The joy of gardening has returned to an area of Port Stephens now commonly referred to as the "red zone" with the establishment of a community garden in Salt Ash.
Speerheaded and maintained by Community Helping Community, a group established in 2017 to promote wellbeing in residents affected by the PFAS contamination, The Good Seed community garden now open at Port Stephens Church of Christ is hoped to promote mental health.
"This garden is allowing those in our community who used their gardens as part of their daily wellness routine to find that joy again," Community Helping Community founder Julie Bailey said.
"We are conscious that we are located in the water contamination area and we are making sure that we remain PFAS free by sourcing all our materials from outside the area, which is sad as we have always been a community who supports its local businesses.
"Our soil is purchased from outside the zone, trucked in and place straight into our beds, never touching the ground.
"Our compost system has strict rules as to what is allowed to be placed in it and there is no groundwater used on the premises. We are learning to garden safely, crossing our T's and dotting our I's."
The idea for the garden grew from a series of programs run at the Salt Ash-based church that are designed to give members of the community opportunities to gather, make connections and learn new skills.
Ms Bailey said it was a "real community effort" to get the garden established.
A $8000 Love Water grant through Hunter Water was secured late in 2018, which was used to build the raised and hydroponic community garden.
BGIS built the garden's accessibility platform, which is designed to increase the usability of the space while also providing a shaded wheelchair-friendly deck.
Disability support service Ability Links provided the group with a Vegepod system for the garden that allows wheelchair access. Bunnings provided $200 worth of equipment to the project and is currently in talks with Community Helping Community about how it can further assist with the garden.
Additionally, Community Helping Community approached the Nelson Bay Community Garden group and Cessnock Men's Shed, who have a successful community garden, for guidance in establishing the garden in Salt Ash.
"The journey has been a terrific learning curve as we have partnered with so many businesses and community groups," Ms Bailey said.
For more information about the garden or the group, find Community Wellbeing Program - Community Helping Community on Facebook.