'It's saved us': the drought warrior mums selling handmade goods to survive

Left, Emma Kennedy of Kennedy Farm Produce and right, Danelle Worgan of Baked by Danelle.
Left, Emma Kennedy of Kennedy Farm Produce and right, Danelle Worgan of Baked by Danelle. Photo: Danelle Worgan / Emma Kennedy

As work dries up in rural communities, drought-affected mums are increasingly turning their hobbies into bona fide businesses, selling their handmade goods in Facebook groups so their families can survive. 

Danelle Worgan is a mum of three who lives on a property outside Inverell in northern New South Wales with husband Michael and children Chloe, eight, Lacey, five, and Riley, three.

She says her former "side hustle," Baked by Danelle, is now a vital source of income for her family, and the ability to post her handmade cookies has opened up her client base.

A post on Facebook group One Day Closer to Rain has sparked a flurry of orders she says will enable her family to have Christmas celebrations this year.

The group has attracted more than 131,000 members since its inception in late October, with the concept of buying from rural cottage businesses fast gaining momentum.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Danelle Worgan (@meplus3_a_farm_and_a_husband) on

​"Before the drought we had a thriving rural contracting business providing weed spraying, spreading and hay making. It was always go, go, go with two machines always running," Ms Worgan tells Essential Kids.

She says that this time of year is usually a peak time in terms of working the land.

"This time of the year is normally full noise with hay production and harvest but not a single bail nor grain has been produced. The business has come to a complete standstill, with machines just sitting there waiting to be turned on. We have suffered a complete loss of income but our outgoings have not changed," she says.

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"If I didn't expand my [baking business] I didn't know how we were going to eat, let alone pay the bills and keep the kids going."

Ms Worgan's husband Michael has taken it hard. "He felt he was failing us. All he had worked for, for the last 13 years seemed to just spiral down to nothing but a big huge debt."

He now does long hauls driving a fodder truck so is away a lot, which "takes a toll on the kids."

"I've been baking my heart out," she says, adding that weekly she produces up to ten custom cakes, 500 cupcakes, more than 100 cookies, and more, "...for weeks and weeks and months on end, on top of everything else that comes with being mum of three."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Danelle Worgan (@meplus3_a_farm_and_a_husband) on

Mum of two Julia Foyster says there's a code of silence among those on the land, but that things are slowly changing.

"There is like an unwritten rule amongst farmers that you cannot complain or tell people how bad things actually are," says the fifth-generation farmer from Mooball in the Tweed Shire, who lives on the farm with husband Nathan and children, Eve, seven, and Sam, five.

"Farmers never want to be seen as victims. It's like showing a weakness, but it is not our doing though."

Ms Foyster started her business Tweed Real Food when months of drought and, more recently, nearby bushfires affected her avocado plantations.

"A 10 minute hailstorm also stripped the trees of 90 per cent of our avocados, which is something that will unfortunately take us a long time to recover from," she says.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Julia Foyster (@tweedrealfood) on

Ms Foyster wants to keep her family's personal details private, but what is clear, is that living on the breadline and mounting debts are part of farming life.

She says her father and husband, and their staff, are working 15 hour days transporting water and she says that despite their best efforts, the avocado trees are dying.

Within days of posting her handmade - and now award-winning - nut-free Avo Smash Dukkah, rubs, salts and unique balsamic vinegars on One Day Closer to Rain, Ms Foyster had amassed a months' worth of orders.

"I sat on my factory floor crying," she says. "The profit from those sales will ensure that I can provide for my family and also put Christmas presents under the tree."

Rachael Atherton says the One Day Closer to Rain group "... has literally saved us from going broke," qualifying that she "doesn't say that lightly."

She lives with her husband Matthew and their three children on a small farm outside of Warwick in Queensland and says that while their water situation is dire, Ms Atherton says they are no different to anyone else on the land.

With no end in sight to the drought, not being eligible for any government drought assistance, no work in town and reaching crisis point on the overdraft, we had to come up with another way to earn an income. Their business Gourmet Salts & Peppers was formed in September 2018. 

"At the moment this is our main income. We don't want a hand out, just a hand up and that is what I feel we are getting from our city cousins when they buy from us. The money not only helps us but also our towns."

Founder of One day closer to rain, Cassandra McLaren on her property in Merriwa NSW.

One day closer to rain founder Cassandra McLaren on her property in Merriwa NSW. Photo: Supplied

Founder of One Day Closer to Rain, Cassandra McLaren, says she named the group for her husband Peter's "standard weather comment."

Living on the land in Merriwa in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, mum-of-four Ms McLaren says that she knows first hand how the drought is affecting people.

"We have a small beef cattle grazing property which has been affected by the drought since 2017, and we've chosen to reduce herd numbers dramatically to reduce the cost of feeding stock. We have been here for over 25 years and have never seen a dry like this."

She initially started a support group in which people affected by drought could share their stories, their emotions and connect with others going through similar hardships.

The group grew to more than 35,000 members, comprising not only people from the bush, but also those wanting to know how they could help.

"We didn't want to lose what we had created by allowing sales posts on the main page, but the demand was there so my sister and I agreed there was a need for a sales page."

Within a day One Day Closer to Rain - Rural Cottage Craft was up and running, giving people affected by drought a way of connecting with buyers all over Australia.

Ms McLaren says, "The one thing that speaks loud and clear is that people really do want to help and to make a difference."

She also says the selling page has given rural people "a new lease on life," and provides opportunity for an income stream where there previously wasn't one.

"It's truly a community, a family looking after each other," she says proudly.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Kennedy Farm Produce (@kennedyfarmproduce) on

Emma Kennedy of Kennedy Farm Produce says the group has changed everything for her.

"I am in shock and so grateful for all the support and encouragement we have received. It has been the most amazing boost to our small business."

With the Christmas rush well and truly underway, the next challenge will be to inspire people to keep buying in the months afterwards.

Support rural sellers by joining Facebook groups One Day Closer to Rain and Buy from the Bush.