In October 2020, an idea was born at the kitchen table on a sheep and cattle farm in Warren. Out of determination to empower rural communities experiencing another relentless drought, there was a need for something that could bring about real impact and provide sustainable support for rural communities in the long term. That idea was Buy from the Bush (BFTB). What started as a social media campaign has now become a phenomenon, linking rural Australia with its city counterparts and also the globe. Businesses are thriving and not only are BFTB merchants benefiting, so are their communities. It is also, in its own way, shedding light on what should be a national conversation.
In two short years, the BFTB movement has grown dramatically. The brainchild of the inspiring Grace Brennan, it has made a real impact showcasing the vast and diverse talent, bringing the best of the bush to a new audience. Grace and her team work tirelessly to continue developing and growing this innovative business. One of the team who was there from the beginning is Ascham Old Girl Millie Fisher (Plumptre 2002). Millie speaks fondly of her time at Ascham, especially of the friendships she formed with fellow students and their families. She says that ‘some of those connections have allowed me and my family to be part of a wonderful community.’ It is a testament to Ascham Old Girls and the bonds formed during their time at Ascham.
Millie, like many women who end up living rich and fulfilling lives on the land, met a farmer, and it was love that drew her from life in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney to Warren via Breeza, a farming area near Tamworth. Millie and Simon met at the Orange Picnic Races in 2012, and the rest, as they say, is history. She loves life on the land and is raising their two sons, William (6) and Harry (4), and daughter Clementine (20 months) on a crop farm. Millie says, ‘The best thing about life on the land is the community. Like the Ascham community, the bush community, specifically Warren for me, is one of the greatest I have been lucky enough to experience. There are good times and tough times in the bush. Often both are felt equally not by just one person but the whole town, and we all support each other accordingly.’
Millie has had a strong involvement in BFTB from the very beginning. She speaks of the early days fondly; there was a lot of hustle trying to connect with Margot Robbie and Miranda Kerr as well as other well-known Australians to help their new idea get traction and reach through social media shoutouts. Like many new businesses, there were long days and nights of planning, falling asleep thinking of ideas, and awaiting replies from those they had reached out to. The response was immediate, and within six weeks of launching, there was great success with $2.6 million of revenue generated for bush businesses featured on the social pages of BFTB. The average traffic increase to these featured websites was over 1000%, and the successes have continued to grow. In 2022 alone, more than $9m of revenue was generated from rural small businesses, 96% of which are owned by women.
BFTB is an initiative that has become a symbol of entrepreneurism and hope for rural communities, letting them know that they are not alone. It also gives them a place to sell their unique products, highlighting the diversity of regional economies and communities and all they have to offer. It builds hope and morale through good times and bad. One of Millie’s first tasks was to physically bring BFTB to Sydney by organising a Christmas Market in Martin Place, with a three-week turnaround. The markets were a huge success, not only widening the reach for BFTB but also curating the many talented, impressive and beautiful businesses to share with their ever-growing social media audience.
Since its beginning, Buy from the Bush has continued to evolve from a social media campaign into a marketplace where around 180 bush retailers and makers continue to sell their wares via the BFTB website. It is a unique community, thanks to so many of you who bought into what BFTB represented and put much-needed cash flow into areas where the local economy was drying up.
It is a small team of four dedicated women who, between them, have 11 kids and drive a combined 125km to send said kids to school, with little physical family support, and dedicate themselves to the continued growth of BFTB. Together with flexibility and a great boss, they make it work for the many featured businesses. Recently a new venture, Stay in the Bush, has been added, giving people the chance to stay in a range of beautiful places in the bush. They are giving more exposure to bush businesses and city dwellers the opportunity to invest in the future of rural communities. There are many plans for this ever-evolving marketplace—ongoing sustainability being key, hoping to make the business as sustainable as the bush businesses featured on the website. They have proved that through natural disasters and then COVID, they have the foundations to crisis-proof themselves and, hopefully, rural Australia in time. Partnerships that can continue facilitating the needs and requirements of this online bush business community is another cornerstone of future plans.
Millie Fisher, like the rest of the team, is humble and grateful when it comes to the success of Buy from the Bush. A question that she is often asked is: Why do you think that BFTB is so successful? and to this simple question, there is a variety of responses. The success of this idea was founded on the simple concept; see it, like it, buy it. Many similar businesses started around the same time. Still, the success of this one is due largely to its founder, Grace, and her team, who had a modern, authentic story of the bush that no one else articulated so beautifully at the time. The foundation was simple: Tell a story, ‘our story’, and show the rest of Australia the untapped talent out here in the bush.
It’s a simple story, and gosh, it’s told well. May the success of this wonderful business continue—I encourage you to take a look at what it has become: https://www.buyfromthebush.com.au/
Emma Martin (Tregoning 1997)