As panic buying continues to create a shortage of supplies in major supermarkets and society becomes increasingly locked-down, a growing number of Illawarra residents have been looking for ways to become more self-sufficient.
According to Green Connect CEO Kylie Flament, there's been a 25 per cent increase in people wanting to buy fruit and vegetables from her organisation's Lake Heights farm.
She also seen a significant increase in people looking to other environmentally-friendly alternatives to cushion the impact of COVID-19 social distancing and self-isolation.
"Coronavirus is causing enormous health, social and economic upheaval, and that shouldn't be underestimated, but there are silver linings and some of these are environmental," she said.
"I've seen that the canals in Venice are running clear, and obviously with flights cancelled carbon emissions will be way down. Driving may be down because people are working from home."
Even though we're maintaining social distance, we can pass herbs over the fence and help people avoid that trip to the supermarket. Plus being out in the garden is so good for you mentally.Jess Whittaker
"And I have definitely seen an upswing in people's interest in things like cloth nappies and reusable toilet paper - family cloths, as they are called - and there's a huge upswing in people wanting to grow their own food."
She pointed out that local nurseries have been selling out of plants, especially edible ones, and said she had noticed an increasing demand for people wanting backyard chickens.
"These might have been things at the back of people's minds, and suddenly it's become an urgent priority," she said. "So the silver lining in all this is that people are being pushed to more sustainable living."
For Port Kembla's Jess Whittaker, environmental choices she had already put in place have helped her family to remain somewhat calm and connected to others during the unfolding crisis.
The 38-year-old paramedic said she had amped up her home vegetable garden and reconsidered getting backyard chickens in recent weeks.
"I'd normally have an ok veggie patch, but with the water restrictions I let it go a bit, but then this came along and I ventured back out," she said.
"It made me feel like I was doing something to help myself. We used to own chickens too, and that meant I could avoid the shops for weeks on end if I had a few basics, so the first thing I thought was maybe I should get chickens again."
She said gardening had also helped her to reach out to others in this time of social distancing.
"If you can secure your own food source, even in a small way, then when someone else runs out you can offer it to them and you can build that sense of community," she said.
"Even though we're maintaining social distance, we can pass herbs over the fence and help people avoid that trip to the supermarket. Plus being out in the garden is so good for you mentally."
COMMENT: Rethinking convenience for a new age
Making a more environmentally friendly choice has often been thought of as an inconvenience.
Whether it's eating less meat, growing your own food, using cloth nappies, riding a bike, cooking from scratch, or fixing up or reusing things instead of throwing them away to buy something new - many people have had little time or inclination to do these things in our fast-paced, time poor world.
But all of a sudden, as the world changes daily, some of these things are starting to look like easier options.
For a couple of years, my family has been using reusable nappies, sanitary items and baby wipes, we have had a subscription to Who Gives A Crap for loo paper and have made a big effort to limit food waste. During the fires, we decided to try to adopt a "climate diet" and have been getting fruit and veggies delivered from a local farm.
All this has been driven by trying to make changes for climate change, but more recently it has meant we haven't been caught without these things in the past few weeks.
While there are few bright spots in these increasingly difficult times, it turns out I'm not alone in finding comfort in these small self-sustainable things. Across the Illawarra, lots of people have been finding out the dual benefits of environmental measures.
For instance, on the social media group Sustainable Illawarra, Louise Wellington said the virus outbreak had prompted her to "get back into my veggie garden, seed save, bake not buy, and prep wash cloths (flannels) for toilet paper, hold more phone work meetings than travelling for face-to-face".
Other people have turned to eating vegan food (easier on the planet and often left on the shelf during panic buying), shopping locally, making their own cleaning products and many have even started using washable toilet paper. Some of these things may seem like a lot of effort, or maybe they seem kind of yuck or extreme.
But really, when you look at the world we live in now, maybe these greener measures are actually the easier option.
When I was young, I remember seeing the last tiny sliver of a tomato saved in my grandma's fridge. My partner's nan would save every piece of butchers paper for her grandkids to later draw and paint on.
These small daily habits, forged out of the depression and second world war, meant everything was stretched as far as it could go and repurposed instead of being thrown away.
Even with COVID-19 changing the way we live, our world is still, in many ways, more convenient than the one our grandparents lived through.
If we can follow their example and make some simple, frugal changes to our lives we may not only be able to better weather the coming months and make sure there's enough to go around for everyone as coronavirus continues to spread - we can also help the planet, which will continue to be a challenge for humanity well into the future.
- Kate McIlwain
Sustainable ideas for social distance
- Grow some food - even if its not much, or just for fun, growing your own fruit or veggies is rewarding and can provide some outdoor respite during lockdown. It's a good chance to teach your kids something new while they're home from school, and you can share veggies with neighbours if you get a bumper crop.
- Buy some cloth nappies and baby wipes if you have infants - Source them from an Aussie small business which delivers, and start with just a few. It could reduce your reliance on having to go to the shops.
- 'Family cloths' - This might be a bit much for some, but people have had success cutting old t-shirts into squares and using them to wipe for wees. Put used ones in a dry pail near the loo and chuck them in with a normal load of washing.
- Order a box - Local farms, wholesalers and even restaurants with excess stock during the closure, are offering pick up and delivery produce boxes. Eating local reduces strain on the planet, and keeps you away from crowded shops.
- Go for a ride - Or a walk. Maybe to a local producer or takeaway store instead of a big supermarket. Recreation options are limited now and getting outside (as long as you are physically distanced from people other than your close family) can help your mental and physical health too.
- For more ideas, and some social connection, you can check out the Facebook group Sustainable Illawarra.