Grace Brennan started the hashtag #BuyFromTheBush on October 16 to encourage Australians living in cities to support rural businesses in drought conditions. Three weeks later it has 80,000 Instagram followers and has breathed life into countless struggling businesses. Grace lives on a farm with her husband and three children 70km from Warren in NSW.
The idea came from a friend, whose family was doing a “Buy From The Bush” Kris Kringle. When she told me about it, I thought, ‘That’s the best idea I’ve ever heard,’ and everyone should be doing it! Then, one day soon afterwards, I was listening to a radio interview with the Prime Minister about the drought and I felt that something critical was being missed in the conversation – a lack of understanding about the enormous suffering that’s going on. I sat down to write an impassioned letter and then thought: ‘What the hell is that going to do?’ So the next minute I created this Instagram page. I contacted local retailers and asked if they would like to be involved. Then I used my gut instinct to choose good, engaging content.
The response has been incredible. I created the page on a Wednesday night and on Thursday morning I had just 10 followers – my sisters and my friends. Within 24 hours we had 1000 followers. Everyone was sharing it. Then The Today Show happened to come to Warren to broadcast, and 16 of us had t-shirts made up so we could get on Today. Now we have 80,000 followers. I would never have anticipated such fast growth, but I did have a very strong feeling that people in the city wanted to help.
This is an exceptional drought. It’s not something we’re used to, or that we’re equipped to deal with in the short term. There has been very low rainfall for three years. There is no ground cover or natural pasture for livestock. The dust storms are just indescribable – they’re almost apocalyptic. As it wears on there has been an evaporation of hope.
The dust storms are just indescribable – they’re almost apocalyptic.
It’s not just farmers who are affected. In isolated communities, if the agricultural industry suffers, small businesses suffer, too. There are contractors and machinery operators whose whole businesses are based around clients putting crops in. And even if there are no crops, they’ve still got bank loans on their machinery and families to provide for. The school fundraiser was just cancelled because people just aren’t buying tickets to a fundraiser at the moment.
A lot of rural women are worried about their husbands. If there’s a single image that sums up the drought for me it’s the sight of wives crying at the kitchen table. So, when you hear a conversation like the one I mentioned between the Prime Minister and the journalist, where he talks about dollar figures and packages towards mental health, you [have to realise] that in the bush, what that really means is wives being scared of their husbands getting into the gun cabinet.
The #BuyFromTheBush stories of success are endless. One person from [stationery brand] Note Couture wrote to me and said, ‘I’ve made more in a week than I did last financial year.’ I just posted something [about a particular business] this morning and just three hours later the lady has messaged me to say she’s made $7000. One beautiful story involves the local vet … for her the drought has been as shitty as it is for any farmer – she’s doing autopsies on dead sheep in dust storms. But she also creates these beautiful art works, and she wrote to me to say that she’d sold 73 packages in a night. A lot of businesses are gaining hundreds of new social media followers, too, which is exciting because they are potentially long-term customers.
Stories like this drive me forward because doing all these interviews and putting my face on TV is actually my worst nightmare. But every time I get another message from a retailer I think, ‘That’s why I’m doing this’.
I’ve always been interested in building communities, especially rural communities. I did a dual degree – a Bachelor of Management and Leisure and a Bachelor of Arts and International Studies – and for the past few years I’ve been running an Ag-Tech start-up from Warren. I haven’t always lived in the bush. I grew up in Sydney and moved to Warren 10 years ago with my husband who is a third-generation farmer.
Media coverage of farming is often very masculine. Women suffer through the drought, but we hear a lot of the stories coming from men’s lips. And BuyFromTheBush is really putting women’s creativity on display, and revealing the women doing side hustles to generate income. We’re seeing all these amazing women doing inspiring things and making shit happen, I suppose, for their families.
You can follow BuyFromTheBush here, and we’ve chosen some of our favourite gifts below:
UPDATE: BuyFromTheBush now has its own marketplace website, sponsored by Paypal, and Grace now has a team of staff including Millie Fisher and Georgie Robertson. A survey found that the Instagram page alone generated $5m of revenue for featured businesses, that 20 per cent of businesses employed new staff as a result and that 96 per cent of featured bush businesses were woman-owned.
The Drought, by numbers:
The current drought began in early 2017
The past 21 months have been the driest period since the 1900-02 Federation Drought in NSW, and parts of Queensland and South Australian parts of the Murray–Darling Basin.
Even in the cool season, rainfall has been less than half the average in many areas, and less than a third in some areas.
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