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How I Started a Healthy Living Expat Community in Ecuador

The Oceanside Farms goal: realizing a vision for sustainable independent living

By Wendy Chan

When  I think about why I decided to build a boutique residential community with a fully curated communal farm on the coast of Ecuador, the answer is simple: I love food. I have always believed in the power of food to bring people and family together, to give us joy, to create happy memories and above all, to keep us healthy and nourished.

expat community
Oceanside Farm Residences  |  Credit: Compliments of Wendy Chan

Having grown up in Asia, I live by an understanding of food as medicine. At the first sign of discomfort, my parents did not pop painkillers; they reached for ginger tea or some brew of traditional Chinese medicine. In Chinese cooking, medicinal ingredients are used in dishes and soups as daily health tonics. I grew up immersed in this holistic approach to wellness.

wendy chan
Wendy Chan

A Revelation About the Food We Eat

It took some life experience for me to recognize that. Early in my career in advertising, I launched food products such as packaged gourmet frozen dinners and sugary beverages. For the past decade, I have been consulting for international clients, promoting their cuisines in North American markets, including their packaged foods and seafood exports. I’ve spent years learning about the manipulating and marketing, as well as the sourcing, farming and procuring of consumer food items. Over time, I became aware of how many products of our industrialized supply chain systems are harmful to us and to our planet.

Over a decade ago, my husband and I (both boomers) started growing food on the rooftop of our New York City midrise. Encouraged by some grower friends, we filled our planters with Asian pear trees and sweet potato plants, started a trellis of concord grape vines and began experimenting with a variety of herbs and vegetables. We discovered the joy of nurturing these plants and appreciating their bounty, realizing that tomatoes and cucumber right off the vine and freshly cut chives and zucchini flowers not only bypassed the toxic manipulations of industrial farming but tasted more flavorful than the produce that traveled distances to get to our plates. We added an outdoor kitchen and it instantly became a favorite dining spot for our family and friends.

Taking Our Passion for Wellness to the Next Level

It seemed natural that when we started planning for the next stage of our lives (known to many as retirement), my husband and I focused on taking our love of growing clean, nutrient-rich food to the next level. We envisioned a home that could facilitate our wellness-driven lifestyle, one that could enable us to enjoy sustainable, independent living. So, we began searching for the right place to realize that vision.

After an intensive global search, we landed in Ecuador.

With its U.S.-dollar economy, accessible and affordable quality health care, low threshold for permanent residency and a long list of discounts and privileges for older adults, Ecuador has long been a top pick for North American and European expats and retirees.

As Next Avenue recently noted, International Living ranked Ecuador the fourth best country in the world to retire in 2019 and Cuenca, Ecuador was in the Top 10 on Live and Invest Overseas’ 2019 list.

Why Ecuador?

Ecuador has long earned a reputation for its natural beauty, too; home to the Galapagos Islands, the South American country has been called one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries. It has even chosen to protect the “right of nature” in its constitution

It wasn’t until we arrived in the coastal town of Puerto Cayo, though, that our dream of a house with a backyard farm blossomed into a vision of building a small ecological community with a managed co-op farm.

We found it easy to fall in love with Puerto Cayo. It has an excellent microclimate and an enchanting ocean landscape, adjacent to the mountains and the cloud forest of Machalilla National Park. Daily life is enhanced by bioluminescence sightings on the beach, whales breaching in the distance during breakfast, dinners with ocean catches brought in by dayboat fishermen, and captivating sunsets.

It’s where we met Sean Kelly and Dahiana Cedeño, a young couple who’d moved to Puerto Cayo from California, where they had been working in the tech and apparel sectors. Having noticed the increasing number of expats attracted to coastal living, they started a real estate development business in the beautiful seaside town, where they’ve been living with their young children, Mila and Liam.

Launching Oceanside Farm Residences


Seeing how fervently this young family also recognized the importance of good food and a clean environment was a powerful catalyst for my husband and me. Emboldened by our shared values and enthusiasm, the four of us imagined creating the ultimate “agrihood” — an active, multigenerational community with an integrated farm.

This is the genesis of Oceanside Farm Residences.

We founded this 25-acre development with a co-op farm because we believe that clean air, fresh and sustainably harvested food and a diverse, open-community are essential to cultivating health and wellness. By nourishing ourselves with great food, communing with the natural environment and learning and socializing together, we can stay engaged, youthful and sharp.

Conceptualizing and building Oceanside Farm Residences has been an exhilarating experience. As we’ve worked through reams of information on eco-conscious design, we’ve learned about sustainability, permaculture, home design and even feng shui principles.

We excavated an onsite well to supply our farm and homes with water, taking a big step toward self-sustainability.

We’ve already derived immense joy from sourcing, starting and saving seeds, picking our first harvest of squash, beets, figs and choy sum and planting specialty plants, superfoods and even TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) herbs. We added a commercial kitchen, where we plan to host  farm-to-table  (and dock-to-dish!) dinners and stage creative culinary events.

Looking to the Long Term

In the long term, we hope to invite thought- and industry leaders to explore food-forward topics here amid Ecuador’s natural abundance.

We hope our project will appeal to folks who understand that buying a home at Oceanside Farm Residences (pricing and models are available upon request) is a decision to transform one’s lifestyle. With our floor plans ranging up to four- and five-bedrooms, these residences will encourage multigenerational living. Aging is a natural part of life, after all, and we think it should be integrated into a community of people of all ages.

While we’ve worked hard to see that our homes are designed with well- equipped kitchens, private salt water pools, fireplaces, elevators and ocean views, our development goes far beyond the photogenic. We are building a place for ourselves and some dear friends and neighbors  to enjoy tranquility and vitality.

Going forward, we expect the site will continuously evolve as we strive to lead more healthful and eco-conscious lives.

Wendy Chan is the founder of Oceanside Farms,  an eco-conscious residential community and private co-op farm in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. Read More
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