.

ECHO: What does Spring mean to you? How does Spring remind you to feel grateful?

Kassie: “God makes all things new. This is something I am constantly reminded of especially seeing what the season has created here on the farm. Our tasks mostly consist of spring cleaning, tidying up, harvesting, and just making things look anew. This is my favorite part about Spring, that God’s promises are always true, it won’t be cold and dead forever; life will still come back and bring new beginnings.”

After a wonderful conversation with Kassie, we traveled down to the warehouse and found two ECHO team members chatting about their daily tasks—this is when we struck up another conversation about Spring:

ECHO: What do you look forward to most about Spring?

Intern: “This may sound weird, but my favorite thing is free Italian ice at Rita’s on the first day of Spring—this gets me excited to know warmer weather is coming. Which is another thing I love: when the air gets warmer and you can feel it on your face. It’s as if you know life just gets happier around this time.”

As we rounded the corner after saying goodbye to our last two team members, we stumbled upon ECHO intern, Matt Cunningham and ECHO volunteer, Alaynna Flannery. When we asked them: “What Does Spring mean to You?” it seemed like a no-brainer for them!

Matt: “With Spring comes the promise of new life, and the freshness of new growth is very promising and encouraging…I appreciate the coolness before the high heat of summer, and try to remember how unique Spring is in and of itself—you can almost taste the Spring freshness in the plants you grow. Everything just tastes…sweeter. The distinction in crops is almost how you feel the seasons based on what you’re eating, and tasting the actual spring season in the plant...that freshness and ripeness.”

Alaynna: “Like Matt said, new life is a perfect way to describe Spring and just the new opportunities and challenges that lay ahead. I feel like this is the season to be surrounded by blooms, colors and growth, which is something specific that makes me feel so grateful for the Spring season. It reminds me to stop and reflect on how much I love and appreciate this life. I feel like I could go on forever regarding what I’m thankful for, but as far as expressing my gratitude and thankfulness, I love to write down how I’m feeling that day and express what it is I am truly grateful for.

We believe that helping small-scale farmers overcome tired soils and difficult conditions is one way to put an end to the suffering and worrying farmers and their families endure everyday.

A wonderful point our volunteers and interns have made here, was the importance of appreciating what we have in the present moment before it is gone. And more importantly, recognizing that having something we are so thankful for, is all the more reason to share it with those who may need it most. In this case, ECHO intern Matt chooses to share his favorite feeling of holding onto the cool, spring air before the searing, summer temperatures are upon us.

Millions of families all over the world hope to hang onto the Spring season, because of its promise of new growth, and the hopes for a plentiful harvest. However, droughts, barren and overworked land, and lack of resources, are just a few challenges that farmers and their families face. When this happens, malnutrition sets in, and families struggle to make a living, cover medical expenses, and send their children to school...all because they don't know where their next meal may come from.

ECHO's mission, is to reduce world hunger by providing sustainable resources, and useful skills, while honoring God by empowering and teaching those who are undernourished. We believe that helping small-scale farmers overcome tired soils and difficult conditions is one way to put an end to the suffering and worrying farmers and their families endure everyday.

Spring Time in a few words:

  • Growth

  • Gratitude

  • Fresh

  • Vibrancy

  • Rebirth

  • Thrive

  • Love

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