The kitchen is a cook’s dream: spacious, with open shelves for cookware and labeled bins for staples; an expansive granite island with two utilitarian sinks; a commercial range; room for several cooks, and perches for onlookers. The decor is a charming mix of country French and a trend-setting loft look. Cath Conlon directs lunch preparations for her 20 school-aged visitors, instructing one in the sautéing of kale, sending another out to the garden to snip some fresh mint for the tea, pointing a third in the direction of the water pitchers and glasses. All the while she is busy filling dishes, stirring a pot on the stove, peeking at an aromatic delectable in the oven and sharing her vision of a world sustained by – and supporting – a healthy planet.

Cath Conlon has created a magical oasis a mere hour’s drive from the third largest city in the country. Carved out of the land, yet intrinsically a part of it, Blackwood Educational Land Institute offers its Houston-area visitors a sense of peace and tranquility rarely found in daily life. One breathes more easily here; one feels a oneness and a rightness with life, a distant remembering combined with an intuitive knowing that, somehow, this is how life was meant to be savored.

Thirteen years ago, the Conlon family’s 23 acres near Hempstead, Texas, encompassed little more than a forest of trees and brush struggling to grow in poor soil. Now it has been transformed into Blackwood Educational Land Institute, embracing a 5,000 square-foot environmentally friendly straw-bale house, a prolific organic garden that contributes to the meals, a greenhouse, a spiral garden, a butterfly garden, bee hives, a chicken coop, a water harvesting system, a passive solar heating system, a labyrinth, and even a delightful little privy.

Read more at Citizens League for Environmental Action Now