Seed savers across the Bega Valley have helped bring life back into the vegetable gardens of people who lost their homes or properties in summer's bushfires.
Volunteers from the Cobargo and Bega Valley Seed Saver groups grew about 5000 vegetable seedlings under the Seedlings for Fire Recovery initiative, and over March and April handed them out to many in the Cobargo, Quaama and Wyndham areas who suffered losses in the fires.
"The idea came from wanting to help households affected by the fires to start growing food again," Ruta Kanepe from Cobargo Seed Savers said.
"Many people have lost their homes or gardens and are now living in temporary accommodation until they can rebuild, while some people are in caravans or tents, and might not even have access to a garden.
"But vegetables are something people can grow anywhere; in gardens, in small spaces, even in pots which people can take with them when they move back to their properties.
"It's also recognising that people lost a whole summer's supply of vegetables and we wanted to help families get some home-grown food back on the table."
The plants were grown by volunteers from the Cobargo and Bega Valley Seed Savers, using mostly locally grown seeds from their seedbanks.
The seedlings were also distributed during the time of COVID-19, which Ms Kanepe said coincided with a surge in people interested in growing their own food.
"This project shows that even with limited funds and resources local community groups and volunteers can make a difference," she said.
"We're delighted the seedlings have helped many people to start growing again after the fires."
She said the positive feedback the volunteer group has had from those who have received seedlings had been amazing, with some describing the joy of just seeing the plants grow and others saying how it had helped them feel reconnected with their community.
"There's a comfort that comes with growing and cooking food to share with our families," she said.
"It's calming and restorative to get back into our gardens, and watch something grow.
"Our communities are still recovering from the trauma of the bushfires, but eating nourishing food we have grown ourselves strengthens us so we can get through this experience together."
In July, the Bega Valley Seed Savers will be bringing their annual divide and swap day, during which members will take plants that need to be divided to grow - for instance rhubarb, turmeric and yams - to fire-affected communities in the shire.
Cobargo Seed Savers are aiming to grow another round of seedlings in spring for bushfire-impacted residents, to get involved in the initiative email firstname.lastname@example.org.