Organic Farm Tour & Cooking Class – Sustainable Tourism in Baños, Ecuador

farmer and cow in Runtun Farm, Ecuador

During our time in Baños, we did both a zip-lining and canyoning tour with Takiri Travel. As they talked me through the range of activities they offer not just in the adventure capital but all over Ecuador, my interest piqued as I heard ‘farm tour’.

Having tried out a number of adrenaline activities across the country, I was intrigued to see what a trip of this nature would offer. As I enquired, I was informed that this was a tour currently still in its trial period but that my boyfriend Tim and I could go on a taster version, to give us an idea of what it would involve when finalised.

The Takiri Travel Ethos

The thing that sets Takiri Travel apart from other tour providers and the main thing that appealed to me, is their emphasis on responsible and sustainable travel. Takiri is looking to provide more than just entertainment for tourists and instead want to allow visitors to experience a more authentic Ecuador. They work with local communities, helping to empower them within the tourism industry.

Getting to Runtun Farmstay, Baños

Our trip was going to start in the morning when Tim and I would be picked up along with our translator for the day. At 10 am, Mónica, one of the farm owners, arrived at our hostel and drove us to the farm. It is situated high in the mountains of Baños, near to the famous Casa del Árbol. Believe me, the views are incredible!

A group walking up the hill to the farm, Baños, Ecuador
Our group walking up the hill to the farm, Baños, Ecuador.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted with tree tomato juice (zumo de tomate del árbol) and pancakes with Babaco jam. The juice was much sweeter and more fruity than your average tomato juice and the jam was sharp but delicious. Mónica explained that they grow both tree tomatoes and Babaco on the farm, so our fruit had been picked just that morning!

Volunteering at Runtun Farmstay

The farm runs with the help of volunteers who work in exchange for food, board and Spanish lessons. After enjoying a sample of the food that the farm has to offer, we set off in the car to explore the land.

For more about volunteering at Runtun Farmstay Baños, check out their website.

Growing ‘Tomates de Árbol’

We began in one of the greenhouses which are used for growing tree tomatoes. I’ll be honest, prior to this trip I had no idea that tomatoes actually could grow on trees so this was definitely a learning curve for me! These tomatoes look different to the ones we are used to at home and tend to be more oval in shape.

A Pair-Shaped Tomato Held in a Hand

Runtun Farm also grows the standard tomatoes which require a lot of maintenance. Plants are strung up to keep them growing towards the sky which prolongs their life.

On the farm, they string-train their tomatoes for less foliage and more fruit. Baños, Ecuador
On the farm, they string-train their tomatoes for less foliage and more fruit. Baños, Ecuador

During our visit to the farm, we learnt to only pick the tomatoes that grew on green stems and not brown ones. The ones from the dark coloured stems were rotten inside which was deceptive as they looked perfect from the outside!

A few tomato fruits left unharvested due to poor quality. Baños, Ecuador
A few tomato fruits left unharvested due to poor quality – Baños, Ecuador.

After the tomatoes have been harvested over a three-month cycle, the plants die and must be replanted from scratch. This is a time-consuming job as all of the planting and uprooting must be done by hand.

One part of the shed with a few tomato plants left to be harvested. Baños, Ecuador
One part of the shed with a few tomato plants left to be harvested – Baños, Ecuador.

Depending on the number of volunteers available and the size of the greenhouse, this process can take many weeks. It was so interesting seeing the intricacy of work that goes into growing these fruits that we so often take for granted.

Growing Babaco

Aside from tomatoes, the other main fruit that is grown on the farm is Babaco. These large green fruits turn yellow when ripened and can be peeled and eaten raw, made into juice or marmalade. Growing Babaco is a complex process which involves splicing two different plants together.

Babaco is a hybrid cultivar between Mountain Papaya and Toronche. Baños, Ecuador
Babaco is a hybrid cultivar between Mountain Papaya and Toronche. Baños, Ecuador

This is done to make them more resistant to disease. October is the time of year where there is the highest demand for the Babaco fruit. This is because it is a vital ingredient in the Colada Morada drink, which is consumed on and around the build-up to November 2nd. This marks ‘The Day of the Dead’ or ‘El Dia de Los Muertos’ which is celebrated all over both Central and South America.

A splice grafted Babaco plant. Baños, Ecuador
A splice grafted Babaco plant. Baños, Ecuador

Both Tim and I harvested a Babaco each for the lunch that we would be helping to prepare at the house later. They were surprisingly tough to pull from the trees!

The Fruits of our Labour – Vegetarian Ceviche!

After touring the farm and learning about how the fruits are grown and maintained, we headed back to Mónica’s, to rustle up something with some of the fruits we had harvested. Upon arrival at the house, we met some of Mónica’s extended family who was going to help us cook a traditional Ecuadorian dish: ceviche.

Learn more about the origins of ceviche.

Usually, fish is a primary component of this meal but as Mónica and her family are vegetarian, we would be making a veggie friendly version. We blended the tomatoes which we had picked earlier in the day to make a base and added onions, lime juice and coriander. After this, there was the option to add in fried plátanos, roasted corn kernels and popcorn.

The ceviche was delicious and even beats the one I had in the best-rated restaurant in Quito! We blended the Babaco into a sweet and refreshing juice, although the fruit is also great to eat raw once peeled. As the tour closed, Mónica gave both Tim and I a Babaco to take as well as a pot of homemade marmalade. Both were excellent tokens to finish off an informative and filling day!

Cooking Class – A Real Highlight

Whilst touring the farm is interesting, I think it is the cooking class that will appeal the most to travellers. This trip is a fantastic attraction for foodies and makes the effort to cater to vegetarians as well.

Takiri’s farm tour is a great way to sample a host of traditional food and drink that you wouldn’t usually get the opportunity to try. Through learning to make the dishes, you can develop your culinary skills and get some experience in cooking traditional Ecuadorian cuisine. That could definitely come in handy for that ‘Come Dine With Me’ application!

Reflections on the Day

After leaving the farm, we were driven to the Mirador de la Cruz Bellavista viewpoint which was stunning, although sadly the city was under attack from a wildfire. There was the option to hike back to the city which takes around an hour or get a lift back. Owing to the smoke from the fire, we decided to skip the hike but having already done it a few days previously, I can attest to the beautiful views on a clear day!

During the time we spent walking around the farm and harvesting the fruits, I was fascinated by how much I learnt about the process. It was shocking to see the time and effort that is put into the production of the food that we eat and how physically demanding this work can be.

A portion of the farm being prepared for greenhouse construction. Baños, Ecuador
A portion of the farm being prepared for greenhouse construction – Baños, Ecuador.

Perhaps the highlight of the farm experience for me was the stunning mountainside vistas that surround the area. The scenery is truly beautiful and a refreshing escape from the city.

The greenhouse amidst planted hills in the farm. Baños, Ecuador
The greenhouse amidst planted hills in the farm – Baños, Ecuador.

The farm tour offered by Takiri Travel is a breath of fresh air from the adrenaline fuelled activities that Baños is most famous for. Unfortunately, in the tourism industry, it is all too often that you see people being exploited in order to provide an ‘authentic’ experience for travellers. Not only is this bad for the locals but in reality, the tourists are often being sold a lie as well.

By getting real people involved in the tourism industry, travellers are getting a genuinely authentic experience and the locals are also benefiting. Empowering local communities and teaching visitors about the nature of farm work and how it is carried out, means that we can ensure that these precious skills do not stay the secrets of the Ecuadorian people but are instead passed on to anyone who wants to learn.

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