A small rural NSW school with 4 primary students has a vision to become the greenest little school in Australia.

Story Mandy McKeesick  Photo courtesy Belltrees Public School

A barren paddock decimated by drought evoked despair at Belltrees Public School. Principal Shane Roberts and local farmer Rob Scott gazed across the area, devoid of life, and asked themselves a question: how do we prepare our students for the challenges they’ll face with changing climatic conditions? The question proved a catalyst for the school and community.

Last year, Belltrees, located in the NSW Hunter Valley, had 3 primary students. In 2024 the school population exploded, and it now has 4 primary students and 6 preschoolers. Shane has been at the school for 6 years and is one of 2 teachers.

At Rob’s suggestion, Shane began investigating regenerative agriculture, even though he “had zero agricultural experience prior to Belltrees”. “We wanted to support the community in the midst of the worst drought in a century, so in 2020 we set about hosting an excursion for both students and local farmers to learn about regenerative agriculture principles at the Mulloon Institute in the Southern Highlands,” Shane says. “We secured a $5000 grant from FRRR [Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal] and funding from the local council and businesses to ensure no farmers were financially restricted from attending.”

This first excursion spawned a movement. Soon after, a field day at the school brought together regenerative agriculture practitioners, the Warrumbungle National Park Environmental Education Centre, the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, Hunter Local Land Services and local primary schools. A tree-planting day enlisted celebrity ABC gardener Costa Georgiadis. The revitalised once-barren paddock began to support vegetables, chickens and sheep. A second regen-ag excursion, to Armidale, was held in 2022 and the resulting field day at the school attracted 80 farmers. A Youth Environmental Council was formed and older students have plans to mentor the preschoolers.

This story excerpt is from Issue #155

Outback Magazine: June/July 2024