Organic Farming Summer Program
We are increasingly disconnected from nature, and in particular, from the sources of our food. Today, many of the foods that characterize a typical Western diet come from a global supply chain, which has produced devastating effects on our economy, our health, and the environment.
In this 22-Day Sustainable Summer Ecuador program…
- You’ll learn fascinating facts, like why many of the foods we eat are really just processed corn and why the earthworm may be the most important organism on the planet.
- You’ll learn practical skills like, how to plant and maintain a garden and how to compost your food waste at home.
- You’ll consider political challenges to agricultural sustainability in a global context, like how government subsidies and biofuel programs have put 1.5 million farmers in Latin America out of work, many of whom are now working illegally in meat packing plants in the US.
- You’ll examine the ecological impacts of our global food system, which accounts for substantial greenhouse gas emissions, water and energy usage, land degradation, pollution, and public health issues.
Your Sustainable Summer experience will span from the shimmering Pacific to the majestic Andes. The first two weeks of the trip will be based at the Rio Muchacho Organic Farm, near the coastal town of Canoa. Sustainable Summer and Rio Muchacho, one of Ecuador’s leading organizations for agricultural sustainability and eco-tourism, have developed a customized, 1-week organic farming program for our participants that combines a broad-based sustainability curriculum with theoretical and practical investigation of food and agriculture. Learn more about Rio Muchacho and our sustainable agriculture course instructors here.
Next, we will head down the coast to Machalilla National Park and Isla de la Plata (the ‘mini-Galapagos) for a few days before venturing into backroads of the Andean highlands, where we’ll spend a few days at the Black Sheep Inn, a world renowned eco-lodge focused on ‘permaculture’ and community-owned tourism. The final segment of the program will be in the Tumbaco Valley, learning from local artisans and food producers who are pioneering new models of sustainable production and consumption, and meeting with leaders of a grassroots effort to reform agricultural production in the Andean nations.
We’ll make sure there’s ample time for fun and adventure in between and alongside the educational components. A few examples include whale watching at Isla de la Plata, hiking around the iconic Laguna Quilatoa, surfing, horseback-riding, and much more.
Not sure if this is the right option for you? Use our Compare Programs page to help you assess which Sustainable Summer is the best fit for your interests and comfort zone.
Day 1: Evening arrival at the Quito airport. Most participants will arrive on our ‘group flight’ with our trip leaders. We’ll take private transportation to our guest house in Cumbaya, an upmarket neighborhood outside of Quito. We’ll have dinner and a brief welcome meeting before turning in for the night.
Day 2: We’ll start the program with a full day of orientation. We’ll review health and safety protocols, become familiar with local customs, and share our individual and mutual goals for the program.
Day 3: After breakfast, we begin our descent out of the highlands to the Pacific Coast and the picturesque beach town of Canoa. We’ll stop at the Mitad del Mundo equator monument and have lunch in Mindo along the way. We’ll enjoy dinner at a beachfront restaurant in Canoa and watch the sunset over the Pacific before continuing on to our home for the next nine nights at the Rio Muchacho Organic Farm. Rio Muchacho, a pioneer of eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture in Ecuador, lies about 17 kilometers from Canoa in the Rio Muchacho valley.
Days 4 – 6: We’ll begin our food & agriculture segment with an orientation at Rio Muchacho to learn about the farm’s history, environmental practices, and our morning “routines.” Over the next three days, we’ll participate in the first half of our organic farming and permaculture course. Topics include principles of organic farming, problems with the global industrial food system, composting methods, garden design, and more. The objective of this segment is to teach students practical, transferable skills that can be brought back to home or school for implementation in actual food production systems, while also building foundational knowledge in the area of agricultural sustainability.
Day 7: It’s the weekend, so we’ll take a break from our sustainability “studies” and hit the beach. It’s a quick ride from the farm to Canoa where we’ll do a surfing lesson, go sea kayaking, or just hang out and relax. Canoa is one of the top beach destinations in Ecuador for good reason. Enjoy practicing your Spanish with friendly locals, sipping a batido (fruit smoothie), or working on your longboard moves. It’s muy tranquilo.
Day8: Community service day. Rio Muchacho operates an ‘environmental school’ for the local children in the valley. It’s a wonderful program designed to give the kids in this rural farming community more than just the basic education that most Ecuadorians receive. A cornerstone of the curriculum is the idea of environmental responsibility. Unfortunately, much of the valley has been devastated by overfarming and slash and burn agriculture related to carte grazing. Overall agricultural productivity has dropped significantly, which is, of course, not only an environmental problem, but an economic problem. A “trickle-up” solution is being tested with this education initiative, with the hope that the next generation of farmers are able to take better care of the land than their parents have. We’ll spend the day helping to make the school a better place to learn. Last year, we built bookshelves, painted the reading room, tiled the bathroom, built a sandbox, and installed a water pump.
Days 9 and 10: We’ll resume our organic farming and sustainable agriculture course.
Day 11: For our final day at Rio Muchacho, we’ll prepare a traditional ‘tonga’ lunch and then ride horseback to the ‘monkey forest’ for a hike into the jungle in search of howlers. It’s an all-day event and a great way to finish out our time in the region.
Day 12: We’re back on the move, this time towards Puerto Lopez, the gateway to the “other” Galapagos Island, Isla de la Plata. We’ll stop in Bahia, Ecuador’s “eco-city” en route to check out a paper recycling facility, environmental education program, and other eco-friendly practices that make Bahia one of the most popular places to live on the coast. Arriving in Puerto Lopez for lunch, we’ll settle into our accommodations, right on the beach in the north end of town and enjoy a low-key afternoon.
Day 13: Summer is peak season for humpback whale migration along the coast of Ecuador. We’ll take a boat out to Isla Plata, combining a full day of whalewatching with snorkeling and the wildlife riches of this Galapagos cousin. The Galapagos has all the brand recognition, but Isla Plata is, by some measures, a more interesting destination. Last year, we saw literally dozens of blue-footed boobies in their mating ritual, the more elusive red-footed boobies, frigate birds by the thousands, and the true highlight – humpback whales breaching in a spectacular show. The snorkeling was also outstanding, with rays and tropical fish in abundance.
Day 14: Isla de la Plata is part of the Machalilla National Park, the only coastal national park in mainland Ecuador. Playa Frailles, nestled inside a sheltered cove within the park, is widely considered Ecuador’s best beach, yet amazingly still sees few crowds. We’ll spend the day enjoying Ecuador’s finest sand and surf. Vamos a la playa!
Days 15 – 16: Time to start making our way back to the Highlands. Our destination is the groundbreaking Black Sheep Inn eco-lodge in remote Chugchilan, situated at over 10000 feet in elevation in the Central Highlands. It’s only about six hours from Puerto Lopez to Chugchilan, but we’ll break the trip up over two days, since it is a tough bus ride up endless switch-backs and down dirt roads. We’ll spend the night at a hotel outside Quevedo. There’s not much to do in Quevedo, but the hotel has a great pool and we can spend a final afternoon soaking up the tropical warmth of the coastal plain before venturing into the colder temps of the Andes mountains. With a little luck, we’ll arrive at the Black Sheep Inn on the second day in time for a delicious lunch and an easy afternoon hike to get acclimated.
Day 17: Waking up to the sunrise in this part of the Andes is breathtaking. The groundbreaking Black Sheep Inn eco-lodge, situated near the iconic Laguna Quilatoa, is one of those places that works oh so well as a full experience. The inn itself is intimate and magical. The food – all vegetarian – is incredible. The people are friendly and fascinating. And the scenery is second to none. We’ll get a personal tour of the Inn’s world renowned permaculture and sustainability initiatives, as well as some of the micro-enterprises in the region such as the community-owned cheese factory started by a NGO.
Day 18: We’ll explore the majestic Andes with the classic hike from the rim of Quilatoa’s picturesque crater lake back to the lodge. It’s a full day affair that takes in some of the most stunning scenery in all of Ecuador.
Day 19: After a delicious breakfast, we’re back on the road and en route to Tumbaco, near the capital Quito. Today is a Thursday, which means of the highland’s biggest markets is going on. Forget about the tourist market at Otavalo – discerning travelers head to Saquisili on Thursdays for Ecuador’s most fascinating market. Indigenous people from all over the central sierra journey here every Thursday to purchase and trade vegetables, animals, grain baskets, woven goods, and much more. After some time practicing our bartering skills at the market, will continue on to Tumbaco, another two to three hours up the Panamerican Highway, and settle into our guesthouse for the final nights of the program.
Day 20 – 21: In this final segment of the program, our friend Javier Carerra will facilitate two full days of activities and lessons on permaculture design, seed saving, and the global politics of sustainable agriculture. Javier is the founder and director of the Red de Guardianes de Semillas (the Seed Saving Network) and of the Eco-versidid (the Eco University). He is a sustainable agriculture expert and also the leader of a grassroots effort to reform agricultural production in the Andean nations. Javier is an engaging teacher and this segment of the program is very popular with our students, despite the very serious academic nature of the content. As a capstone experience, it merges the theoretical and practical knowledge we’ve acquired over the previous 3 weeks with the political and economic realities that progressive Ecuadorians are facing.
Day 22: Return home or continue on to our Galapagos Extension program.
(Please note, this itinerary is subject to change.)
Sustainability Immersion Experience
All Sustainable Summer programs feature a sustainability “immersion” experience whereby the students live together in close proximity to the sources of their food, water, and energy in a low-impact or zero-waste way. Typically, this involves living in a community where the majority of food is grown for local consumption; local small-scale renewable energy sources provide most or all of the communities energy needs; and drinking water is collected on site. On our Costa Rica: Bridge to the Future program, Rancho Mastatal will be our ‘sustainability immersion’experience.
Accommodations on the program will range from eco-lodges to beach cabanas to hotels. Depending on the location, students may have one roommate or several. Students are always in gender segregated rooms and our trip leaders are always nearby and available 24/7. In general, accommodations are not luxurious, but clean and pleasant with a lot of character.
At Rio Muchacho, students will be housed in cabins with typically 4-8 people. Accommodations at Rio Muchacho are rustic, but comfortable, and typically are constructed from wood grown on the farm, and thatch roofs. Cabins on the farm are quite comparable with cabins at traditional overnight summer camps. All bathrooms feature dry composting toilets, and hot water is occasionally available for showers through solar power. All rooms have electrical outlets and lights, but the power supply in the Rio Muchacho valley is inconsistent, so students should plan to bring headlamps or flashlights, in case of a blackout.
The accommodations at the other destinations of the program are typically higher-end (for Ecuador) eco-lodges or or family-run bed & breakfasts. Where possible, we stay in accommodations that have a concerted focus on sustainable tourism practices, such as the Black Sheep Inn.
All rooms have electrical outlets and lights. It’s worth noting here that Rio Muchacho does not provide mosquito nets. In multiple visits to Rio Muchacho, we have never scene a mosquito. However, there are other insects and students that are not comfortable with the notion of a spider crawling on top of them in the middle of the night may want to bring a mosquito net in the interest of comfort and a good night’s sleep.
The food at Rio Muchacho is extremely fresh, local and delicious. Most of the food participants eat is harvested directly from the farm on a daily basis. Breakfast consists of fresh fruit, granola, tea or coffee, and some variety of bread or baked goods. Lunch is typically the biggest meal of the day, and consists of soup, rice and legumes, salads, cooked vegetables and fresh juice. Dinner is a lighter meal, and usually features either pasta or rice with an accompanying sauce, and a salad or side vegetable, as well as tea or hot chocolate.
Our food choices at other destinations during the program are invariably locally grown, healthy, and quite often vegetarian. We will eat many meals ‘family-style’ at our accommodations, although in certain locations, such as on our day trip to Canoa, students will be given the option to choose from several different local restaurants for lunch.
Ecuador packs a lot into a relatively small place. It is the most bio-diverse country on the planet relative to its size, which is roughly equal to Colorado. Ecuador owes its incredible biodiversity to its stunningly varied geography: you could travel from a tropical beach to the Andean highlands to the Amazon rainforest all within a single day’s drive. Situated on the Equator, elevation is an important determinant of climate. Snow-capped volcanoes stud the majestic Andes, which run up the spine of the country north to south, giving way to cloud forest transition zones on either side.
Ecuador’s natural bounty, vibrant culture, and friendly people have made it one of the most desirable places to live in the world, ranked #1 on International Living’s top retirement destinations for several years running. It’s safe, has a well-developed tourism industry, and even uses the US dollar for currency.
The indigenous people of the Andes held pachamama – roughly translated as ‘Mother Earth’ – as their most sacred deity. Today, you’ll find pachamama and ‘Nature’ with assigned rights in Ecuador’s constitution, being the first nation to do so in 2008. Yet it continues to be one of the worst offenders of environmental degradation. Ecuador is in the midst of an economic boom. The pressure to develop its considerable natural resources has led to deforestation, species extinction, watershed contamination, soil depletion, and much more. These factors, and many more, make it the ultimate experiential classroom for the study of sustainability.
All programs include a broad introduction to sustainability as an interdisciplinary concept from a social sciences perspective. Some environmental science, as well as cultural and human dimensions of sustainability, is also part of the curriculum.
This course – through readings, discussions, presentations, and fieldwork – will examine sustainability through the investigation of energy, water, and agriculture projects with the understanding that truly sustainable solutions take into account not only the environment, but also the people, culture and economy of a given place. By the end of the program, participants should have a solid, coherent understanding of what it means for an action, organization, or approach to be considered sustainable, and the many challenges we face to achieving environmental sustainability. Most importantly, Sustainable Summer students will have begun the important process of thinking critically about what we can do individually, collectively and globally, to begin to solve the planet’s most pressing problems.
Although every Sustainable Summer program uses a standardized curriculum and approach, individual programs function very differently. Sustainability is an extremely broad field and each program emphasizes certain curricular segments more or less, depending on the planned (and unplanned) opportunities for instruction available on the program.
Agricultural production is always given important emphasis on every Sustainable Summer program. The problems with the global food production system are enormous, yet, on an individual or family level, there are few “easier” things that one can do to live more sustainably than make better choices in the grocery store. Consequently, Sustainable Summer is designed to highlight examples of sustainable agriculture by actively involving students in local food production. Our investigation of agriculture will often stimulate later discussions in our water and energy segments, for example, with irrigation or agricultural water pollution, or food transportation or methane biodigesters.
Ecuador: Seeds of Change Curriculum
Our Ecuador: Seeds of Change program has a special emphasis on agriculture and is a great option for students that have an interest in organic farming, gardening, food justice, and related areas. We will visit commercial-scale wind and hydroelectric projects and also learn about a wide range of local-scale renewable energy sources from biodigesters to micro-hydro to thermal solar.
- Develop student’s “eco-literacy” and critical thinking about sustainability.
- Develop understanding of the interconnectedness of human and natural systems; the linkages found in nature and those connecting economic systems, environment, and society.
- Develop a learning environment that provides students the ability to acquire values and feelings of concern for sustainability while providing skills training for identifying and solving problems objectively.
- Participation in course activities: Participation is the largest qualitative and subjective aspect of this program, and will have a substantial impact on the student’s experience in the Sustainable Summer program. All students are encouraged to think critically about the issues at hand, and to share his/her opinion regularly within group discussions. Group discussions occur daily without exception during the program.
- Completion of course assignments and assessments: All assignments in the course reader are obligatory, and should be completed prior to the relevant class period or group discussion.
- Co-Facilitation: Students must take initiative in coordinating and co-facilitating at least one small group discussion on a topic related to the course.
- Journal entries: Students are required to keep a journal that documents their participation in the program and course. They will have focused reflective assignments that will be reviewed by Program Facilitators. Journal entries can be creative and include drawings, question lists (good for generating discussion), and other mixed-media elements. The aim is for these entries to be concise while also allowing space for students to present their comprehension of a reading, theme or issue.
- Sustainability Action Plan: Students are required to develop a personal Sustainability Action Plan (SAP), which will document the steps they would like to take when they return home to put what they have learned in the course into practice. The SAP should detail changes they will make on a daily, monthly and yearly basis, and will also outline steps to encourage members of their family, peer groups and community to adopt similar measures.
Our curriculum includes a required pre-program segment designed to build a common foundation among student in key concepts. The pre-program coursework is about 10 hours, can be completed at the student’s convenience, and includes readings, online video lectures, and some short assignments. This segment covers defines sustainability and major factors that contribute to unsustainable impacts; establishes basic frameworks to analyze and assess sustainability; and introduces methods for implementing sustainable solutions at local, community, regional, national, and international scales.
Our Educational Philosophy
We take the academic component of Sustainable Summer very seriously. Students should be prepared to engage in the subject matter intellectually. This does not necessitate any previous coursework beyond a freshman earth science or biology course. Motivated students that possess strong environmental sensitivities will have no problem with the course material provided that they are prepared to do the reading and the work that compliment all of the “experiential” aspects of the program. Once we are “on-program,” most of the active learning we will be doing will be “field-based.” We don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense to travel to a fascinating destination and then spend most of the day in a classroom. However we believe that a structured curriculum designed to reinforce the many lessions of the program is necessary to foster retention and transferrence. We realize that this type of language may appeal to parents and educators much more so than students. So, to students that may be wondering if Sustainable Summer is “all work and no fun,” we assure you that there will be ample time to make new friends, hang out, explore, be silly, and be active. If you’re not sure that the program strikes the right balance between structured and unstructured time, between fun and serious time, or between experiences and academic, just give us a call and we’ll put you in touch with past students who can help describe our approach from a student’s perspective.
These FAQs are specific to Ecuador: Seeds of Change, including FAQs about student health and safety, travel, trip leaders, and other important information that prospective students and parents should consider before applying to Sustainable Summer.
For general FAQs about tuition, scholarships, how to apply or enroll, payment, what to pack, how to prepare, etc., please check our Prospective Student FAQs for more information. Enrolled participants should login to their MySummer account for all pre-program information.
Sustainable Summer is not for everyone. In addition to the age requirements (15 – 18 years old), in general, you should have a strong interest in environmental sustainability and the requisite physical and emotional maturity to handle the experience of traveling with your peers in a developing country for 2 to 4 weeks. Use our Compare Programs page to help you assess which Sustainable Summer is the best fit for your interests and comfort zone.
Ecuador is wonderful country and although the Galapagos has been a major tourist destination for decades, mainland Ecuador is quickly growing in popularity as a destination for “adventure travelers.” Services for travelers are quite good by developing country standards, but the tourism industry is nowhere near as established as, for example, Costa Rica. This is part of the charm of being a traveler in Ecuador – you can discovery the country on your own terms. However, it can also make for challenging travel at times. This program, in particular, gets a little more off the beaten path than other Sustainable Summer programs. The accommodations can be very rustic, bus roads can exceed five hours (not including unanticipated delays), and the physical circumstances of living – for instance, at 11000 feet of elevation or in thatched roof cabin in the coastal jungle – are challenging. However, Sustainable Summer is designed to push you out of your element. A healthy degree of challenge is a very good thing! Look carefully at the course information, and in particular, the curriculum and food and lodging tabs to ensure this program is a good fit for you.
Sustainable Summer trips typically consist of 15 students, ranging in age from 15 to 18. Most students do not enroll with a friend, but pairs of students are welcome to come together.
Sustainable Summer will organize a group flight from the United States, which all participants are strongly encouraged to take. This flight will be chaperoned by a trip leader. More information about securing a seat on the group flight will be provided upon enrollment in the program. Once in country, all travel will be by private coach when we are traveling any significant distance, although we may occasionally use other transport when traveling locally. This can range from a the local bus to a cattle truck. Traveling like a local is part of the experience!
No Spanish is required to participate in the program; however, students with a basic command of the language will find numerous opportunities to practice their Spanish with native speakers. Students who have not previously studied Spanish will get a crash course in ‘survival’ Spanish during our orientation. Because all course instruction is in English, students who do not speak Spanish should be able to participate fully in the program, and reap the full benefits of Sustainable Summer in Ecuador.
There’s plenty of opportunity for rest, relaxation, and fun. Activities on this program include surfing, hiking, whale-watching, snorkeling, and horseback riding, just to name a few examples.
This program is not explicitly intended to be a “community service” trip. All of our programs feature partnerships with local organizations with a strong commitment to improving and sustaining the local community and we will actively engage in a day or two of community service during the program. Sustainable Summer will provide documentation of the program fundamentals and community service hours.
Communication via cell phone or Internet is often not possible for several days at a time during programs. When we are out of cell phone range, we always have an immediate means of reaching emergency assistance should it be needed, for instance, via short wave radio. However, students should be prepared for the reality that they may not be able to place or receive calls or check email for long stretches during the program, up to one week at a time. Internet access at several points during the program, so students can plan to check in with family and friends intermittently throughout the trip. In case of emergency, family members will be able to reach our 24 hour hotline to communicate important information to their students in as timely a manner as is practical.
Ecuador is typically considered one of the safest countries for travelers to Latin America. Additionally, the areas where we will travel are frequently visited by foreign travelers, and crime is rare. Ecuadorians in general are very welcoming to travelers from the United States, and many of the local people we will visit will treat participants with the same regard and concern they would show family members. One fact we like to share with families is that Ecuador has been voted the top retirement destination for American expats by the publication International Living for several years running. The healthcare and infrastructure is quite good, and in many cases as good or better than “first-world” standards. Hospitals in Quito are excellent with English-speaking doctors trained in the US or Europe. Many new roads and highways have been constructed in recent years making ground transportation safe and efficient. The country has also been politically stable since switching over to the US dollar for currency in 2001. The current president, Rafael Correa, was re-elected in February 2013 and is widely admired by his citizens for ushering in a wave of economic prosperity and modernization.Costa Rica is typically considered one of the safest countries for travelers in Central America. It is widely recognized as an eco-tourism pioneer and has been a major destination for western traveler for decades. The country has a very well developed tourist sector that is actively regulated by the government. Potable water is available out of the tap in most parts of the country, food safety and health care standards are very high by ‘developing’ country standards, and violent crime is very low.
We expect that every trip will run smoothly and without incident, but we plan for the worst. Sustainable Summer has invested in the quality of its risk management practices by participating in the Risk Management Training offered by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), an organization with over 40 years of experience managing risk in wilderness environments. As a result of this training Sustainable Summer has developed a risk management strategy encompassing all levels of our organization. In order to mitigate the risk that is inherent in all international expeditions, we have invested time and resources in these practices because the health and well being of our participants is of the highest priority. All Sustainable Summer programs feature experienced staff using established risk management best practices to guide every decision. All trip leaders have CPR and Wilderness First Aid training, and at least one leader possesses advanced medical training.
All participants are required to be enrolled in a comprehensive medical and travel insurance as part of their program tuition. (You will be given the option of having Sustainable Summer purchase a plan from our preferred provider on your behalf when you enroll in the program.) We use private transportation when traveling between locations. We work exclusively with experienced local operators who have been vetted by our team. We conduct training with all trip leaders and establish clear protocols to mitigate risk and effectively mobilize resources in the event of an emergency. Please see our Safety page for a more comprehensive overview of our approach to student health and well-being. If you have specific questions about your situation, please contact us to discuss. Answers to some common questions about health and safety are below:
All trip leaders have current first aid and CPR certifications, and can treat basic medical situations on-site. Sustainable Summer has clearly defined protocols in the event of a health/medical emergency. All participants are required to be enrolled in a travel health insurance plan whlie traveling on the program. Policies that cover emergency health and medical evacuation while traveling abroad are inexpensive and Sustainable Summer can purchase a plan on your behalf when you enroll in the program. In the immediate areas we will be visiting, medical clinics are available for a broad range of health issues, but participants with more serious needs will be transported to Quito for more comprehensive treatment. Hospitals in Quito adhere to similar standards and practices as medical facilities in the United States.
Sustainable Summer is eager to accommodate medical or dietary needs, as circumstances permit. We are not able to provide alternate meals since most of our food is served ‘family-style’ from locally harvested sources. We will typically eat whatever is fresh that day, so students with dietary restrictions should plan to speak to our program directors before enrolling to ensure we can accommodate their needs. Programs also require a certain level of physical capability, so students with any concerns about their fitness should contact our office to confirm this is an appropriate program for them.
Healthy ecosystems depend on insects and other “critters” for balance. You will definitely encounter bugs and spiders when we are in lower elevation regions, although you’ll find that spiders keep to themselves and bites are virtually unheard of. There are mosquitoes on the coast of Ecuador. However, we will be visiting during the dry reason and mosquitoes carrying malaria are not able to survive. It is typically not advisable to take anti-malaria pills for this reason on our Seeds of Change, although you should seek medical advice from your primary care physician or a travel medicine specialist prior to the program. Many travelers and all locals prefer preventative measures to prescription prophylactics, although you should seek medical advice from your primary care physician or a travel medicine specialist prior to the program. There is a slight risk of contracting Dengue Fever from a mosquito (the non-hemorrhagic type, which is not life threatening), however the likelihood is extremely low and can be mitigated by covering up and using bug repellent. Yellow fever, typhoid, and other inoculations may be advisable. Check with your primary physician or a travel medicine specialist. Please see our travel health page for some more information.Healthy ecosystems depend on insects and other “critters” for balance. You will encounter bugs and spiders. Spiders keep to themselves and bites are rare. There are poisonous snakes in Costa Rica. None of the places we stay have ever had a snake bite. We will review prevention measures during orientation and have standing medical procedures in the unlikely event of a bite. Vector diseases, notably Dengue Fever and malaria are present in Costa Rica, although certain regions have a higher incidence than others. Many travelers and all locals prefer preventative measures to prescription prophylactics for malaria, although you should seek medical advice from your primary care physician or a travel medicine specialist prior to the program. There is no prescription prophylactic for Dengue Fever, however the risk of contraction is low and can be mitigated by covering up and using bug repellent. We take these risks seriously and will provide you with our pre-program guide, that covers our student health policies in more detail, after you enroll in the program. Please call us with any specific questions.
The weather in Ecuador is dictated more by elevation than by season, although there are seasonal variations in each of the country’s four regions: the coast, the highlands, the Amazon and the Galapagos. During the North American summer, the coast is in its dry season. Rain is very rare, although a low cloud cover and occasional misting is not. This keeps the normally high tropical humidity down significantly. Highs during the day are typically in the low 70s, cooling down to the mid 60s during the evening. The highlands maintain a fairly consistent climate year round. Days are often sunny with temps in the 70s and the evenings can be quite brisk due to the high elevation.
There are three Sustainable Summer trip leaders on this program. All Sustainable Summer trip leaders are professional educators. The average age of our 2013 trip leader team was 28. Trip leaders have not yet been assigned to this program for 2014, but you can see some example trip leader bios below. We also work very closely with our local partners. English-speaking guides, specialists, and instructors will be with us throughout the program. The student:staff ratio will never be lower than 5:1.
Jeff Sharpe is the director and co-founder of Sustainable Summer. Jeff also serves as the head Trip Leader on our programs. Jeff brings extensive experience operating summer travel programs for high school students to Sustainable Summer. He is a former partner and director of Career Explorations, a summer internship program for high school students, and Vertex Academic Services, an educational consulting company. Jeff subsequently served as Executive Director for Discovery Internships before leaving to found Sustainable Summer. Jeff began his professional career as a program director with Kaplan, Inc. and has been working with young people for over a decade as a tutor, mentor, and coach, including several years as a youth wilderness guide and facilitator. Jeff has a BA from Bucknell University and an MA from Dartmouth College, where his thesis research focused on globalization’s impact on water resource management in developing countries using Ecuador as a case study. Jeff is a former Division I swimmer and an avid skier and whitewater kayaker. He enjoys adventure travel, playing guitar, following the latest news in politics, and environmental conservation advocacy. Jeff is also the President of Sustainable Learning, Sustainable Summer’s corporate parent.
Karen is an environmental educator with diverse experience teaching cultural and natural history, as well as sustainability to young people. She has designed and facilitated food and garden-based educational programs, taught river ecology in the Bronx, interpreted art history at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and tutored students at an NYC public school. In 2010, Karen co-founded Encouraging Arts, and travelled around South America teaching a workshop on empowerment through art, living for much of that time in Ecuador where she taught at an elementary school in a Kichwa community outside of Tena. Karen received her BA from University of Massachusetts-Amherst and is currently pursuing her MS in Environmental Education from Antioch University. Her graduate work is focused on educating for sustainability with a focus on community building and environmental justice. She enjoys gardening, yoga, hiking, snowboarding, painting, and playing music.
Tim Walsh is a life coach with twenty years of program development and leadership experience in the fields of addiction recovery, outdoor leadership and youth development.
As an accomplished outdoor educator, Tim has held leadership positions with schools, camps and youth groups, creating protocols and trainings for outdoor leadership and adventure-based education. He develops and leads outdoor expeditions and service trips throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.
Trevor has extensive experience traveling in Latin America and guiding young people in wilderness environments. He graduated from college with an environmental science degree and currently lives in Asheville, NC where he is involved with various sustainability projects in the mountains of Western North Caroline. In addition to Sustainable Summer, Trevor works as a wilderness therapy instructor leading kids 12-18 on backpacking trips through parts of the Southern Appalachians. He has completed a Natural Building apprenticeship, worked with cob on a mass heater, helped design and build a biogas digester, and formally studied Permaculture principles. Trevor grew up in New Canaan, CT. While in high school he travelled to Mexico and Costa Rica to participate in service learning trips where he worked with local communities and stayed with a local family for a portion of the trip. In college he volunteered as a tutor, worked as a Biology Lab teaching assistant, and volunteered with a homeless outreach group. Soon after college he coached novice youth and adults in rowing at his former rowing club. The following summer he went on a 2.5-month sea kayaking/backpacking expedition in the wilds of Chilean Patagonia and has since committed himself professionally to a career as an experiential educator. Being in wilderness environments and traveling internationally has been integral in the development of Trevor’s understanding of the world and he enjoys facilitating similar experiences for others.