Fall News from the VVS Farm

Mike Spielman ~ VVS Farm Manager

We planted garlic the other day. It went into one of the first beds we ever dug back in 2013, just to the south of the gate between a fading amaranth and the frozen stems of a Roma Olorode. I remember the three students who helped chop that dirt for the first time: one from California, another from South Korea, and the other from Saudi Arabia. We wondered if life was more like a circle or a spiral. We had no answers. Only wonder.   

December is my favorite time on the farm. Cabbages and greens are tucked beneath their winter sheets. The leaves of the fruit trees have blown into their wells. The Osgood Greenhouse is full of banana plants, mangoes and peppers. Seeds are drying. Squash are cured. The field is laid bare and we can begin to dream about next year’s design.

Walking around the new expansion I remember that this time last year it did not exist. There was no greenhouse either. The fencing for the southern expansion is now more than half done. Last month we ordered 57 fruit trees.  Fifty seven fruit trees!  Eleven pears. Seven peaches. Six plums.  Sixteen apples. Persimmons, nectarines, quince and sixty grape vines too. A lot of holes to dig between now and March!

We are back at the Sedona Farmer’s Market.  Please stop in and say hello if you are local. We are selling heirloom beans, winter squash, dried peppers, and Jerusalem artichokes.  Most of the greens right now are going to the Yavapai Food Council.  If you are a gardener and live far away, drop us a line. We’ll send some seeds.

A thousand thank you’s to all who have supported us this year!  We are honored and blessed and as always, excited to get back to work.

Earth Day Events Planned

It’s only natural that a school with such a deep dedication to the environment would celebrate Earth Day the way we do at VVS.

After regular Friday classes, students and faculty will meet at the garden expansion to work on the new vegetable beds. Following dinner, author Bill Carter will talk to the school about the copper mining industry and his book “Boom Bust Boom,” which is also our summer reading. The evening concludes with our annual recycled fashion show, organized by students Grace Shoup and Lola Olorode.

Visit the VVS gallery at www.vvsaz.org/galleries for photos.

Meditation Workshop

Join VVS for a “Learn to Meditate” program hosted by Shambhala Center of Phoenix, led by Amy Kemp and including a short talk on meditation, sitting practice, and refreshments. The event is free, casual, and open to anyone tonight at 6:30 in Brady Hall.

Hunger Banquet Update

Wednesday night’s 7th Annual Hunger Banquet to benefit the VVS Global Goals Program was a huge success, not only raising awareness of global and local hunger issues, but also bringing in over $5,200 through ticket and raffle sales.  All money raised will make its way to Global Goals initiatives locally and in Malawi, Africa. 


Brady Hall was filled with over 200 community members – from VVS and the local Sedona community – as the Verde Valley School theater department partnered with the Global Goals program to present a night of interactive theater coupled with a dinner  fashioned on the Oxfam Hunger Banquet to bring home issues surrounding global and local poverty and hunger.


Diners entered Brady Hall after choosing at random a piece of paper detailing the place they would take at the table – low, middle or high class – and determining the meal that they would receive. Once seated – lower class on the floor with table cloths eating rice, middle class at chairs eating rice, beans and bok choy grown in the VVS garden, and high class at tables with linens with a multi-course dinner including steak – the program was introduced by Global Goals member Cindy Ji, ’17, who traveled with the school to Malawi last summer. Cindy explained the purpose of the evening and shared global and local poverty and food insecurity statistics with the crowd. Cindy was joined by Noa Lee, ’16, who also made the trip to Malawi last summer and Isabella Primavera, ’17, who will travel to Malawi this summer, as emcees for the evening.


To further humanize the plight of food insecurity, theater students performed monologues they had written, portraying situations all around the world – drought, job loss, political instability, and illness – that can send families into poverty.  Theater students performing monologues included Talie Peck, ’17; Gaby Grosbetty, ’16; Tyrien Fixico, ’17; Tiffany Tian, ’16; Gracie Shoup-Lenning, ’16; Drake Busby, ’16; Loloa Olorode, ’16; Maya Shen, ’16; Morgan Bailey, ’17, Galen Coburn-Amadio, ’17; and Kevin Chisolm, ’17. Maya traveled to Malawi with the MDG Malawi group last summer and Morgan, Galen and Kevin will make the trip this summer.


The Global Goals program at VVS works throughout the school year to educate students and the community on the issues outlined by the United Nations in their Global Goals initiative. In addition to raising awareness, the group works to supply over 50 Verde Valley families with weekend food through the Backpacks for Hungry Kids program. Globally, the group works for nearly 4 weeks in the summer on various projects in Malawi, Africa ranging from pre-natal health, maternal health, girls’ education, and in conjunction with the Sedona Lions Club to provide over 5,000 pairs of eyeglasses to Malawians through their annual eyeglass clinics in Blantyre and Zomba.


To learn more about the Global Goals program (formerly MDG Malawi) visit www.vvsaz.org/mdg-malawi. To learn more about Backpacks for Hungry Kids visit www.vvsaz.org/backpacks-for-kids.




Fast for a Meal February

This Monday, February 29th, Verde Valley School will once again Fast for a Meal to benefit the Backpacks for Kids program.  The last Monday of each month the VVS community skips lunch in the dining hall and the school donates the money we would spend preparing that meal ($300 per lunch) to alleviate local hunger.    

To date, VVS and a current VVS  family donor have been able to contribute $1,800 to the Backpacks for Hungry Kids program.  Program coordinator Caroline Diehl uses the funds to buy additional protein sources, shelf stable milk and 100% fruit juice for the program. The program also receives fresh fruit donations from the Sedona Women’s Group and the Gibson family.

The VVS community will continue to fast for a meal the last Monday of each month throughout the end of the school year. Consider fasting for a meal yourself or at your business.




Garden Expansion


Anyone driving onto campus the last two weeks would have noticed more than the usual early 2016 Garden Addition websizespring planting preparations at the garden.  Farm Manager Mike Spielman and Sustainability Coordinator John Chorlton have been digging in the dirt working on part one of a three part garden expansion.  

Thanks to a $10,000 grant from an anonymous garden benefactor, the two have purchased and are now finishing the building of a new greenhouse.

The generosity and belief in the VVS Farm don’t end there however. We’ve also recently  received a $25,000 grant from local sustainability-focused developer Thomas McPherson.  This generous donation will enable us to move through the next two phases of expansion. VVS Board of Trustees member Will Buckling,’80, has also been instrumental in the expansion.

Phase two and three will include, but are not limited to, leveling and fencing off the northern expansion and orchard space and building raised beds.

All of the expansion is planned with a couple things in mind. Two very important objectives are to meet more of the VVS food needs, while also growing and contributing produce to the Yavapai Food Council’s Bountiful Kitchen program, which provides whole food meals to at-risk children in our county – one in three children in the Verde Valley is food insecure.  Finally, we will use a portion of the production for entrepreneurial programs to help fund and sustain the farm. As with every project at VVS, every piece of this is tied to the School’s guiding principles.

Needless to say, Paul, Mike, John and the entire VVS community are so pleased and grateful for the support to make this happen.




7th Annual Hunger Banquet

hb 20152Gain a better understanding of food justice and distribution by way of an interactive meal and presentation at VVS’s 7th Annual Hunger Banquet.  

Where will you sit? A random ticket chosen when you walk into Brady Hall could get you a feast or a meager portion of nsima at Verde Valley School’s Annual Hunger Banquet and Raffle. Scheduled for Wednesday, February 24 from 6-8 pm, the Hunger Banquet, modeled on a concept originated by Oxfam International, aims to raise awareness of global, and local, hunger.


VVS students, staff, parents and community members will share a meal that demonstrates the inequity in nutrition among people around the world. As diners walk into Brady Hall they chose a ticket that divides them into three different groups, representing worldwide income levels. The income levels will determine the makeup of the meal they receive, demonstrating what people who live in a certain income bracket can afford to eat.


The few seated in the high-income area will enjoy a full multi-course dinner, served at set tables; those representing middle-income will eat rice and greens; the low-income group, which represents 50% of the world’s population, will eat just rice while seated on the floor. The event is sponsored by the Global Goals Group (formerly MDG Malawi) who work in villages in Malawi during the summer.


The event has two goals: to make participants aware of how hunger affects people around the world – like the fact that much of the world’s population survive on less than $1 a day – and to raise money for and awareness of hunger issues both globally and locally. This is the Global Goals group’s largest student run fundraiser of the year, with 100% of proceeds going locally to hunger prevention initiatives, like the Backpacks for Kids program where VVS students work in conjunction with the Verde Food Council to supply backpacks full of healthy food for students at Big Park Community School and Desert Star Community School, and globally to provide secondary school fees for children in Malawi, Africa. Since 2007 VVS has worked in Malawi each summer. This summer’s group will leave Sedona on May 29 for a 3-week service trip to Malawi.

The project extends beyond the students who will make the trip to Malawi.  VVS theater students will present scenarios and monologues of how/why people move from one income class to another with stories from the US, Malawi, and China.


According to the United Nations, some 925 million people do not have enough to eat. While many of those people live in developing countries, hunger is also an issue in local communities, with many Arizonans going hungry every day.


Last year’s Hunger Banquet raised $2500 allowing the MDG group to send 20 girls from the Malawian village where they work to secondary school. This year they hope to raise even more. In addition to opening the banquet to the public at $10 per ticket, the group is selling raffle tickets, including prizes from local merchants. Click here for a list of raffle prizes.


Winners need not be present to win raffle items. You can purchase raffle tickets or tickets to the Hunger Banquet by calling Caroline Diehl, Global Goals Program Coordinator, at 928-284-2272 or by email at carolined@vvsaz.org.




Sedona Marathon Results


IMG_6618It took three busses (and a few cars) from the VVS fleet  to transport us all to the Sedona Marathon Event early Saturday morning February 6, but as the sun came up, we piled out in our green “Running for Malawi” t-shirts and had 40+ runners and aid station volunteers representing Verde Valley School.
In addition to the fun of running one of America’s most beautiful marathon courses, runners were collecting donations for the Global Goals program at VVS.  Global Goals, which takes its name from and is based on the United Nations’ Global Goals, a series of initiatives to end poverty and tackle climate change globally.  Before all the pledges are in, the program has raised a little over $1,500.  It’s not too late to sponsor a runner.  You can make a donation through the VVS website at www.vvsaz.org/mdg-malawi or by emailing Caroline Diehl, the program’s coordinator, at carolined@vvsaz.org.  
As you might expect, our runners didn’t just compete, many of them placed in the top 10 of their age groups and categories.  Here’s a list:  
Half Marathon Female 15 – 19 years old: Therese Bach 5th place; Chloe Dotti 7th place; Jess Harmon 8th place;  Kelly Franks 9th place  
Half Marathon Male 15-19 years old: Kevin Singsaas 1st place; Jorge Porta-Bereciartua 4th place; Alex Tehfi 5th place  
10K Men 24-29 years: Cooper Evans 1st place  
10K Men 30-34 years: Pete Reynolds 5th place
10K Male 15-19 years: Kevin Chisolm 4th place; Reus Zhu 5th place; Christopher Lopez 6th place; Talie Peck 7th place: Jake Siet 8th place; David Weng 9th place  
10K Female 15-19 years: Isabella Primavera 1st place; Kate Brovina 4th place; Tatiana Krakhmaleva 5th place; Jolly Nguyen 9th place  
10K Female Under 14 years: Amaya Romanski 3rd place  
5K Female 15-19 years: Jennie Harlan 4th place
5K Male 15-19 years: Zino Vieth 10th place
5K Female 25-29 years: Natalie Plueger 8th place
5K Male 40-44 years: Andy Gill 3rd;
5K Female 44-49 years: Caroline Diehl 9th place

Run for Malawi

Over 40 VVS students and staff are registered to Run for Malawi in the Sedona Marathon on February 6, 2016. In addition to posting great times, they are also working to raise money and awareness of the VVS MDG Malawi/Global Goals program. VVS runners will run in the 5K, 10K and half marathon and are soliciting sponsorship from family and friends for each mile they complete. Last year the program raised a staggering $900 through marathon sponsorships. If you would like to sponsor a student, you can contact MDG Malawi/Global Goals Coordinator Caroline Diehl at carolined@vvsaz.org


In addition to running last year, VVS also manned the first prize winning aid station, bringing in an additional $250 for MDG Malawi/Global Goals.  VVS will return with a bigger, crazier, louder aid station this year – runners look for us – we’ll be the last station before the finish.


Money raised will go toward a variety of projects in Malawi including supplies for Open Arms Infant Home in Mangochi, Malawi; Days for Girls kits to be distributed at Hillside School for Girls; building a girls boarding house at Pemphero Secondary School.


Girl Rising Screening

As part of the MDG Malawi/Global Goals Speaker Series, program coordinator Caroline Diehl will screen the film “Girl girl risingRising” in Brady Hall on Monday night at 5:45pm. VVS parents and family members are invited to attend.


“Girl Rising” tells the story of nine girls in nine different countries and how education can change their lives and the health of their communities. The subject matter is close to the heart of the MDG Malawi/Global Goals program as a number of their projects focus on gender equality and female empowerment. The film is also a precursor to the February 24th fundraising Hunger Banquet. Last year’s Hunger Banquet raised almost $5,000 with a portion going to local hunger initiatives and the remainder toward projects in Malawi directed at girls.