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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.

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

Program Details

21-Day Program

2016 Dates TBD

Tuition: $3495
Group Size: 10-12
Ages: 15-18


Connecting Programs

This program is designed to connect with our 9-Day Galapagos program or 15-Day Sustaining the Amazon program.


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.





Our Approach to Learning Abroad

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.

Seeds of Change

Seeds of Change

Course Info
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.

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.

Our Philosophy

Our Philosophy

Additional Thoughts
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.
Course Goals

Course Goals

Insert subhead
Students will...
  • Develop “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 ​the ​critical reflection, communication, ​interpersonal, ​and positive risk taking skills necessary to create change in their local and global communities.
Course Requirements

Course Requirements

Course Requirements
Course Requirements:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Co-Facilitation: Students must take initiative in coordinating and co-facilitating at least one small group discussion on a topic related to the course.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 5 hours, can be completed at the student's convenience, and includes readings, online video lectures, and some short assignments. This segment 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.

Program FAQs

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 3 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 to ensure this program is a good fit for you.

Program enrollment is capped at 12 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.
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 program, 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. 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.
Please see our travel health page for some more information.
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 two Sustainable Summer trip leaders on this program, one male and one female. All Sustainable Summer trip leaders are professional educators. The average age of our 2014 trip leader team was 29. Trip leaders bios for our 2014 programs are to the right and will be updated for our 2015 programs in the spring. 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 6:1.

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