WORDS: Kimberley Furness, OAK Magazine
Drought. It’s a crisis that’s affecting more than 95 per cent of NSW as well as large pockets of Queensland, Victoria and South Australia. Its impact is being felt well beyond the farm gate with rural communities and businesses left to bear the financial burden that comes with a lack of tourists and a strain on resources.
From her home in Warren NSW, a quiet rural town on the Macquarie River, Grace Brennan decided to do something about it. She created a life changing hashtag #buyfromthebush
"I have watched my husband work through this drought feeling very helpless. No words or consoling cuddles can detract from the relentless stress and fatigue caused by drought. My prayers have not made it rain. And yet, I desperately wanted to create a solution to this enormous problem of drought,” says Grace.
“'Having grown up in Sydney, I was also really aware of how much people in the city want to show their support if given a chance."
When one of her friends mentioned that their family was going to “buy from the bush” for their Christmas presents, the idea for an Instagram account was born.
#buyfromthebush is an initiative encouraging people in city areas to skip the usual department stores and do some of their Christmas shopping from small rural businesses struggling with severe drought. The social media accounts of @buyfromthebush showcase beautiful rural boutiques and unique wares available from the bush.
What began with an Instagram post with the hashtag #buyfromthebush on October 16, quickly evolved into a following of 100,000 plus on Instagram and Facebook respectively, national media coverage and, more importantly, sales for our kin in the country.
“It has been so lovely to hear about the interactions between city customers and bush business owners. Some have been in tears on the phone, feeling uplifted and valued by people a long way from them,” says Grace.
“It is easy to feel a bit invisible living in remote rural communities. The success of this campaign has meant an injection of hope and confidence for many bush business owners. The really exciting thing is that this campaign is creating long term outcomes for many businesses.
“We are hearing about wholesalers and retailers forming relationships with creators and makers in the bush. Photographers have offered to provide their services for free to do product shoots so that these small businesses can leverage social media opportunities more.
“Businesses are reporting huge increases in their social media following. Some have had over 2,000 new followers in less than two weeks. That is 2,000 potential long term customers now following their business.
“There have already been incredible flow on effects from this locally both in terms of financial outcomes and psychological ones. The feedback from the community has been overwhelming. There is a new sense of energy and inspiration among small businesses in the bush.”
Attention is now turning to ensure the impacts of #buyfromthebush are long-lasting.
“Buy From The Bush has a short term aim of engaging as many people as possible to source Christmas gifts from bush businesses facing drought conditions. However, the project has a broader, long term goal of changing the mindset of city customers," says Grace.
“By introducing them to all the wonderful things on offer, we hope that in the future they will look outside their urban communities to source products, services and skills. We are excited about the many ideas we have to build on this initial traction.”
If you don’t have social media, you can still show your support by getting in the car and heading out to explore rural and regional towns.
In the western corner of NSW near Warren, there are a number of small boutiques all with their own charm, fighting against the odds to grow their businesses through the drought.
"There is a beautiful shopping trail through this dry part of the state that would delight any shopper,” says Grace.
“The small boutiques offer something that big malls, high street stores and even Amazon doesn't. They are filled with character, run by stylish and energetic young business owners keen to meet customer needs. They are often challenged by not having enough foot traffic that businesses in urban areas have and simply can't compete with big fish in the online space.
“In a drought like this, the survival of small rural communities is at stake. It is not just farmers that are affected. Some of the earliest casualties of drought are small businesses that rely on cashflow from agricultural businesses.
"Retail is a tough business for everyone but these businesses offer a fantastic service to their local communities and we really want to keep their doors open.”
Buy From The Bush is a showcase of beautiful things to buy from rural communities facing drought.
#buyfromthebush was first published in Issue 7 – OAK Magazine