The World is Your Garden: Be Like Jesse

When we first met, Jesse McLeod was in Year 1 and several of the same things struck me then as they do now, eight years later. That is definitely not his towering height, his sophistication, or his deep, grown-up voice. It is his curiosity about the world, his great passion for all things sustainability, his courtly manners, and his teacher aide Mrs Butler—these things have not changed a bit. 

Back then, Jesse was a tiny walking Wikipedia page about resource recovery. Although the term ‘resource recovery’ hadn’t yet come into garbage-company vogue, he could certainly tell you the purpose of every school collection bin, which items should and shouldn’t go into each, which truck was required for each collection and how the contents should be recovered at the recycling plant. 

At home with mum Kim, dad KJ and sister Eden, Jesse was the sentry at the window who kept track of the movements of trucks coming and going as well as the bin monitor who made sure the contents of the bins were correctly sorted for recycling. 

It was this fascination that gave Mrs Butler and Enhanced Learning coordinator Mrs Hansford a brilliant idea. When he was in Semester 2 of Year 5, they added a new element to Jesse's individual learning program and he became the founding BAC Eco-Warrior, a name selected with Mrs Hansford’s help. It would be a theme that would set the trend for many students thereafter.

A simple plan, it was one that most schools didn’t take up until later—after greater awareness of the impact of waste on the world and plastics in our oceans and waterways. Together, Jesse and Mrs Butler were working to change the school population’s mindset from ‘waste’ to ‘resource’ by collecting the used paper from classrooms and making sure it was recycled or reused correctly.

“I had to come up with a lot of planning, talk to teachers and people about it as well,” recalls Jesse. 

“I thought to encourage young ones to understand the benefits of recycling…. And I think they’re learning!” 

It ran like a well-oiled recycling machine.

Fast forward to 2019 and Jesse is now involved in the latest iteration of BAC eco-warriorship. With encouragement and gardening expertise from Garden Club coordinator Mr Stark and groundsman Mr Leeson, Jesse now manages an entire plot at the rear of the Year 7 Block. 

He is also one of the driving forces behind container and food waste collection at BAC. Money refunded by the Queensland Container Deposit Scheme buys equipment for student gardens and food waste is composted and used in gardens or in the school worm farms. For a time, Jesse was also collecting paper from teachers, shredding it and selling it back to them for 20 cents a bag to use as garden mulch.

“Jesse has always been interested in the environment—has always cared very much about nature,” says Mrs Butler. “He loves the outside. It’s his happy place.”

Mrs Butler and I stand in the shade of the Year 7 classrooms while Jesse hoses off the garden edges then sprays a rainbow onto his pawpaw trees. 

“You’re doing a fantastic job there, Jesse, keeping the concrete nice and clean and watering the plants.” 

“Well thank you, Mrs Butler.” 

Jesse’s efforts have led to a nice little entrepreneurial opportunity. Noticing the beautiful work he does with the lawns and gardens at home and at Grandma Mitty’s place in the country, neighbours have asked him to do some yard work for them, also. He now operates a mowing business around Mansfield and Mount Gravatt, paying his father $10 per lawn to cover the cost of maintenance and fuel. He has recently purchased an extendable cutter for reaching high branches and palm fronds. 

“I’ve got close to $8,000, Mrs Cosier,” says Jesse when I ask him how successful his business has been. “I’m saving for a Volkswagen Amarok or a Holden ute.”

“That’s impressive savings on your behalf, Jesse,” I observe.

“Yes. Thank you, Mrs Cosier.” 

Jesse has talked about his dream vehicle for as long as anyone can remember. It’s going to be a red one, of course; his favourite colour which also happened to be the colour of his first recycling bin at BAC. 

Ah, what an impressive young man! And what a beautiful afternoon for a walk in the garden.