Community gardens in the Illawarra are growing not only food but friendships.
School kitchen gardens are also thriving and providing hands-on learning in nutrition, food security and biodiversity.
"There's a realisation of the importance to bring food back into the city and bringing people back into contact with food," says Wollongong City Council environmental strategy officer Vanessa John.
"Community gardens cut across ages and backgrounds and there's an increasing level of interest in good food."
The Illawarra Biodiversity and Local Food Strategy for Climate Change is a joint project of Kiama, Shellharbour and Wollongong councils, with one of its main aims being to promote food production in community gardens and school kitchen gardens.
"Over half our ecological footprint is attributed to food consumption so it's been a real focus of our education work to encourage people to grow," John says.
The Food Fairness Illawarra website has been established as part of the project and includes a list of community gardens and contact details, as well as the Grow Local guide, which tells how to grow food successfully in the Illawarra.
"It provides some basic information to give people the confidence to give it a go," John explains.
Meantime, three community fruit tree groups have also emerged at Unanderra, Fairy Meadow and Bulli, while the newest community garden, in Thirroul, is expected to soon be up and running.
Other gardens are at Cringila Park, Port Kembla (Laneway Permaculture Garden), Dapto, Bellambi, Woonona (Pope's Complex), Koonawarra, Unanderra, Mt Ousley (Sansey Ave), Corrimal (Access), Barrack Heights and Kiama (Blue Haven Village).
North Wollongong community garden president Greg Morgan says many of the garden's members are university students.
The garden, established about 10 years ago, not only contains the normal patches of cauliflower, greens, onions, garlic and beetroot, but also tropical plants that many may not realise can grow in the Illawarra such as avocado, mango and guava.
"It's all been done on a no-dig basis to slowly build up the gardens," Morgan says.
In addition to the chook house with six chickens, there is a small nursery for propagating seedlings and cuttings, while composting ensures the garden has its own supply of soil.
The garden is also a demonstration site for school groups and beginner gardeners.
Members take part in a working bee on the first Sunday of every month and a swap system from October will allow people to swap excess food and vegetables.
Working bees generally run from 10am until about 4pm.
For more information visit www.foodfairnessillawarra.org.au