When oil recently spread like a cruel bloom through the Gulf of Mexico and lapped ashore on the Gulf Coast—threatening hundreds of species of plants and animals, and grievously contaminating already fragile wetlands and waters—it was a graphic and horrible reminder of our dependency on fossil fuels.

The same is true with the recent coal mining accidents. Climate-changing carbon spewed into the atmosphere by vehicles and dirty waste emitted by coal-fired power plants contribute great amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, but the cost of our fuel habit is much higher when the human and environmental tolls are added—especially if one is inclined to push war and military budgets toward a category that might be flexibly labeled “power.”

That’s why it felt so liberating to sit down to a literally farm-fresh meal in the warm spring sunshine on Saturday, April 24 at the

. The farm’s fields are plowed with draft horses instead of tractors, and its most diligent workers are students.

A school day at Camino de Paz begins with the students working on the farm—not in a child labor sort of way, but as a lens through which to form a practical understanding of everything from poetry to botany, from geometry to water management. Somehow the students have time left over to create a kind of excellent but also kind of creepy marimba jam band.

The event was the

Food for Thought Brunch

, an annual fundraiser for the school that showcases its smart, talented and extraordinarily diverse student body, the intimate and impressive farm and, of course, lots and lots of cute baby goats. It’s a good fundraising technique because even people who hate children are unable to resist baby goats. The next time a Santa Fe arts organization is considering how to pep up yet another tired fundraiser, remember: baby goats.

The farm’s animals don’t just hang about plowing fields and looking cute, of course. Between the horses, goats, sheep, lambs, chickens and whatnot, an A-list ecosystem is created with the potential for tons of dairy and other products, as well as shocking amounts of fertilizer. Plus, you can eat the animals—or at least some of them, some of the time.

At this year’s Food for Thought, we were treated to a simple and satiating lamb stew, a clever frittata, fresh-baked breads, a helping of early harvest vegetables, and one of the best, freshest salads I’ve ever had.

The penalty for such a wonderful meal was having to politely listen to the school’s founders endlessly praise the kids, the parents and a kind of ethereal, hippyish general goodness in the world. I thought I’d at least learn something interesting from keynote speaker and  Santa Fe water-harvesting guru Nate Downey (while eating, which is the kind of multitasking I can do), but he, too, effused about the school, the parents and the kids while cruelly refusing to share his wisdom (and while I snacked on a second helping of cookies and homemade ice cream).

Then again, the school, the kids and the parents are all pretty praise-worthy.

At a time when we know for the most part what the world’s problems are—from unbalanced economies to environmental disasters—but remain mysteriously reluctant to do much about them, Camino de Paz provides an education that truly delves into the micro and macro. The school not only teaches kids about land, animals and agriculture, but also offers a full curriculum that stresses systems, responsibility, leadership and quality of life.

The students themselves—with their diversity of backgrounds, interest and talents, and their singular devotion to the school’s process and methods—are the best evidence that the program is working.

And the parents? They get props for more than sending their kids to this weird but cool school—they did the cooking.

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