Small Town Sustainability ~ Making it Work off the Beaten Path

The Historic Balch Hotel is located 1 hour and 40 minutes east of Portland Oregon in the small farming community of Dufer. EcoApprentice member Samantha Irwin (and her husband Jeff) own this beautiful hotel. Read how they made sustainability work for their business in a town of 500.

Rural America. It’s beautiful, open, has a touch of the wild, and attracts those independent types. That might be one of the reasons we’ve landed here in Dufur Oregon, restoring and operating a piece of history – the Historic Balch Hotel. We did trade in things people in the city take for granted like curbside recycling, composting options, and a grocery that is open past 7 p.m. Now we borrow from our neighbors, keep a tab at the grocery (just receive the monthly bill!), and don’t have to lock our doors. Not such a bad swap. What we’ve lost in convenience we’ve gained in opportunity to be resourceful!

So how does our business integrate sustainability in a small town where curbside recycling is not in the community vernacular and instead burn barrels are commonplace?

In the beginning educating staff on recycling that paper, or putting kitchen waste into the compost bin was a struggle. Changing habit can be slow. However, now four years into the future, I’m not the only one picking the can or paper cup out of the garbage. I feel an odd sense of motherly pride when I see some staff fishing something out of the garbage can. Am I normal? Have I created fanatics? Let’s hope so!

When we opened our doors in 2007 it took a great deal of effort to teach our team how to recycle. For many reasons, mainly education and convenience, it’s not done a heck of a lot in rural spaces. We were making strides but I wanted a visual to show staff exactly the impact that they were making. So, in 2010 we loosely began to keep track of our recycling and composting efforts. I think staff might have thought me slightly off my rocker but now I’m convinced they see a method to my madness. We created a fancy Tally System (a paper and pen taped to the kitchen wall).

Of course we kept track of the regular recycle items like paper, tin, glass etc. but also include food and yard debris. We coordinate trips to The Dalles recycling to take in our contribution and one of our staff members who lives off the grid (future blog post!) takes all the yard and kitchen waste to make some killer compost for themselves.

In 2010 our Balch Hotel staff saved over 38 dumpsters from being added to the landfill! That equates to $1216 in money we didn’t have to spend on garbage fees. It adds up! In 2011 we upped our ante to 65 dumpsters, thereby saving $2080.

Rest assured our recordkeeping is improving year to year and as our business grows it’s become a challenge to see how much better we can do. We even expanded our horizons and posted one of our housekeeping recycling challenges on EcoApprentice! Our staff is thinking differently now. That is good!

There is still no curbside recycling. We still do not need to lock our doors. Dufur is a special community where there are many things I would like to keep the same. Sometimes though, changes are needed. These changes are for the betterment of the community, and future generations.

I’m very proud of our team. When I hear of them taking these practices into their homes I know it’s reaching the next generation – as it should.


In the country, city, or someplace in between – we would love to hear from you and share your EcoChallenges + success stories.  Become a member on EcoApprentice for free.