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Food & Farm Fest brings thousands to ECHO

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Mar 15, 2023

Hank Frechtling mulches up some sugar cane stalks with help from fellow volunteer Barry Gentile during ECHO’s 31st annual Food & Farm Festival on Saturday. CHUCK BALLARO

One of the area’s biggest culinary and educational experiences returned to ECHO last week as the global farm hosted the 31st annual Food & Farm Festival.

The festival was the biggest one yet, with five days of hands-on classes, seminars, cooking demonstrations, tropical lunches, fun for the kids and samples of some the food made with what is grown at the farm.

Danielle Flood, ECHO’s communications director, said it was great to include more days of hands-on activities to give people a chance to get more out of the festival.

“Visitors were able to gather tips for their own backyard. They got to try a tropical-tasting lunch, which sold out almost every day,” Flood said. “We also hosted a beekeeping workshop, food preservation workshop and how to build a kid-friendly food forest.”

Saturday was the busiest day, by far, with plenty of cooking demonstrations, starting with the traditional coffee tasting with Bones Coffee of Cape Coral, which brought in both hot and cold brews.

Colton Siemers, 9, and his brother, Landon, 12, make a craft during ECHO’s 31st annual Food & Farm Festival on Saturday. CHUCK BALLARO

“We brought in a couple of cold brews and hot coffee from Ethiopia and dark roast,” “Coffees are different in each country. Sumatra is a dark, flavorful coffee, Ethiopian is very mellow,” said Frank Barbato, retail specialist with Bones. It’s like wine and grapes, it’s where it comes from.”

From there, it was on to try something tasty, from the homemade peanut butter to the juice from sugar cane, which Barry Gentile squeezed out of the stalk and longtime volunteer Hank Frechtling mulched using a bicycle to create energy to run the mulcher.

“As soon as I retired in 2013, I started as a volunteer. I love what ECHO does. The people are Christians who make the world a better place as God intended,” Frechtling said. “I like how they provide options to the less fortunate in developing countries in the Tropics to have less hunger.”

Visitors also learned different kinds of gardening methods, such as urban gardening. It was the job of intern Tammi Brittain to provide instruction.

“We teach people to grow things on little or no soil or land. We use containers for gardening, especially reusing things like old tires or kiddie pools,” Brittain said. “They also use old carpets as wicking beds and other resources.”

Tai Carrot Salad with Curried Cashews during ECHO’s 31st annual Food & Farm Festival on Saturday.

Visitors were learning a lot. Laura Siemers brought her two sons, Landon, 12, and Colton, 9. Landon came on a field trip when he was younger and fell in love with it. She said she learned a lot about natural plants that serve medicinal purposes.

“We’ve come every year for the festival. My boys are scouts and they said we can learn some things so Landon can get a badge,” Laura said. “He learned about another way to filter water besides the way they teach the Boy Scouts.”

“It’s pretty good. It’s a hard choice to decide what I learned the most. I learned about different kinds of fertilizer and water filters. There was a lot to learn,” Colton said.

ECHO is at 17391 Durrance Road. For more information, visit echonet.org.

ECHO intern Sammi Brittain, in the green shirt, speaks with, from left, Haven, Brad and Stephanie West in the Urban Garden during ECHO’s 31st annual Food & Farm Festival on Saturday. CHUCK BALLARO