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Sunlight reflects off of plastic bags and convicts on a prison rooftop in St. Petersburg, Russia. It’s not an escape gone wrong—there are guards up there, too. It’s an urban garden that gives prisoners, responsible for caring for the plants, purpose and saves the prison hundreds of dollars a month. It’s an initiative by ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization).

Founded in 1981, ECHO is a technical support organization that helps those working internationally with the poor. They network with community leaders in developing countries to seek hunger solutions for families growing food under difficult conditions. So far, they’re serving agricultural workers in 180 countries.

One of their resources is ECHO Development Notes, a free quarterly publication they send to development workers, Peace Corps volunteers and grassroots organizations. They often mention food plants that have been found to promote better nutrition. These seeds are then available for workers to share with their community. “Changing climatic situations threaten millions until a development worker teaches an alternative method of growing rice learned from ECHO Development Notes,” says Danielle Flood, ECHO’s communications manager.

Sometimes all it takes is one plant to make a difference—like Moringa oleifera, a tree first noticed by ECHO’s co-founder in Haiti. Moringa is a highly nutritious, edible plant that can bring malnourished children back to healthy weight within weeks.

In Senegal, West Africa, an American doctor was working in a remote hospital treating malnourished children. After learning about Moringa from ECHO, and noticing the tree already grew in the hospital yard, he suggested his patients incorporate it into their diet. They refused, saying that only goats and cows eat leaves. ECHO gave him the plans to build a simple solar dehydrator, which helped him pound the leaves into powder. He then administered it as a prescription, and villagers immediately accepted it as “medicine.” It’s now sold by villagers throughout the area.

Local communities are also seeking ECHO’s help. “We’re seeing more interest by schools in how they can make a direct connection between themselves and food supply,” Flood says. “People are feeling vulnerable to rising fuel and food costs, and want to grow some of their own food to offset those costs.”

ECHO also helps restore farms by teaching new techniques and tips for climate adaptation to local farmers. “Poverty is often a state of having no options,” Flood says. “We provide options to those who need them most.

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