Another Leaf, Please! ECHO’s Community Garden Intern Gets Her Hands Dirty in Schools

ECHO’s Community Garden Intern shares her experiences with visits to local schools. For Lauren, farming has been part of her background for most of her life, but for many of the students she meets, their food horizons are limited. Lauren is working to change that through ECHO and a partnership with Publix Super Markets Charities.

Leeann Estrada

The kids’ eyes bulged when Lauren told them that the plant they were holding in their hands was the same one that could grow in an East African village. Lauren absolutely loves it when they react like this.  As part of her role as the Community Garden Intern, Pennsylvania-native Lauren Kachel regularly visits nearby schools to teach students about the underutilized crops that ECHO promotes to smallholder farmers in the tropics. For Lauren, this is a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between people from very different cultures around the world. 

Kachel is no stranger to farm life. Growing up, her family kept a garden and sold their tomatoes to local grocery stores, and she also worked on a dairy farm for six years. In high school, she joined and excelled in the National FFA Organization – an institution that equips youth to pursue careers in agricultural education. She raised two lambs, cared for her school’s livestock, and was chairman of the annual plant sale – she even earned FFA’s highest-level degree. In college, she pursued a degree in Agricultural Extension and Education which has served her well as the Community Garden intern, especially when interacting with young children who may have minimal experience with farming or gardening. Through her easy-going nature and approachability, she is providing hands-on learning activities to inspire a future generation of hunger fighters. 

Recently, Lauren visited an elementary school that had planted a cranberry hibiscus shrub – a burgundy-hued tropical plant with sweet and sour-tasting leaves. She said, “It is so cool if kids can see that and eat it too.” She recalled a story of how one of the students picked a bell pepper and weighed it on a scale – proudly presenting the fruits of his labor. Some of the kids then showed her their well-established agroforestry plot,  including an avocado tree, papaya, and more cranberry hibiscus.

On another visit, she partnered with a Lee County school organization called the “Healthy Living Collaboration” made up of retired teachers, school district employees, and other ECHO partners like the Harry Chapin Food Bank. Their once-a-month meetings are held at different schools to provide resources and training for teachers on how to boost local food security and overall well-being. 

Later, at a STEMtastic day event hosted by the Lee County school district at the Caloosa Sound Convention Center, she gave students a taste test. She brought moringa, katuk, and cranberry hibiscus from ECHO along with more commonly-eaten Romaine lettuce and Iceberg lettuce from a grocery store. Each leafy green was laid on a table and as each student walked up, she would ask them, “Is this edible?” Many of the students said the ECHO leaves were not edible, exclaiming about the lettuce, “Oh, I know this one!” Her response would leave them in shock, unaware that ALL of them were completely edible. One student even asked for another leaf to eat!  

As Lauren realizes that the knowledge she has gained at ECHO is not always available to resource-limited communities, she has grown her passion to serve communities abroad one day. She looks forward to sharing the Gospel among unreached people groups in the region of Central Asia in the next few years. For now, she will be transitioning into the year-long Propagation Assistant position at ECHO North America, giving her more room to grow and reflect before she begins her missionary training endeavor. 

Through Lauren’s passion, and thanks in part to support by Publix Super Markets Charities, school children and community gardens across Lee and Collier counties are learning about and growing their own fresh and healthy food. “Another leaf, please!”

ECHO provides hope against hunger around the globe through agricultural training and resources. As a Christian technical networking and resourcing organization, ECHO builds a diverse, global network and serves that network by sharing validated contextualized agricultural options with technical excellence. ECHO’s goal is to serve its network members to advance food security and sustainable livelihoods. ECHO’s North American Regional Impact Center is located in Fort Myers, Florida with a global presence through four Regional Impact Centers in the USA, Thailand, Tanzania, and Burkina Faso. For more information about ECHO call 239-543-3246 or visit echonet.org or ECHOcommunity.org.

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