Sustainability is in the DNA of VVS. A guiding principal of the school long before it became a buzzword, students and faculty work in a number of ways to put the verde in Verde Valley School.
The VVS way of life has historically included living lightly on the land, considering the effect of our choices on ourselves and on people around the world, and helping students reflect on how to live balanced lives. In this way VVS models the pursuit of full sustainability; we do not simply practice a handful of eco-friendly activities, but pursue comprehensive goals to ensure that our environmental and social impacts are sustainable. What we use, what we do, and what we produce must all align with a way of life that allows nature and humanity to flourish. We imagine a world of less stuff and more regard for each other and the earth.
Create the smallest possible footprint and healthiest possible culture.
Through faculty and student collaboration we aim to:
- become a zero waste institution
- source our food locally
- use 100% renewable energy by 2020
- employ best environmental practices in water use, construction, purchasing and transportation
- create an integrated environmental leadership program
Here’s how we do it:
Members of the faculty and student body planned and built our school garden, transforming a plot of desert land into a working garden artfully secured by a fence made entirely out of recycled pallet boards, a beautiful bee-hive shaped gate welded by local artist Dan Miller, and growing beds amended with our own compost, occupied by tomatoes, squash, peppers, peas and more.
Students work throughout the week to maintain and harvest the garden. One of the few state certified school gardens in Arizona, our garden provides fresh vegetables and herbs for the school and faculty kitchens.
“Our goals for the global garden were to create a community growing space where a good portion of the produce we usually buy from stores could be grown and brought to the dining hall. I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to contribute my labor to something so valuable.”
– Seffa Bee Klein, Class of 2013
Do you begin with the garden or the compost, because at VVS the two are definitely and inextricably linked. We serve food from our garden in our dining hall, which composts 100% of their food waste, which makes its way to either the vermiculture bins or the composting compound where food waste is layered with yard waste and horse manure. The active piles are aerated twice a week and monitored by students for core temperature, PH balance and relative moisture. Bacteria and fungi digest and break down the materials. The finished product is a beautiful nutrient-rich soil that has been sifted and sent out for laboratory analysis to meet AZ state standards. This allows us to move the soil to the school garden where it is blended with native soil and used to grow vegetables that are then served in our dining hall. We also use this product in the greenhouse and for landscaping. Talk about relevant school work!
Students work in all aspects of our compost program, from building the composting compound from recycled and re-purposed materials, to collecting compost from the kitchen and dorms, to monitoring compost temperatures. After three short years, our students can boast that they have started and maintained a program that composts 100% of our kitchen waste and feeds our school garden.
“Every time each of us scraped the leftovers from our plates into the bucket outside the dishwasher students brought that up to the compost pile which was broken down and turned to fertilizer which now nourishes our plants. Our garden is a place we can all retreat to when needed to watch the peppers redden on the vine and listen to the wind blowing through the corn.”
– Mike Spielman, VVS Gardener
Three times a day the VVS dining hall staff provides our community with organic, locally sourced real food. Our cooks emphasize fresh and seasonal meals, have developed partnerships with local farms, develop global menus that represent our global community and put student nutrition, food quality and taste at the forefront of all they do.
The Green Team
The Green Team is a student-led group that meets regularly and implements environmentally-friendly practices and changes to the school. No change is too small. The group asks itself three guiding questions:
- What do we use and how much?
- What do we produce and where does it go?
- What are the habits and rhythms of our daily and seasonal life?
The Green Team is responsible for beautifying the campus with drought-tolerant plants, building a vermiculture project, overseeing school composting, replacing school cleaning supplies with environmentally friendly cleaners, and conducting energy audits to help the school realize ways to become more energy efficient. Each Earth Day the Green Team is responsible for a day’s worth (and they’ve been known to celebrate Earth Week) of environmental education and fun that usually culminates in our Recycled Fashion Show, a runway show featuring student models wearing student-made designs created by recycled materials.
Much of the Green Team’s work happens during the afternoon activity slot dedicated to sustainability. Whether working in the garden, maintaining local riding and hiking trails or working with the sewing project, students have many opportunities to get involved in various sustainability initiatives.
Creating Champions in Green Energy, Sustainability and Social Justice
It’s no surprise that VVS has graduated our fair share of students who have gone out into the world to champion green energy, sustainability and social justice causes. Whether it’s David Calley, ’81, working with wind energy to provide turbines in places like the Navajo reservation, base camps on Mount Everest and the small island of Baththalangduwa, the setting for a system that supplies power to remote areas of Sri Lanka; Chris Horner, ’71, whose documentary “Trouble in Paradise” is an overview of the tiny South Pacific country of Tuvalu, one of earth’s first sovereign nations faced with total destruction due to the effects of global warming; or the countless other VVS graduates who champion similar causes, we live the environmental stewardship piece of our mission.