At Action4Agriculture we believe tomorrow’s problems can be solved today, if we can break down silo thinking and move beyond self interest to a collaborative model that sees people and organisations working together for the greater good.
Today we celebrate Belltrees Public School and their collaborators – a beacon of hope showing others it can be done
“Go to the experts and then bring the experts back”
Belltrees Public is a small school with big ambitions. Located east of Scone in the Upper Hunter Valley, this school, which in 2023 has only 3 students, is on a mission to become the greenest little school in Australia.
Students engage in a range of sustainability-based programs, led by a Youth Environmental Council, including carbon-emission reduction, waste minimisation and slow food but it is their award-winning (National Sustainable Communities – Young Legend award) journey to agricultural regeneration that truly showcases the power of entrusting our future to the young.
The catalyst for this remarkable journey was a barren school paddock. While standing around this area, void of life in 2019’s challenging drought, a question was asked to local farmer, Rob Scott:
“How do we prepare these students for the challenges they’ll face with changing climatic conditions?”
Rob replied: “Have you heard of regenerative farming?”
Rob’s response prompted a school visit to the Mulloon Institute at Bungendore in NSW, but this was more than a simple excursion.
“Belltrees Public School wanted to support the community in the midst of the worst drought in a century. So, in discussion with Rob, we set the task of hosting an excursion for local farmers to come with the school to learn about regenerative agriculture principles. We secured funding to ensure no farmers were financially restricted from attending, organised our experts and opened it up to students, families and local farmers to attend,” Belltrees principal Shane Roberts says.
Following their adopted motto of “go to the experts and then bring the experts back”, in 2021 the school community hosted a field day on their grounds. Special guest was Martin Royds, who took the opportunity to meet with local farmers outside the school environment. Also involved with the field day were the Warrambungles National Park Environmental Education Centre, the Sydney Royal Botanical Gardens, Hunter Local Land Services and Murrurundi and Ellerston Public Schools.
The journey continued in 2022 with another excursion, this time to Armidale to visit five regenerative farms, and again the experts were brought back to the Upper Hunter where 80 farmers attended a field day. In conjunction, Belltrees organised a tree planting day enlisting Costa Georgiadis, Upper Hunter Landcare and Wallabadah and Martindale Public Schools to help celebrate their success.
In the process the once barren paddock has been transformed. A groundswell of interest in regenerative practices from the students, staff and parents now sees chickens and sheep sharing space with an orchard and vegetable plots. Neighbouring schools have taken an active interest in this real-world model for learning about sustainability and beyond the revived school plot countless hectares in the community are benefitting from regenerative agriculture as local farmers ride the wave with the students.
Byron and Fiona Hubbard from Balarang Station in the Upper Hunter are two of those farmers.
“We have been involved with the Belltrees Public School regenerative journey for the past four years and have really enjoyed watching the whole community get behind it and learn from the experiences we have all had together …. To share this with fellow members of our farming community made it all too easy to benefit from the experience. We have all gone on to implement some of these practices into our farm and this has influenced others to try the same,” Byron says.
The Belltrees community has come together to support this journey. Fund-raising enabled participants beyond the school to attend and contribute and this has been re-paid as farmers and other experts have ensured students are maximising their educational opportunities.
“At the core of our efforts has been collaboration. Reaching out to experts in the field to support our next generation better understand the challenges and opportunities that the future holds is key to our planning. We have focused on addressing the Sustainable Development Goals through our schools Youth Environment Council. Each project we have embarked on has led our small school to forming strong relationships with individuals, organisations and collaborators who have guided, supported and mentored us through our efforts,” Shane says.
The journey to regeneration continues. In October the school will host a Paddock to Plate Day and in November will run a Journey to Regeneration field day incorporating the screening of “Rachel’s Farm”, a documentary looking at actor Rachel Ward’s own regenerative journey.
Rachel Ward may have the clout that comes from a life in film-making. Belltrees Public School has the clout of their community and an unwavering commitment to harness a far greater audience – our young people.