By Derek Schlennstedt

The Hills Food Frontier (THFF) in Tecoma is at the forefront of a ‘food revolution’ in the Dandenong Ranges.
THFF is a volunteer-based group that inspires, mobilises and equips the hills community to choose, grow, share and eat good food.
Their latest project has just come to an end with the construction of a food forest.
Using permaculture principles, the food forest has incorporated edible shrubs, companion plants and a diverse group of vegetables and fruits.
“The Hills Food Frontier wants to make ugly places beautiful by growing food,” president, Shanti Mclaren said.
Over the past year volunteers have been working hard to construct the sophisticated design which ensures the three by 15-metre section of garden is built as efficiently as possible.
Michael Johnson, owner of The Basin Backyard helped the group to maximise usage of space.
“It’s about making maximum use of the limited amount of space available so we can fit as many fruit trees as possible … one of the best ways to do this is to have an espalier,” he said.
“We put in six varieties of fruit and in the future with grafting we can turn six into 18.
“At the moment it’s fantastic but in the future it’s going to be spectacular – the amount of produce that will come out of the limited space will be really impressive.”
The addition of the organically grown food forest to the flame garden will help promote food security in Tecoma and provide access to healthy free food and education for those who need it.
The Hills Food Frontier also have a free food cupboard which is part of their Food is Free Tecoma program where the produce they get from the community garden goes towards the community and people who need it.
“There are 700 people that are homeless in the Yarra Ranges,” Fay Webster who is part of the Tecoma Uniting Church said.
The food forest is utilises the flame garden situated at the Tecoma Uniting Church and has grown over the years from a simple community garden to a fully-fledged food forest.
Though, Ros Carter, a volunteer with the THFF, said there were still plans to make it bigger and better.
“We grow all kinds of vegetables, spinach, lettuce and beetroot – any kind of vegies that we can grow really.
“We’re going to work on the understorey; berries and that sort of things … create a little microclimate as part of the flame garden.“
All the food grown is collected by the community or placed in the food cupboard.
Cr Noel Cliff, Mayor of Yarra Ranges visited the finished flame food forest and commended the group on the gardens incredible transformation.
“I am blown away with it; it’s absolutely wonderful what they are doing here.“
“That’s why the shire was happy to give them a grant because they deserve it, they are doing positive things,“ Cr Cliff said.
You can learn more about this group on wwww.thehillsfoodfrontier.org.au.

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