Black Sheep Inn's goal is to become self-sufficient in energy, water and food
We have made significant steps in this direction, such as researching and designing for alternative energy installations, expanding gardens, and improving water collection. Black Sheep Inn will never be a ‘finished project’. Change, efficiency and improvements are a part of our everyday process. Using permaculture ideas, we have been connecting existing features and buildings on our property for a more efficient use and re-use of resources. We aim to increase environmental education in the area, enhance protection for the Iliniza Ecological Reserve, and participate in ecotourism conferences to share successes and best practices.
Land Historically land and people are inherently tied together.
Native American tradition believes
that people cannot own land; in fact they believe that the earth owns the people who temporarily
reside upon it. When starting the Black Sheep Inn, it was the first time we owned property.
We knew that we should care for our land if we wanted our land to sustain us.
Culture All human beings have basically the same needs for food, shelter, warmth, clothing, family etc... how different societies provide for these needs is based on local climate and culture. Celebrating cultural differences and diversity is just as important as maintaining biodiversity.
Environment We believe it is important for human beings to maintain a connection to the land that sustains them: to know where the foods they are eating come from, to value the resources they are consuming, to appreciate different foods, arts, music, buildings and ways of living around the world.
Community Everyone on earth lives in some type of community. The particular community and world we live in sustains us and therefore we must sustain them. We are neither fanatics nor purists, yet we have become conservationists. We respect our community and the earth. We choose to tread lightly whenever possible.
While exploring Ecuador and traveling to other parts of the world, we hope you choose establishments that are ecologically sound, supportive of their community and promote low impact tourism.
Famous Composting Toilets
The most popular question asked about our eco-friendliness is on the subject of the composting toilets (and somehow the topic always becomes dinner conversation). The toilets work wonderfully. Composting toilets may seem common in ecotourism, while the developed world thinks it normal to defecate in a toilet bowl filled with clean water. In order to bridge the gap between two very distinct norms, we built composting-toilets that are attractive, educational and productive. All toilets take advantage of a spectacular view across the canyon. Inside the rooms are beneficial flower/vegetable gardens fertilized with finished compost from the toilet.
Composting Toilets with an Andean View!
We are not experts on composting toilets, but we have a positive experience using them for over 10 years. A featured 'Best Practice' at the Black Sheep Inn is the success of the composting toilets. Do people endure 3 hour bumpy bus rides just to use these special toilets? Maybe... as we often find guests taking photos inside the bathrooms.
Ecological Alternatives to Illogical Practices
Flush toilets are common around the world. Most people accept it as normal to deposit human fecal matter (i.e. poop) in clean water. Why would you ever take a glass of clean drinking water and poop in it?? The accepted norm is CRAZY! Not only is it a disgusting idea to poop in drinking water, but it is a waste of two resources: clean water and potential fertilizer.
It does not make sense to contaminate clean water with poop. We learn this when we go camping and we are taught to dig a hole at least 50 meters away from any water source. We are also taught from a very young age that it is unhealthy to mix fecal matter with food or drink. We wash our hands after going to the bathroom. Clean drinking water is becoming a precious resource worldwide.
Composting toilets provide an alternative to flushing away wastes. A flush toilet that has no water is unappealing after just one use. If it is used two or three times without flushing it is disgusting, and if used four times or more with no water, nobody wants to go near it. The "FLUSH" for a composting toilet is the "dry stuff" made up of sawdust, dry chopped leaves or any other dry organic matter. Human feces consist of approximately 65% water and 5-10% nitrogen. Urine has 10-15% nitrogen. In order to compost human waste, a ratio of 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen is needed. That means a lot of dry stuff!! The dry stuff is the necessary "flush" and helps keep insects and odor at a minimum.
Finished compost has no smell, it does not resemble feces in any way and it's a great fertilizer for gardens and trees. Imagine turning 'poop' into sweet smelling roses!
Why do people take photographs inside our composting toilets?
From an early age we are accustomed to relieving ourselves in the privacy of small cubicles. Public toilets are usually small stalls and the only view is occasional writing on the wall. Household bathrooms provide more comforts, but rarely have windows with a view nor flower gardens.
When camping the act of 'pooping in the woods' is not the most comfortable experience. The view may be great, but you still have to dig a hole, squat and bury your waste. The composting toilets at the Black Sheep Inn bridge this gap, providing an excellent view, making you feel at one with nature, while offering privacy and comfort.
Multi-Function is Important
The roofs of our composting toilets are made of a transparent material providing natural light for bathroom and gardens. Roofs also funnel rainwater to small tanks used for hand washing. Using biodegradable hand soap, wastewater from the sink irrigates interior flower gardens which are fertilized with finished compost. The book, The Toilet Papers by Sim Van der Ryn explains the design and process of the composting toilet.
Why did we choose composting toilets?
We first experienced composting toilets at Ecuador's pioneer eco-lodge: Hostería Alandaluz in 1992. We were impressed at how well they worked and how they saved water. When starting to build the Black Sheep Inn in 1995 our very first project was to build a composting toilet. By studying the out-of-print book, The Toilet Papers by Sim Van der Ryn, we were able to come up with our own creative design. Guests have enjoyed scenic pooping ever since!
Building a solar-powered water system
We have a pond at the bottom of our property. It's a great water source for watering the gardens, but we couldn't get the water uphill to the gardens without a pump.
Our solution was to install a solar water pump. Two 85-watt solar panels directly power a ShurFlo submersible pump with no batteries. When it is sunny the pump pushes pond water over 200-feet up the hill to a storage tank for irrigating our organic gardens. This also powers water flow for the fountain of youth which is next to the waterslide of death. The fountain doubles as a watering trough for our flock of black sheep and llamas, and we now lay claim to the highest solar powered waterslide in the world... although it can be quite cold.
Black Sheep Inn has researched and designed a hybrid solar/wind electric system, which we were able to partially finance with the prize money from winning the Smithonian Magazine/Tourism Cares for Tomorrow - Sustainable Tourism Award in the Conservation Category.
After having monitored electrical use since 2003, Black Sheep Inn has lowered electrical use from an average of 12.5 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day to about 11 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day. All light bulbs on the property are compact fluorescents. Most light switches are labeled advising guests to conserve energy. On average there are 20 people (including guests) living at the Black Sheep Inn fulltime.
Currently all cooking and heating of water for showers is done with propane. Additionally there are plans to add solar hot water heaters and bio-gas digesters to offset propane consumption.
7 to 8 kWh can be saved daily by replacing four 110-volt electric refrigerators with more efficient propane powered refrigerators. We have already replaced desk top computers with laptops and electric coffee makers to stove top percolators.
|Current Daily Electrical Use||11 kWh|
|Replacing 4 Refrigerators saves||-7 kWh|
|Total Electrical Energy Needs||4 kWh|
This leaves us with approximately 5 kWh per day!!! Although this is LOW, we are going to design our hybrid solar/wind system for 6 kWh per day... this capacity will compensate for power tool use and the expansion of electric installations.
|Items to purchase||Cost||Total|
|4 propane refrigerators||$ 1600||$ 6000|
|3 laptop computers|
|12 110-watt solar panels||$ 300||$ 4500|
|Wind Generator||$ 1500|
|two 12-volt battery banks||$ 2800||$ 5600|
|Inverter/Charger - 4000 watt||$ 4300|
|wiring, mounts, fuses||$ 1500|
Black Sheep Inn has been recognized for it's excellence in conservation, ecological practices, community work and sustainability. Innovative designs for construction and business practices have made the Black Sheep Inn a leader in ecotourism.
Zero Waste - Reduce, Reuse & Recycle
At the Black Sheep Inn, we reduce environmental impact by buying in bulk and avoiding non-recyclable packaging. We reuse paper, cardboard, glass bottles, large plastic containers, kitchen scraps, water and human waste onsite. Trash is separated into 3 receptacles in all rooms.
We produce less than one ounce of non-recyclable trash daily per person! This amounts to ZERO waste. Waste that cannot be reused or recycled onsite is brought to a community recycling center that the Black Sheep Inn built and sponsored in Chugchilán. This initiative won the EcoClub.com 2006 Ecolodge Award.
We offer packed lunches in unbleached brown paper. We do not sell bottled water, but instead let guests fill their bottles with ozone purified water for free. On hikes, guides and guests are encouraged to take nothing with them, nor leave anything behind.
We recycle wine and liquor bottles by building bottle walls. The sauna, bunkhouse shower, and showers in the private bathrooms are examples of this eco-architecture. The hardest part when building a bottle wall is all the drinking that you have to do first!
Large plastic containers are re-used as planters or to store milk and water. Newspaper makes good mulch for the garden as well as an alternative non-toxic mirror and window cleaner and woodstove starter. Food scraps are composted or fed to animals: chickens, guinea pigs, pigs, dogs etc. Recycling that is not done directly on site is done in through the local recycling center that the Black Sheep Inn established in Chugchilán. Recycled products available in Ecuador include plastic buckets and barrels, water hoses, toilet paper, and more.
Recycling is a community-wide issue
The local Recycling Centre has been an initiative of the Black Sheep Inn's since Andres (co-owner of the Black Sheep Inn) was elected to be 'King of Garbage' in Chugchilán in 2006.
Trash used to be swept weekly in the canyon in front of the local school. By working cooperatively with public officials Andres helped purchase a small property to use as a separation facility, tree nursery and a mini landfill. Now trash is separated into cardboard, hard plastic, soft plastic, paper, metal and organic. Recyclables are sold and profits go directly to the people who sort the waste. Organic waste has been composted and used to fertilize a public central park in the village. ... more on community recycling
Permaculture at Black Sheep Inn
Permanent agriculture offers positive solutions to problems caused by the earth's diminishing natural resources. It focuses on how to design sustainable productive human settlements that provide food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs. Permaculture combines many ecological features: organic gardening, building with natural materials, alternative energy, water conservation, composting, dry toilets, animal production and more. It is a way of inter-connecting many features so that they become more productive and stable. Permaculture copies natural eco-systems and therefore designs for production and sustainability.
The Black Sheep Inn is becoming a Permaculture demonstration site. We have dry composting toilets, recycling systems for gray water, and recycling of plastic, metal, paper and glass. We have planted over 1000 native trees in terraced swales and will continue to reforest in this manner. We have organic gardens and a greenhouse. We build from traditional materials such as straw and adobe.
It is safe to eat salads at the Black Sheep Inn. We fertilize the terraced gardens with animal manure and compost/red-worm castings. We combat plagues and insects with natural remedies, such as aji (red hot chili peppers), garlic and tobacco sprays. We plant predatory-insect repelling species (nasturtium, chamomile, cultivated lupine, calendula etc.) around the garden. We continue experimenting with inter-cropping and companion planting.
Our green-house allows us to produce warm weather vegetables. The green-house is heated by passive solar. We use 150 gallons of water along with thick adobe walls for thermal mass. The chickens also produce heat in the evenings, and lay eggs first thing in the morning. This greenhouse / chicken-house combination is one of the many ideas we learned through studying Permaculture techniques from around the world.
All vegetables served in the kitchen are treated with concentrated Ozone and a natural disinfectant made from grapefruit extract in order to kill bacteria. Our kitchen is safe for even the most delicate stomachs. Please indulge! One of the goals of the Black Sheep Inn is to increase onsite sustainable food production.
Water Supply & Waste Water
At the Black Sheep Inn we have 4 water sources: the town system (which we help to maintain), a back-up reserve from a small spring, a pond for irrigation and rainwater that is collected in small tanks and cisterns from several roofs. On average we use 2000 liters of water daily for the entire hotel; this includes approximately 21 people on the property fulltime, about 95 liters (25 gallons) per person per day. We have built ponds to help increase biodiversity and to retain water on the property. Andres was the elected president of the town water system from the end of 2006 until mid 2009.
Because we have dry composting toilets, we do not produce "black water" or sewage. Gray water is much easier to treat and reuse. All water from showers, sinks, laundry etc. is recycled. It is collected in settling tanks and put through charcoal/rock filter systems. The filtered water is then channeled through a reed bed for further nutrient absorption. The reeds produce fodder for guinea pigs, llamas and sheep.
We water our gardens with water from a solar water pump installation. Two 85-watt solar panels directly power (with no batteries) a ShurFlo submersible pump that is mounted on the bottom of the raft in the pond. When it is sunny (and even on cloudy days) the pump pushes pond water over 200-feet up the hill to a reserve tank for irrigating organic gardens. The same pump powers the "Fountain of Youth" and the "Waterslide of Death," also known as the Andean Luje.
By building a laundry washing area just up the hill from our lodge we have created two new water resources without pumping. 1) The roof collects rainwater for laundry washing and 2) the used gray water is stored for irrigation of flower gardens at the lodge level. In 2009 Black Sheep Inn installed a super efficient Energy Star washing machine that saves water from previous hand-washing.
Black Sheep Inn closed in 1998 to sponsor a Permaculture Design Course for the community. Twenty local neighbors participated in the two-week course. Rick and Naomi Coleman, Australian Permaculturists, (see Southern Cross Permaculture Institute) renowned for their expertise, donated their time and knowledge in exchange for room and board. Jean Brown, guidebook writer and past owner of Safari Tours, and Valentina Benavides translated the course. Both have participated in several other courses throughout Ecuador. The community was receptive to the course and new ideas. Black Sheep Inn has many functioning examples of how Permaculture works which added greatly to the course.
Definition: Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people, providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.
-- Bill Mollison
Australian co-founder of the Permaculture movement
Native tree species for erosion control
When challenged by choices of how to manage our property we found that our problems often became our solutions. Terracing can control erosion. All over the property we have dug swales (water filtration ditches built along the contour of the land) and planted the lower side of them with native trees, bushes and shrubs. The purpose of these trenches/swales is to prevent erosion and water run off that is inevitable on steeply sloped properties.
The reason trees or shrubs are planted on the bottom side of the trenches/swales is that the root systems help to hold the swale in place, while 'drinking' the water that collects in the trench. The leaves and branches that fall into the swale provide valuable organic material and help build up and create soil. The Incas terraced with rocks because they had an abundance of rocks. Swales on steep slopes eventually turn into terraces without the use of rocks. We are actually harvesting run-off in the form of water, soil and organic matter.
The most common native trees that we have planted are: Capuli (Prunus serotina), Quishuar (Buddleia incana), Samil (Rapanea dependens), Yagual (Polylepes Incana), Pumamaqui (Orreopaanax spp), and Racemosa (Polylepis Racemosa). We have interspersed these native trees with a few pine and cypress, as well as alder (Aliso), black walnut (Nogal) and broom (Retama). We also have young fruit trees: apple, pear, tamarillo (tree tomato), and black cherry. We are experimenting with planting sub-tropical trees in microclimates, such as avocado, papaya, lime, tangerine, and passion fruit.
Mature native trees are now providing a seed bank for a native tree nursery at the community recycling center. And the nursery is reusing plastic water bottles collected at the recycling center as well as the compost that the center produces.
The Eucalyptus (BFW) trees that dominate the region were introduced to Ecuador in the late 1800's from Australia. We use Eucalyptus for construction and for firewood. We do not reforest with Eucalyptus. It can be invasive, taking over large tracts of land. It grows back like a weed from the same stump and seeds itself very easily. Eucalyptus leaves are highly acidic; damaging soils around their base for years after the tree is gone. They also have long shallow roots that suck up all the water surrounding the tree. For these reasons, Eucalyptus makes good firewood that burns without too much creosote build-up.