Brad Ward (back row with tie) talk with members of the Leadership Committe for Africa and Global Studies Institute about amaranth and the ECHO organization. Culver photos/Jan Garrison
November 7, 2014

Calling amaranth the “700-year overnight sensation,” agricultural technical consultant Brad Ward said the grain is part of a handful of ancient grains and vegetables long forgotten that are now emerging as life-changing super foods to help feed the hungry around the world.

Ward, from the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO), which is based in North Fort Myers, Fla., spoke at Culver Academies Nov. 5 about the research and field work being conducted by his organization during a joint session of the Global Studies Institute and Culver Girls Academy’s Leadership Committee for Africa.

Ward said the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans all grew amaranth for its nutritional benefits throughout Central and South America. But when the Spanish conquered these people, amaranth disappeared from the agricultural scene as corn took over.

But regional crops like amaranth, moringa, and chaya are slowly coming back “on a global scale” as the next super foods, similar to how quinoa is being touted today, he said. Compared to corn, amaranth has a higher protein content, certain varieties thrive in drought conditions, and it requires less fertilizer. It is an ideal crop for small, subsistence farmers.

Dick and Jo Dugger were honored by LCA for their work with the group for promoting amaranth. Making the presentation were seniors Madeline Sorg, Erin Luck, and Olivia Martinez.

Dick and Jo Dugger were honored by LCA for their work with the group for promoting amaranth. Making the presentation were seniors Madeline Sorg, Erin Luck, and Olivia Martinez.

ECHO assists the small farmers, those with two to four acres, to grow enough nutritionally rich foods to sustain their families and sell what is left. The organization’s 50-acre test farm in Florida is designed to mimic the four climate conditions found in the equatorial region. There are plots established as lowlands, mountains, monsoons, and semi-arid. The organization is also working on rooftop and container farming for people living in urban areas.

After testing and collecting data on what works, the ECHO staff makes that information available to field operators around the world. ECHO has 350 seed varieties available and has sent them to 140 countries. The research farm includes a small livestock operation, with chickens, ducks, rabbits, goats, a pig, and a cow. “The cow thinks she’s a goat because that’s all she has around her,” he added.

ECHO is also involved with developing “appropriate technology” that can be reproduced in different parts of the world. While he was working in Honduras, the village families cooked with stoves that had no chimneys. The women and children were breathing in the smoke equivalent of two packs of cigarettes a day, leading to major respiratory problems. ECHO developed a small cook stove that uses much less wood and creates less smoke. The new stove was a win-win, he said, because it helped slow deforestation of the rain forest and improved families’ health at the same time.

ECHO was originally founded by Culver resident Dick Dugger, who has also worked closely with LCA through the years. ECHO originally stood for Educational Concerns for Haiti Organization and has transitioned into its multinational role today. It has 50 full-time staff, 10 interns, and an information network of over 7,000 people in 168 countries. ECHO also helps train Peace Corps volunteers before they are sent to their locations.

Ward said his work is done “while standing on the shoulders of giants. Mr. Dugger is one of those giants.”

Ward said his work is done “while standing on the shoulders of giants. Mr. Dugger is one of those giants.”

LCA’s involvement with amaranth growth and production came through Dugger and his wife, Jo. The Duggers helped LCA establish an amaranth test plot in nearby Burr Oak, Ind., and sent seeds from the plot to Iowa State University to be included in a large-scale study on the grain. LCA has also developed with Davis Chocolate in Mishawaka, Ind., a liquid mixture of peanut butter, chocolate and amaranth that is similar to an energy pack. It will be available on the Culver campus in the near future.

The Duggers were honored during the evening for their involvement with LCA. Dick Dugger said their interest in amaranth grew out of their missionary work in Zimbabwe several years ago. “There is quite a story to go with (amaranth),” he said, “and there is more to come.”

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