Organic Farming Programs at Rio Muchacho

4-Week Intensive Organic Agriculture and Permaculture Course in Ecuador

Sustainable Summer is pleased to share information with our community about Rio Muchacho’s incredible training programs for students of all ages. Sustainable Summer partners with Rio Muchacho for our Food & Agriculture summer program for high school students. Our two-week curriculum for teens is a scaled down version of this four-week program that is perfect for any person who wants to engage in practical organic gardening and farming training and methodology.

Courses are held at Rio Muchacho Organic Farm on the coast of Ecuador near Bahía de Caráquez (Ecuador’s ‘Ecocity’) and include lodging (in rustic but comfortable bamboo and thatch cabins), all meals (mainly vegetarian and harvested from the farm), and a number of cultural activities on or near the farm, like horseback-riding, cooking classes, and jewelry making.

The course is geared toward people who have no experience in agriculture, but is also challenging for those who have some prior experience.  By the end of the course, students should be confident to start their own gardens or small farming operation.  It is a perfect opportunity to learn and practice new skills, experience a new culture and learn some Spanish!

2013 Course Dates

May 20 – June 14 | August 5 – August 30 | November 4 – November 29

  • Camille

    I’ll miss climbing through the dense jungle and finding magical waterfalls. I’ll miss avocados growing on trees, the rich red soil, and feeling one with the clouds. But mostly, I’ll miss the people I’ve met. -- CAMILLE, Hackley School, NY

  • Enrique

    Sustainable Summer will be one of those chapters in my life I will never forget. It was definitely a good learning experience but it was also an opportunity to get to know one’s self. My personal experience overall was very positive and I enjoyed every event. -- ENRIQUE, High School for the Sciences at York College, NY

  • Arwen

    Sustainable Summer is the trip of a lifetime, and although it’s super educational, it’s also fun. I met kids that I will adore for the rest of my life. If you are looking to get a little outside of your comfort zone, meet some awesome people, experience some once in a lifetime things, and learn a lot, Sustainable Summer is definitely the program for you. -- ARWEN, Berkshire School, MA

Program FAQs

  • Organic Farming Program

    Rio Muchacho Farm, Canoa, Ecuador

  • FAQs About The Organic Farming Course

    HOW IS THE COURSE STRUCTURED ?

    HOW WILL THE COURSE HELP ME ?

    WHAT IS THE CLIMATE LIKE ?

    HOW TRANSFERABLE IS THE INFORMATION ON THE COURSE TO A TEMPERATE CLIMATE ?

    CAN I STUDY SPANISH WHILE AT THE FARM

    HOW SHOULD I PREPARE FOR THE TRIP ?

    WHAT IS PROIVIDED ?

    WHAT SHOULD I BRING ?

    WHAT CAN I DO IN THE WEEKENDS ?

     

    HOW IS THE COURSE STRUCTURED ?

    The course is very hands on, a combination of theory and practical work. Wednesday afternoon is for cultural activities etc. crafts with local materials, chocolate making, shrimp fishing, clay face mask, visit to the giant fig tree, horse riding to the waterfall and to see howler monkeys.

    Practical work begins with animal feeding before breakfast; the rest of the day is a mixture of half & half practical and theory, finishing at 4pm.

    The week’s activities finish on Friday 4pm. The weekends are free for travel or just to have a good rest at the beach ! Saturday mornings are optional if you want more practical work on the farm.

    Students can stay on the farm on the weekends or go to the beach town of Canoa for internet and phone calls, do excursions, visits to local villages etc. The farm can help you arrange these visits. Food on the weekends is included if you are at the farm.

    HOW WILL THE COURSE HELP ME ?

    The course is not only inspiring but very practical.. you will be introduced to many new ideas but will also get the chance to put many in practice. Whether you live in a small apartment, a mansion, a empty plot of land or a tent, the course will teach you how to live there more sustainably !. You will be a confident composter and you will be ready to grow food !

    WHAT IS THE CLIMATE LIKE ?

    The courses are all during the dry season so there is very little rain… just the odd drizzle. It is cooler in the May and August course and there are more cloudy days ( great for working in the field ! )slightly warmer in the Nov course. You need a light jumper for the evenings.

    HOW TRANSFERABLE IS THE INFORMATION ON THE COURSE TO A TEMPERATE CLIMATE ?

    Due to the influence of the coastal currents we have a very cool dry season and grow all the vegetables that are grown in temperate zones. You will learn about tropical crops just by being there, harvesting and eating them but most of the info will be based on temperate crops and climate.

    CAN I STUDY SPANISH WHILE AT THE FARM

    It is possible, but we recommend that you study Spanish separately before or after the course so that you focus more on organic agriculture and read all the written info and good books from the library.

    HOW SHOULD I PREPARE FOR THE TRIP ?

    1. You will enjoy your time more on the farm if you are able to communicate with the local people. Try to learn some Spanish before coming.

    2. Get any shots recommended by your doctor (only for the coast unless you plan to travel to the Amazon)

    3. It is advisable to have insurance (travel insurance if your standard insurance doesn’t cover you while traveling)

    4. Some people take vitamin B before and during the trip to help repel insects.

    WHAT IS PROIVIDED ?

    .rubber boots

    .sheets & blankets

    .course material

    .reading material

    .transport to and from Bahia and Rio Muchacho

    23. WHAT SHOULD I BRING ?

    .A flashlight is useful

    .gardening gloves

    .A water bottle

    .Work clothes- that you don´t mind getting dirty. Light cotton clothes are best.

    .A long sleeved light shirt

    .Clothes washing detergent (biodegradable)

    .body soap -glycerin soaps are biodegradable.

    .Towel

    .Some tidy clothes for fiestas or weekends

    .Good books

    .Sun hat, sunscreen

    .First aid and any medical supplies you might need.

    .A cream for soothing itchy bites is a good idea, not just for Rio Muchacho but for traveling in general. (In a tropical climate a simple bite can turn nasty if it is scratched, the cream prevents temptation! )

    .Mosquito net if you want to use one. We don’t use them, because they are not necessary but some people just feel more comfortable using one.

    .snack food, energy bars etc if you get hungry between meals.

    .We recommend that students bring PROBIOTIC pills as well as antibiotics. ( probiotics are good bacteria to help your digestive system fight an infection in a more natural and sometimes more effective way )Many cases can be cured with PROBIOTICS better than antibiotics.. and they are much better for you !! Even if you take antibiotics the probiotics will help your system to recover( replace what the antibiotics kill ) so that you aren´t so prone the next time ! Ecuadorian ones are called Floratil, Lactol, Sinfloril

    WHAT CAN I DO ON THE WEEKENDS ?

    *Some students spend their time at the Farm in the weekend. There are lots of good books and often a football game in the community. Others spend the weekend in Canoa at the beach. But there are a lot of other things to do:

    *There are a number of walks that you can do from the farm (to Canoa and other

    areas), this info is in a folder at the farm.

    * Isla Corazón is a great visit to do on a weekend. It is a community tourism project with a ride in dugout canoes into the mangroves and to see a colony of frigate birds. Ask the staff as you have to do it at high tide.

    *Punta Prieta is a Guest House about 1 hour further north. The beach is very clean and private… a real treat!

    There are some nice walks from Bahía including along the beach between Bahía and Canoa.

     

     

  • FAQs About Sustainable Summer

    1. Who is Sustainable Summer?

    Sustainable Summer is run by the NYC-based non-profit organization, Sustainable Learning. Learn more about Sustainable Learning here.

    2. What is the relationship between Sustainable Summer and Rio Muchacho?

    Sustainable Summer specializes in teaching high school students about environmental sustainability. We run summer programs for our students at Rio Muchacho in Ecuador. We think Rio Muchacho is great and we want to help students of all ages access their organic farming programs for adults. We are acting as their agent in the US. In the interest of full disclosure, Sustainable Summer receives a small commission for connecting participants with Rio Muchacho’s organic farming programs.

  • FAQs about Rio Muchacho

    1. WHAT KINDS OF TOURS/PROGRAMS DOES THE FARM RUN?

    2. WHAT IS THE OBJECTIVE OF RÍO MUCHACHO ORGANIC FARM?

    3. IS THE FARM OWNED BY A FOUNDATION OR AN ORGANISATION?

    4. WHERE IS RÍO MUCHACHO LOCATED?

    5. HOW DO I GET TO RÍO MUCHACHO?

    6. HOW DO I GET TO BAHÍA/CANOA?

    7. HOW FAR IS THE FARM FROM A TOWN, TELEPHONE & INTERNET?

    8. WHAT COMMUNICATION IS THERE FROM THE FARM?

    9. IS IT NECESSARY TO TAKE MALARIA MEDICATION?

    10. IS THERE A POSSIBILITY OF GETTING OTHER TROPICAL DISEASES?

    11. IS IT SUITABLE TO BRING CHILDREN TO THE FARM?

    12. IS THERE A QUIET SPOT FOR MEDITATION OR YOGA?

    13. WHAT KIND OF FOOD IS SERVED?

    14. WHAT SHOULD I BRING ?

    15. WHAT KIND OF WORK IS DONE WITH THE COMMUNITY, AND HOW DOES THE COMMUNITY BENEFIT FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE FARM?

    16. CAN I LEAVE DONATIONS FOR THE SCHOOL?

    17. HOW CAN I BE AN ECO-FRIENDLY VISITOR?

    18. CAN I USE A CELLULAR PHONE WHILE AT THE FARM?

     

    1. WHAT OTHER KINDS OF TOURS/PROGRAMS DOES THE FARM RUN?

    • 1-, 2-, and 3-day tours of the farm and surrounding community (we recommend the three-day tour, as it provides a more complete view of the culture and farm life)
    • Spanish courses from one to three weeks
    • Cultural exchange programs for foreign students
    • Sustainability/cultural exchange programs
    • Full- and part-time apprenticeship courses in organic agriculture and permaculture
    • Group volunteer projects for anywhere from three days to one month
    • Volunteer program for individuals
    • Eco-camps for children
    • Training programs for community groups in organic agriculture, rural tourism & environmental education.

    2. WHAT IS THE OBJECTIVE OF RÍO MUCHACHO ORGANIC FARM?

    There is a lot of organic farming experience in temperate climates and in the mountains of Ecuador, but there is little on the coast (except a couple of large banana plantations).

    Río Muchacho has an important role in demonstrating alternatives like biogas, solar power, composting systems, worm culture, water recycling, reforestation and forage systems, permaculture, organic farming techniques and environmental tourism. The farm now receives many community and student groups who come to learn about these alternatives.

    As the popularity of ecotourism in Ecuador has expanded, so has our program on the farm: ten years ago we were chosen to participate in an ecotourism certification pilot project and became one of the first 12 projects that successfully completed this program in Ecuador. Tourists also learn about the processes on the farm and enjoy the adventure and activities associated with the environment and local culture.

    3. IS THE FARM OWNED BY A FOUNDATION OR AN ORGANISATION?

    No, the farm is privately owned by Dario Proaño-Leroux and Nicola Mears, an Ecuadorian/New Zealand couple who are strongly committed to environmental and community work in this area and also in the nearby ecocity of Bahía de Caráquez. They were instrumental in the creation of the ecocity and continue to coordinate or support environmental education programs, a paper-recycling project, and other sustainability initiatives there. The farm receives no funding or assistance from organizations or foundations.

    4. WHERE IS RÍO MUCHACHO LOCATED?

    The entrance to Río Muchacho is 10 km north of Canoa on the San Vicente-Jama Road on the mid coast of Ecuador. From the entrance it is 8 km of unpaved road to the organic farm; this road is passable by car most of the year, but during the rainy season the last 2 km may become impassable. On those occasions horses or walking are the main forms of transport.

    NOTE: Río Muchacho is the name of the farm (Río Muchacho Finca Orgánica), the river, and also the community. According to the locals, the river was given that name because it can be very unpredictable in the rainy season, like a young boy or “muchacho“.

    5. HOW DO I GET TO RÍO MUCHACHO?

    Getting to Rio Muchacho as an independent traveler is pretty easy with a little bit of Spanish. Sustainable Summer can help coordinate your travel plans when arriving from outside Ecuador and you will be met a representative in Quito to make sure you get on the right bus. For small groups, we can arrange private transport to and from Quito or connect individual travelers participating in the program to allow for group transport on private coach or taxi. We’ll get you sorted out one way or another upon enrollment in the program. Please contact us with any travel questions.

    For planning purposes, the ejecutivo bus from Quito leaves at 11pm and 11.45am (to Bahia) and the return bus from Canoa leaves at 9.45pm. There is also an early AM departure from Bahia. The travel time is 5-6 hours. This is Ecuador, so schedules are subject to change, but in general you will have early AM, afternoon, and late evening departure options in both directions.

    There is also the option of flying to Manta, which is about 90 minutes from Canoa by taxi ($20). Regular buses from Guayaquil will also get you to Canoa, but a change of bus is typically necessary. Travel time from Guayaquil will normally be about 6 hours, but is a good option if you want to see a bit more of the coast.

    7. HOW FAR IS THE FARM FROM A TOWN, TELEPHONE & INTERNET?

    The closest town with internet and telephone services is Canoa, 17 km from the farm. Because of the beautiful beach and good surf, you can find many hotels and hostels, restaurants and bars. There are several internet cafes and several phone booths (cabinas) from which international calls can be made. Internet costs around $1 per hour, and cabinas are generally a bit more expensive in Canoa (around $0.30 per minute for international calls) than in Bahía or larger cities. Free WiFi is available at many hotels and restaurants, and a smart phone with SKYPE is the preferred method for staying in touch.

    8. WHAT COMMUNICATION IS THERE FROM THE FARM?

    The farm has a solar-powered short wave radio at the farm that connects us with the offices in Canoa and Bahía. As this is not dependent on electricity, we can be sure to always have communication. There is also a cell phone base at the farm, but it is sensitive to climatic conditions and does not always work. You can receive calls on this phone. In case of emergencies, messages can be communicated to the Canoa/Bahía offices (by telephone or email) and radioed through to the farm. There is no landline phone, fax, or internet at Río Muchacho.

    9. IS IT NECESSARY TO TAKE MALARIA MEDICATION?

    There are very few mosquitoes at the farm and minimal risk of malaria, but the entire coastal region is considered a malarial risk area and there are a few cases every year (mainly during the rainy season, from December to May). If you will be doing any traveling, it is advisable to take preventative medication.

    10. IS THERE A POSSIBILTY OF GETTING OTHER TROPICAL DISEASES?

    Your local doctor/travel clinic will be able to provide recommendations about any vaccines or medications you may need. – note that while the yellow fever vaccine is no longer a requirement to enter the country, it’s a good idea if you want to do any traveling, especially in the jungle. Much of Ecuador to the east of our location is at least a minimal risk area for yellow fever. There are a few cases of dengue fever on the coast, although it is the less-serious strain of the disease (NOT the hemorrhagic dengue). As there is no vaccine for dengue, avoiding mosquito bites is most important: wearing long pants and sleeves, insect repellent, using a mosquito net when necessary, avoiding being outside with exposed skin around dusk, etc.

    11. IS IT SUITABLE TO BRING CHILDREN TO THE FARM?

    YES ! In general, children love the experience on the farm because there are so many things that they can do and be involved in, and so much to learn. We offer a customized family adventure tour, including many of the activities in our 3-day tour but focused and paced according to the needs of kids.

    Here is a testimonial from a family that visited recently:

    “Bryce, Clark and I had a wonderful time at Rio Muchacho. In fact, the boys keep saying it was the highlight of our Ecuador trip, including the Galápagos. I’m sure it was the hands-on involvement with the animals and food processes that engaged them so well. We enjoyed so much meeting everyone involved at Río Muchacho. Our Spanish got a great work-out. Bryce is talking about wanting to come back longer as a volunteer some day!” Susan Wilson, USA

    12. IS THERE A QUIET SPOT FOR MEDITATION OR YOGA?

    Yes, there is a peaceful garden removed from the noise and activity of the main house that is planted with a large variety of trees and plants. It has a covered meditation/yoga platform overlooking the river.

    13. WHAT KIND OF FOOD IS SERVED?

    The food is mostly from the farm and therefore organic, though some things don’t grow on the coast so we have to buy them. Breakfast consists of a colorful fruit salad and a typical starchy dish often made with plantain or yucca and baked in a wood oven, as well as herbal tea or coffee. Lunch in Ecuador always consists of soup and a main course of rice, which at the farm will come with vegetable salad and lentils or another sauce-type vegetable dish (usually pulses), and fresh fruit juice. Dinner is a different main course, as described, and herbal tea/coffee.

    The food is mainly vegetarian, sometimes with fish, shrimp, or (rarely) white meats – no red meat is served. It is a very creative combination of local food and vegetable dishes. If you are a vegetarian traveling in Ecuador, see the short guide for vegetarians on our website.

    “We have told many people that the food we had at Río Muchacho was the best we had anywhere in Ecuador” Chris Bradshaw, USA

    13. WHAT SHOULD I BRING?

    Sustainable Summer will provide you with a full packing list, but here are some initial recommendations:

    • a flashlight is always useful
    • water bottle
    • rain gear (only necessary during the rainy season, from December through May)
    • lightweight long pants, long sleeves and shorts
    • sun hat and sunscreen
    • insect repellent
    • any special medical supplies you might need
    • binoculars, field guides, cameras, etc
    • *rubber boots are provided

    15. WHAT KIND OF WORK IS DONE WITH THE COMMUNITY, AND HOW DOES THE COMMUNITY BENEFIT FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE FARM?

    Darío has been involved in community outreach since buying the farm in 1987, initiating many valuable activities and projects.

    Foremost is the Río Muchacho Environmental and Community School, opened in 1993. It is coordinated by Darío and Nicola and funded in part by the farm. The school has served to unite the community by providing a meeting place for workshops, courses, and fundraising activities, in addition to providing quality education for the children. Here they have a more creative, practical education with an emphasis on ecology and organic agriculture. Since the majority of the families in this community are farmers, learning about agriculture is essential, and the focus on organic practices helps to ensure better care of the land and river in the future. In addition, more time is spent on art, English, sports, and environmental studies than in the government schools.

    The children from the school come to the farm to get hands-on experience in our non-contaminating farming methods. They also come for eco-camps where they watch educational videos and do environmental art.

    Workshops for adults in the community have been organized on agriculture and alternative forms of income, such as techniques to work with ageing wood, weaving banana fiber to make sun hats, etc.

    Annual health days are held at the school where the local people have access to dentists, doctors, and the mobile cancer clinic.

    Volunteer groups coordinated by the farm have helped a lot in the community by working in the school, renovating the church, and creating a water system (which has recently been incorporated into a larger project to build bathroom units for the families in the valley). Volunteer work in the environmental school includes everything from teaching, lesson planning, and helping with art projects, to repairs and maintenance, construction projects, or helping the children with their organic garden systems.

    The farm has a fair trade store with non-perishable food products made here and artisan goods from the community, which are sold at no profit to the farm. We are working with members of the community to create new products to supplement their income.

    Garden competitions have been held as an incentive to grow more food and flowers, and make the houses and community more attractive.

    After the devastating El Niño and earthquake in 1998 there was very high demand for bamboo and the supplies grew very low, so we created a bamboo reforestation project for the area. The nursery was at the farm.

    These are just a few examples of our extensive community outreach projects; there is a folder at the farm with more information if you are interested.

    16. CAN I LEAVE DONATIONS FOR THE SCHOOL?

    Donations of any size are very welcome, as is long-term assistance in the form of on-going fundraising or donation efforts. School supplies are also always appreciated! At the moment we are trying to create a library, preferably of beginners reading books and thin big print paperbacks in Spanish.

    Current wish list: used laptops, second- or even third-hand as long as they are working well, to help us begin a basic computer skills program.

    17. HOW CAN I BE AN ECO-FRIENDLY VISITOR?

    Bring a water bottle that you can use and refill from our water dispensers during your stay; this will help you avoid creating more garbage, as recycling is generally scarce or nonexistent in most of Ecuador.

    Bring rechargeable batteries, NOT DISPOSABLE ONES! Better yet, bring devices that are rechargeable or have alternate sources of power (solar, LED, ion-charged, etc)!

    Buy biodegradable soaps, shampoos and detergents before leaving home. Quality biodegradable products are very difficult to find here, and often very expensive.

    Please see the environmental tips for travelers section for more suggestions.

    18. CAN I USE A CELLULAR PHONE WHILE AT THE FARM?

    Yes and no. There is no signal at the farm itself, although there is limited reception on the top of the hill in front of the farm. This is a 15 minute walk up a steep hill, where you should be able to call out (also if you plan ahead, you could have someone call you at a certain time).

  • Course Content

    History of conventional farming
    Principles of organic farming: soil / plant relationship, law of return, diversity, rotation, soil building and preservation
    Moisture conservation
    Mulch gardening
    “Double dig” gardening – French intensive method
    “No dig” gardening
    Organic fertilizers: liquid fertilizers, green manures, using legumes, composting, vinegars, bocashi
    Plant associations and rotations (companion plants)
    Worm farming
    Pest and disease management: identification, traps and repellents, natural insecticides
    Organic standards and certification
    Medicinal plants
    Land restoration
    Conversion to Organic Agriculture from a conventional system
    Permaculture: principles, designethics, multiple use, integration of resources, alternative energy- solar, biogas, pumps, gray water systems
    Biodynamic farming: history, principles, preparations
    Other non-polluting farming methods
    Seed saving
    Plant propagation: grafting, seeds
    Bee keeping
    Traditional use of the moon calendar in agriculture

  • Instructors

    Nicola Mears, New Zealander - Graduated in Horticulture, Non Polluting Agriculture and National Parks and Recreation Management. Twenty years of experience in Ecuador, has worked as Inspector of Organic Farms on a National and International Basis.

    Miguel Ayala, Ecuadorian – Expert in sustainable farming, trained in Ecuador, USA & Europe. Teacher of ecological plant protection.

    Javier Carrera, Ecuadorian – Expert in Permaculture and seed saving (Coordinator of Seed Savers Network).