Green Money Journal

Fall 2009 issue (Socially Responsible Investing: What is Possible in These Times?)

Camino de Paz School and Farm
By Patricia Pantano, Executive Director

Imagine a world where young people feel empowered. Imagine a world where young people live sustainability. Imagine a world where young people produce their most basic of commodities, food, cooperatively and locally. This is the vision which guides the students, staff and board of directors at the Camino de Paz School and Farm.

Camino de Paz is a Montessori middle school located on ten acres of irrigated farmland in Santa Cruz, NM. Its campus contains a herd of goats, flock of sheep, innumerable chickens and twenty five enthusiastic middle school students all coming from within a 35 mile radius of the school.

The farm enables the students to extend and apply their academic skills on a regular basis and to become entrepreneurs. From their animals' products they create and sell items weekly at the Santa Fe Farmers Market: soap from the goats' milk; eggs from their chickens; felted, woven and knitted items from the sheep's wool; and, of course, produce from the fields and greenhouses. This means that on a daily basis they keep records of feed and feed costs, milk, egg and soap production, seed plantings and germination rates, harvest totals and the condition of the plants and animals. This data is recorded, graphed and reported to the whole group weekly.

One might wonder exactly how this works on a school schedule. The gong of a cast iron bell calls all students and staff to the morning circle at 8:30. After a brief check-in the students and adults disperse in teams of two or three to begin the daily cycle of plant and animal care. Some care for pastured poultry, some feed and/or milk sheep and goats, some focus their attention on the plants and greenhouses. In less than an hour they return to the school building and begin their daily classes: math, language arts, science, history, art, music, etc. At noon everyone breaks for a community lunch prepared by two or three students supervised by a staff member. After lunch it's back to lessons and the day closes with another quick round of checking up on all living things for food and water.

The classroom lessons are imbued with challenges and projects that arise from an ethic of stewardship and living more lightly on the land: using water catchment and solar energy, growing one's own food organically, constructing pens or feeders, maintaining tools and equipment, preserving food, turning fleeces into felted wool or spun yarn, participating fully in the cycle of life. The students see how animal manure and waste hay from the pens can be composted along with kitchen scraps to fertilize the plant beds. Chickens move throughout the pastures to improve the quality of the plants on which the four-legged animals graze. Vegetables from the field and meat from the animals provide the basis of the school's lunch and nutrition program.

"We knew that this work was important for these developing adolescents," says the school's co-founder, Patricia Pantano, "but we had no idea how far-reaching the results would be!" Perhaps the most significant outcome of the farm-based school community is the network of relationships it engenders. Running farm-based businesses requires and develops an extraordinary level of teamwork and communication skills. Students who have gone on to other schools report that years after leaving Camino de Paz, their best friendships are still those whose bonds were forged in the heat of challenging, thought-provoking and mutually empowering work. In addition the students cultivate relationships in the wider community through their presence in the Farmers Market booth, public tours and conference presentations.

The activities that center around the farm have brought the entire community squarely into issues such as seed saving, genetically modified foods, the importance of local economies, water quality, use and water rights, land stewardship and the challenges of farming in northern New Mexico. Thus the students have educated themselves and, consequently, the public.

Four to six times a year the farm school hosts tours and open houses. Students give the participants an explanation of what they see as they wander the campus: the solar panels for electricity, the greenhouses, art studio, animal pens, chicken tractors and the draft horses, Bess and Colonel. Students have had the opportunity to practice public speaking on a wider scale by participating in the local Bioneers conference, Food and Seed Sovereignty Conference, and the Southwest Marketing Conference.

While it may not be possible for all middle schools to implement a program as in-depth as the one at Camino de Paz, its staff and students hope that their work might serve as an inspiration to other youth to become involved in gardening or agriculture and the issues that surround the local food system. "We aren't about turning the kids into farmers," says Greg Nussbaum, the Farm Director, "although that would be great! Empowerment is stretching the limits of what they believe they can do. It's really about giving them a first-hand experience of their possibilities, their responsibilities as conscientious citizens and the power to problem-solve and think for themselves."

For more information on the School call (505) 747-9717 or go to http://www.caminodepaz.net

[This article was also published in the Sustainable Santa Fe Guide 2009]

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