In the grip of severe drought, horticulturist Chris Cuddy was wondering how he could keep food on his family's table.
Water restrictions and the prolonged dry were putting stress on his nursery business at Canowindra, in central west NSW, and Mr Cuddy considered a career change to keep afloat.
When things seemed hopeless in late 2019, it was watering cans and a national online movement that saved him.
Buy from the Bush, then a social media campaign promoting rural small businesses, posted about the posh British-made watering cans he was selling online.
"We went from selling nothing to all of a sudden people buying stuff," Mr Cuddy says.
"That saved our Christmas. I went to the IGA and bought a big Christmas ham."
Mr Cuddy and his wife Nerida's business, Perennialle Plants, now employs 16 locals in a historic building they bought and renovated.
It's become more than a nursery. It's a hub for locals who can meet, buy coffee and even listen to musicians play a grand piano on the shop floor.
"I don't know what would have happened if Buy from the Bush hadn't picked us up. Probably, I would have had a nervous breakdown.
"I'd worked bloody hard and tried to put everything in place, but that (digital post) changed everything."
Grace Brennan, from Warren in western NSW, started Buy from the Bush as an Instagram account promoting businesses in drought-affected areas in October 2019.
The social media campaign was a runaway success and spawned an online marketplace, featuring dressmakers, jewellers, artists and cooks right across rural Australia.
According to its latest impact report released on Thursday, it has generated $9 million in revenue for rural businesses through more than 50,000 transactions.
Ms Brennan says 97 per cent of the businesses are run by women, many of whom have expanded their businesses, employed locals, learned new skills, and secured valuable off-farm income.
Her continuing vision is to make rural communities more resilient in the lean times.
"It's about creating robust, small businesses that can handle the next economic downturn in their community," she says.
"When cashflow dries up because agriculture takes a hit, or another dominant industry takes a hit, those shopfronts don't crumble because they're not relying so much on foot traffic."
Online shopping was once seen as a potential threat to country towns' main streets and businesses, but attitudes are changing.
Ms Brennan says Buy from the Bush vendors "tell a good yarn" about country life that draws in visitors and makes people see rural Australia in a different light.
"The story of the bush and using online tools to tell that story is probably our greatest opportunity."
Australian Associated Press
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