How do we implement sustainable models of food production?

June 26 - July 16, 2016 · 21 Days
Group Size: 10 - 12 · Ages: 15 - 18 · Status: Available


Ecuador: Seeds of Change

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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 Sustainable Summer 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 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.

Next, we will venture into the 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 middle of the program 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, 8-day 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.

Finally, we will head down the coast to Machalilla National Park and Isla de la Plata (the ‘mini-Galapagos) for reflection and program closing.

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 agriculture operations that are exporting products such as cacao and bananas to US markets. We will learn how government policies and business interests influence local production at all scales. We will actively investigate alternative models of food production at a number of locations throughout the program. We will also learn about the connections of agriculture production to other sectors, and learn about a wide range of local-scale renewable energy sources from biodigesters to micro-hydro to passive solar that are being implemented in “closed loop” systems.

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.



the principles of permaculture and the politics of seed saving


the rim of Laguna Quilatoa at elevation 12000 feet


in Canoa, Ecuador's most easy going beach town

Past Facilitators

Allie Mack

Allie Mack

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Maclaine Sorden

Maclaine Sorden

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Ecuador Testimonials

My husband and I both feel strongly that the staff on his trip were truly exceptional. Max felt he could talk to them and clearly was not afraid to show emotion in front of them. My guess is that once Max has processed it all the impact will be overwhelmingly positive – he mentioned that […]

  Elizabeth,  parent from Iowa City, IA

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Student Stories

Core Curriculum & Program Components

Much More Than A Tour

Amazing destination? Check. Fun and authentic experiences? Absolutely. A smart, down-to-earth group of like-minded teens? Yup. An awesome itinerary and first-in-class lodging are just the start. Our programs prepare teens to become environmental leaders through dynamic place-based learning.
Field Studies
How do we implement sustainable models of food production? This essential question guides our experience studying sustainability in . Participants – through discussions, workshops, site visits, and fieldwork – will investigate sustainability 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.
Leadership Activities
Our approach to leadership development is adapted from the Stanford Graduate School of Education’s youth leadership curriculum.
Design Thinking Challenge
Participate in a half-day design thinking workshop, including a real innovation challenge applied to a local community problem. Design thinking is a formal process innovators use to create solutions to problems. We'll learn about human-centered design, and then engage members of the local community to conceive a project that is usable, sustainable, and lead to better outcomes within the community.
Independent Project
Learning happens best through a constructivist approach of inquiry, action, and reflection. Students should be prepared to engage in an independent project for the duration of the program that follows this approach. It can take the form of journalism, photography, film, research, advocacy, or other. Some students (for instance, those in an IB degree program) may find that they have a school-related project that can connect to Sustainable Summer. Others will be asked to develop a project concept through a guided process pre-program. The final "deliverable" is completed after the program.
Case Study
It's easy to be green when you have the time, resources, and autonomy to do so. But the real-world is far more complicated. We'll work through a multi-stakeholder case study related to a local issue so students can better understand the process of negotiation and comprise that is needed to implement sustainable solutions.
Sustainability Action Plan
All students develop a Sustainability Action Plan, which outlines a proposed sustainability initiative to complete back home. The SAP is considered a work in progress that gets “workshopped” in small group settings throughout the program. The final version is shared with the group at the end of the program and “accountability partners” are established to encourage implementation of the outlined action steps.

Program Tuition

Each program has a tiered tuition rate: standard (full tuition), tuition assistance (80% of tuition), or scholarship (15 - 70% of tuition).

How It Works

$ 3495
  • This represents a 20% reduction of the standard course fee. Participants at this tuition rate cover only their direct participation costs, including lodging, meals, activities, in-country staff and transportation, and support for local projects. Participation at this level is based on the honor system. It is available to all families - no documentation required. We simply ask families to honestly consider their financial resources and ability to pay the full tuition rate.
$ 630 - 2935
  • Additional scholarship funding is available for students that are unable to participate at either of the other rates. Scholarship participants receive a 30 - 85% reduction of the standard course fee. Due to the limited availability of scholarship funds, a separate application is required, including a parent financial statement and recent tax return.

What's Included


in eco-lodges and other locally-owned (and often sustainably-minded) establishments


3 meals daily while in-country. Local cuisine, served family-style, is on order most days. Dietary restrictions can typically be accommodated.

Immersive Activities

Guided activities, from the adventurous to the cultural, are a regular part of the itinerary.

Dynamic Learning Opportunities

Place-based. Interactive. Fun. Our programs prepare teens to become environmental leaders.

Ground Transportation

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 cattle truck to the local bus. Traveling like a local is part of the experience!

2 Full-Time Professional Facilitators

Our facilitators are the best in the business. Our international field team includes returned Peace Corps volunteers, college professors, seasoned wilderness guides, sustainability graduate students, and similar.

Pre-Program Materials and Support

Students and parents receive comprehensive and prompt pre-program support.

Not Included

Tuition does not include airfare, $95 InternationalSOS membership (required), or personal expenses such as laundry, snacks, souvenirs, and internet or international phone calls, and other incidentals.


We designate a recommended group flight for students. Students, whether arriving on our group flight or independently, will be met at the international arrivals area by our staff. Very detailed travel and booking instructions will be provided to all participants upon enrollment.

Our designated round trip group flight:

Outbound Flight

June 26
6:36 pm
9:59 pm
Miami (MIA)
Quito (UIO)

Return Flight

July 16
6:20 am
11:49 am
Quito (UIO)
Miami (MIA)


  • Do not make any flight reservations until explicitly directed by Sustainable Summer.
  • Not all of our group flights have a staff escort. Please see above for details.
  • Students NOT traveling on our designated group flight will be assessed a $35 fee if they arrive on a flight other than our specified group flight and/or a $35 fee for departing on a non-group flight ($70 total). Students must verify BEFORE BOOKING all non-group flight travel itineraries

21-Day Itinerary

  • Arrival
    Most students will arrive on our chaperoned group flight into the international airport outside Quito, Ecuador's capital city. It's a short drive by private transport from the airport to our guesthouse in Tumbaco, where we will begin our orientation period. Day 1
  • Orientation
    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 2
  • Quito & Tumbaco

    In this first 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 Guardian 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. It introduces the theoretical concepts we'll be investigating over the next 3 weeks with the political and economic realities that progressive Ecuadorians are facing.

    We'll typically spend about 2 hours each day in a classroom setting before heading out into "the field" for site visits to local farms, INIAP (Ecuador's agricultural research institution), the Tinku permaultural center, and other interesting spots around Quito.

    Days 3 & 4
  • The Saquisili Market
    It's going to be an early start today. We’re on the road at day break and en route to Saquisili, about 2 hours south of Quito. Today is a Thursday, which means one 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, we will continue on to the groundbreaking Black Sheep Inn eco-lodge in remote Chugchilan, situated at over 10000 feet in elevation in the Central Highlands. Day 5
  • The Black Sheep Inn

    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.

    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.

    Days 6 - 8
  • The Coastal Plain
    Leaving the Black Sheep Inn, we'll descend into the coastal plain, Ecuador's main agricultural region. We'll spend the night at a hotel outside Quevedo and visit a cacao plantation, a banana plantation, and an agriculture research station en route from the Black Sheep Inn to our ultimate destination. Our home for the next nine days is 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 9 & 10
  • Rio Muchacho
    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. Days 11 - 13
  • Canoa
    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. Day 14
  • Community Service
    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. Day 15
  • More Rio Muchacho
    We'll continue our organic farming and sustainable agriculture course. 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. Days 16 & 17
  • Puerto Lopez

    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.

    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.

    Days 18 & 19
  • Closure and Departure
    Our final morning and afternoon will be spent in reflection on the beach and sharing of Sustainability Action Plans, before a short bus ride to the airport in Manta, about 90 minutes from Puerto Lopez. There, we'll hop on a short flight from the coast up and over the Andes to the Quito airport, and then a short ride to our guesthouse for our final night in Ecuador. Day 20
  • Arrive Home
    Departure for early evening arrival in the US. Day 21
  • An Important Note About Itinerary Changes

    Sustainable Summer reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the program itinerary. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in weather or road conditions; to take advantage of a new activity or unscheduled opportunity (such as a local festival or event); to accommodate the health needs of an individual participant; or due to changes in activities or schedules of our local partners and providers.

    The itinerary shown here is based on previous programs and the anticipated day-to-day activities for this program. However, as with any travel experience, some changes may occur.