Roosters crow. A dark brown dog named Rocky lazes in the sun. Volunteers - young and old, men and women - kneel in the dirt pulling weeds or reach high to harvest fruit. All around is the buzz of activity typical of a working farm.
"I'm harvesting weeds today. As you can see, it never ends," said Joann Soyka, a Fort Myers resident who volunteers at ECHO - Education Concerns for Hunger Organization - a non-profit 50-acre farm in North Fort Myers.
Soyka is one of more than 350 volunteers who help make the non-profit farm successful. On Saturday, the farm will host its 20th annual Farm Day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Located at 17391 Durrance Road, admission is $5 in advance, $7 the day of the event, and free for 10 and under.
Fort Myers resident and ECHO volunteer Joann Soyka, above, pulls weeds while the farm’s guard dog, Rocky, keeps her company.
ECHO's main goal is to fight world hunger by testing new farming techniques and training people to implement them around the world. It is now in its 30th year of operation, said Communications Manager Danielle Flood.
Farm Day allows people to see ECHO in a less formal way than the regular daily tours and also brings attention to the agency and its mission.
"We open it up as a sort of open house," Flood said. "They can walk around at their own pace and see whatever meets their desires."
Participants will be able to taste fresh squeezed orange juice and other citrus grown on the farm, as well as fresh sugar cane juice, and try their hand at making peanut butter. Kids activities include leaf printing, pot painting, seed planting and one activity allows them to get up close and personal with an animal.
"We'll have 'hug a chicken,'" Flood said. "The kids can get their picture taken."
Workshops include bamboo and container gardening, grafting, and local edible plants. A vermiculture display has a tunnel giving people an idea of what it's like to be a worm.
Six different climate settings are represented on the farm, with agricultural techniques geared toward improving farming in that setting.
"The whole farm is set up on problems and solutions," said Docent Alden Miller who has lead tours at the farm for more than a decade. "We come up with ideas and then disseminate them to help produce food."
Plant varieties on the farm are not just for food use. Bamboo can be used for building, grasses for erosion stabilization and other plants for medicinal purposes. Animals on the farm include goats, ducks, rabbits, fish and chickens. One small, rectangular plot has a makeshift home to simulate life in a third world country, and is part of an experiment investigating whether all dietary needs - fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and more - can be grown there.
An urban garden demonstrates how edible plants can be grown with things like aluminum cans, pinecones or hay for ground cover.
"Things are always changing," Miller said. "It's a training farm, not a show farm."
In 2010, more than 14,000 people visited the farm, Flood said.
"It keeps growing every year," she said.
For more information, call 543-3246.