Grace Brennan on starting rural and small businesses

Years ago, Buy From The Bush founder Grace Brennan fell in love with a farmer and swapped city life for rural Australia. From her humble kitchen table, she used her creative marketing mindset to help bring much needed commerce to drought-affected communities. 

I have always felt like I had something to say. Yet often I have stayed quiet, too conscious of what I didn’t know. Feeling unqualified to contribute.

It’s the reason that writing a bio troubles me. Like so many women, I usually take the ‘under promise, over deliver’ approach. But in a bio, over-promising is kind of the point, right? You want to sound extraordinary.

I often wonder, how many other women working part-time or running small businesses, coordinating child care schedules and managing household budgets, volunteering in school canteens or organizing fundraisers, being unofficial carers, good friends and loyal partners struggle to make their LinkedIn profile reflect their true potential. It’s sometimes hard to find the inspiring in the ordinary. To find the value in unpaid work. To search for credentials in a lifetime of career decisions based more around sacrifice than ambition.

Recently, though, I have realised the value in sharing my ordinary story and – by extension – the story of rural communities, for the sake of achieving real change.

Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.

In October 2019 I founded Buy From The Bush from my kitchen table which, burdened with towering washing piles and discarded lunchboxes, felt a long way from any boardroom table. As a mother of small children, it’s easy to feel like all the important things happen elsewhere. Especially when you live in the bush.

The idea was simple. An Instagram account showcasing all the beautiful things to buy from drought-affected communities. To invite people in the city to do their Christmas shopping in the bush. It was a response to a very real need: the need to attract cashflow in to declining communities. The need to create work. To inject dollars and hope. To allow people in the bush to feel visible and valued. The need for both symbolic and real support from the city to the bush.

Eighteen months on and the Buy From The Bush online marketplace, launched with support from PayPal in October 2020, is now a significant channel to market for businesses in rural and remote Australia. It has generated millions of dollars for rural businesses in drought affected communities. One in five businesses have hired new workers as a result of its success and started shipping internationally. Ninety-eight percent of businesses owners have said that Buy From The Bush improved their quality of life. Importantly, 96 per cent of these businesses are run by women.

Although, the greatest achievement has perhaps been something more subtle.

Years ago when I told people I was in love with a farmer and was thinking about moving to the country they told me I should consider teaching or nursing. ‘There’s always a job for teachers and nurses.’ I wondered if my degree in something vastly different would help me at all with that. In Sydney people often ask, ‘what do you do?’. In the country they would ask ‘do you work?’.

It’s not because women are expected to do nothing in the bush. It’s more complicated than that. It’s partly because in traditional farming businesses, women often play a critical, demanding role on-farm. So, the idea of working ‘off-farm’ means rejecting that role. It’s also because, sometimes, it’s 100 odd kilometers to the nearest childcare facility and job opportunity might be 100km in the opposite direction. And you can forget public transport options.

As a result, a woman’s off-farm job is often considered a side project. A nice bonus if you can somehow make it work around the crazy demands of farming or contracting or mining. Yet in drought, these side projects become pretty bloody important. Supplementary income often becomes the primary income.

I have witnessed a role shift through Buy From The Bush as men have stepped in to support their wives in their retail businesses packing stock, shipping parcels and fielding phone calls. My hope is that this shift endures and that off-farm (often women-led) enterprises continue to grow and contribute layers of diversity and opportunity to rural Australia.

In some ways, my own experience over the last 18 months is a micro example of what is possible if women in the bush are empowered to act. To call on all their lived experience, the insights they have gained across diverse contexts and employ their skills – whether peer-verified on LinkedIn or not – without restraint.

Buy From The Bush has required a knowledge of strategic community engagement, digital marketing, storytelling, communication, a creative eye, stakeholder management and negotiation. It has demanded sensitivity in times of great stress, optimism and kindness. It has had my full attention and challenged me to be noisy when I would have preferred to be quiet.

Each time someone says ‘Buy From The Bush, what a simple idea!’ or they comment on its ‘overnight success’ I think to myself, well that’s the short version.

Though it was born of goodwill, Buy From The Bush is about potential, not pity. It’s about investment, not charity and it’s living proof that sometimes an ordinary woman can have an extraordinary impact.

Grace Brennan is the Founder of the Buy From The Bush and Stay In The Bush movements which encourage consumers in city areas to shop and visit the Australian bush to help support rural communities. She has a background in community development and agtech and is passionate about the power of positive storytelling and community driven change. To support Buy From The Bush, visit the website (www.buyfromthebush.com.au) or follow it on instagram (@buyfromthebush).