It’s a hot August morning on the Holderness campus, and Elizabeth McClellan has a lot on her mind.
The summer sky, hazy from wildfires burning thousands of miles away in California and other western states, hints at a future dimmed by the widespread effects of climate change. Just a week ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report warning of “irreversible” warming in the coming decades, regardless of any future reduction in carbon emissions.
And then, there are the woodchucks.
As a summer project, Elizabeth – Holderness School’s new sustainability coordinator – decided to establish a vegetable garden on the south side of campus. In short order, she learned that a family of woodchucks had staked a competing claim to the plot. Over the course of the summer, Elizabeth watched as the woodchucks mowed down lush beds of kale and arugula, laid waste to rows of broccoli and cauliflower, and devoured fragrant patches of cilantro, parsley, and dill. It was like an agricultural remake of Caddyshack. “It’s been an ongoing feud with the woodchucks,” Elizabeth says, ruefully.
In the grand scheme of things, the woodchucks are the least of Elizabeth’s worries. Heading into her first year as sustainability coordinator, Elizabeth - who also coaches field hockey and is an instructor for Knower Academics - is far more concerned with making Holderness a more sustainable and ecologically-conscious campus. In addition to expanding gardens, she has plenty of on-campus initiatives in mind: revitalizing a composting program to process food waste; using the Hagerman greenhouses to grow herbs and salad greens for the dining hall; and maybe even raising a few chickens on campus. “I would love to get chickens for the school, but that’s maybe a pipe dream,” she says, laughing. “But we could have a campus-wide chicken naming contest, and maybe a little suggestion box. Fresh eggs!”
Having grown up in the fertile Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, Elizabeth watched her mother tend a large household garden, and lived right next door to two farms - one that grew strawberries, and one cucumbers for pickles. As a tenth grader at Northfield Mount Hermon School, Elizabeth even used the school’s farm for a biology project to determine if human pregnancy tests work on pregnant cows.
Like many rural kids, Elizabeth eventually decided to give city life a try. She moved to Rhode Island to attend Brown University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Literary Arts. After graduating in 2018, she took a job at the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau in New York City, where she worked closely with Random House’s prominent authors. But everything changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. In March of that year, Elizabeth decided to return to her agricultural roots, leaving the city to become a goat dairy apprentice at Villa Villekulla Farm in Tunbridge, Vermont.
That spring and summer on the farm, Elizabeth learned how to milk goats, make cheese, muck pens, and keep the kids in line. “Goats are really mischievous - they get into a lot of trouble,” Elizabeth says. “They eat things they’re not supposed to, so you have to mitigate the dangers that they can cause.” In the process, she learned how to care for animals humanely and use their products in a sustainable way. She hopes to impart many of the same hands-on, tangible lessons about sustainability to Holderness students. “I think there are a lot of aspects of academia that just feel not as critical as teaching kids how to live symbiotically with their environment and be good stewards of the earth,” Elizabeth says. “I’m excited to get into it and just make sustainability a priority here, particularly the local food systems and agricultural side.”
Overall, Elizabeth is hopeful about the future - in both a global and local sense. Back in her campus garden, Elizabeth points to the many plants that have survived the Great Woodchuck Attack of 2021. There are tomato plants heavy with ripening fruit; a full row of eggplant; copious cucumbers; and even a few tiny watermelons bravely defying the odds of a short New Hampshire summer. By making sustainability a tangible part of her students’ lives, Elizabeth hopes they’ll be inspired - despite similarly long odds - to change the world. “I’m hoping to get the kids interested in places where they might be able to look into policy, get involved in writing or calling their senators,” Elizabeth says. “Or thinking about ways that, on a larger scale, we might be able to focus on reducing emissions or thinking about how to make the country better.”
Sustainability at Holderness
At Holderness, our mission urges us to work for the betterment of humankind and God’s creation. In that spirit, we take environmental stewardship seriously. Over the last decade, with leadership from science teacher and former Sustainability Coordinator Maggie Mumford, the school has taken great strides to make sustainability an integral part of the school’s physical infrastructure - and its culture. “Maggie Mumford, who did this job before me and did an amazing job, is leaving me huge shoes to fill,” Elizabeth says. “She focused a lot on operations, infrastructure, and making sure buildings were meeting energy rating standards - in addition to leading the Environmental Club and coordinating Earth Day programs.”
Here are just a few examples of the recent sustainability projects on campus.
Built in 2020, our 460-kilowatt solar array generates enough power to offset 30% of the school’s energy needs, including several dorms and the 35,000 square-foot Davis Center for Science and Mathematics.
In use since 2015, our biomass plant generates heat and hot water for the entire campus. It’s powered by wood chip fuel, a byproduct of local sustainable timber harvesting and sound forest management. The plant reduces the school’s yearly fossil fuel usage by 111,000 gallons of fuel oil and 10,000 gallons of propane.
Ice Rink Solar Array
In 2014, the school installed 360 solar panels as part of the construction of the new outdoor hockey rink. This 99-kilowatt solar array, designed with input from students, generates up to 95,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, supplies most of the rink’s energy needs.
In 2008 and 2009, the school conducted sustainability audits of all buildings on campus, and implemented its recommendations while renovating Weld Dining Hall and the Hoit and Rathbun dorms. Two additional dorms constructed since then, Woodward and Pichette, both attained LEED Gold Certification through the U.S. Green Building Council.
Climate Action Group
We’re proud of our Climate Action Group, a collective of students who lead the way on student sustainability. Whether they’re organizing an Instagram-based thrift shop for unwanted items at the end of each semester, urging their classmates to upcycle their Nikes, or speaking at climate action events, they’re working hard to create the sustainable future they’ve envisioned.