Reflecting on 2020 with 2016 Rural Women’s Award National Winner, Sophie Hansen

10.12.20

No one could have seen this year coming. Between the ongoing drought, NSW’s worst bushfire season on record and a global pandemic – 2020 has truly been a year that no one saw coming. For Sophie Hansen, 2016 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award National Winner, the only way to survive was to remain agile, be open to other opportunities and above all, have courage.

Sophie Hansen is the inspirational wordsmith behind Local is Lovely – a blog that celebrates fresh, seasonal food, nice farmers and their produce. She published a cookbook of the same name in 2014, her second book, A Basket by the Door, was released in April 2018 and her third, In Good Company, will hit shelves in April 2021. She’s also a social media mentor, food photographer and stylist, mother of two and right-hand woman to her husband Tim on the family’s holistic deer farm near Orange in Central West NSW.

Unsurprisingly, Sophie was also named the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award National Winner in 2016.

A self-confessed city-girl-gone-country, Sophie’s open and authentic nature shines through instantly. And while this past year has been is enough to break anyone’s spirit, Sophie’s remains steadfast, her gaze steady on the dusty road ahead.

Her family’s key approach to tackling the tail-end of drought, bushfires and COVID-19 was to remain light on their feet, to diversify their businesses, and have courage.

“Our family farming business, spearheaded by my husband Tim, was of course impacted significantly by the drought of the past couple of years,” said Sophie.

“Early on in the drought we made some big decisions and reduced our stock numbers by quite a lot. That meant we actually came through it with good ground cover and were able to maintain our perennial pastures. So when the opportunity to buy cattle towards the end of the drought came, we were in a position to do so.

“We kept hold of around 1000 head of deer – that was about a third of what we had going into the drought.”

It’s a move that was never part of their grand plan, but Sophie will be the first to tell you that sometimes veering off track is what you have to do in farming.

“You have to be agile. You can’t just dig your heels in and say: ‘I’m going to keep doing what I’ve always done’. You have to pivot, as they say.

“So we quickly worked to bring some old cattleyards the previous owner had back to life, then welcomed the cattle with open arms. It’s something we’ve actually really enjoyed. They’re a lot more chilled than deer, they’re easier to deal with and you can get the kids involved a bit more,” said Sophie.

When COVID-19 hit, Sophie’s social media, food styling and photography workshops came crashing to a grinding halt and all events she had planned for 2020 were cancelled.

While she tried to host a few sessions on zoom, it just wasn’t the same.

“To me, the magic comes when you bring people together in a room. We talk about sharing their story, building their iPhone skills and really celebrating their offering. That’s hard to replicate online.

“Fortunately for me, the time coincided well with my deadline for my next cookbook – so I battened down the hatches and worked on that, while also managing a few one-on-one clients.

“But now the world is opening up, I can’t wait to start my group workshops again. I can feel a lot of positivity, courage and excitement emerging in regional Australia right now. There’s a huge interest in the stories behind food and fibre and I think producers and farmers alike are realising there’s a place to share their story. I’m so happy to play a part in helping them achieve that.”

The narrative in regional Australia is certainly changing. Fuelled by the success of campaigns such as Buy From The Bush, it seems the lines of communication between city and rural dwellers have never been stronger.

“We’ve traditionally talked about how people in the city don’t know where their food’s coming from, but now we’re also asking farmers if they really know where their food’s going?” said Sophie.

“I think a lot of our farmers are becoming more engaged in that whole process, they want to share their side of the story and are actively arming themselves to do that with tools such as Instagram.

“And that’s so important, because whether we’re talking about farming deer, writing cookbooks or hosting social media workshops, the only way you’ll survive a year like 2020 is to stay light on your feet. So that’s exactly what we did.”

Recent AgriFutures Australia funded work has confirmed that building provenance through storytelling is a critical strategy for bringing brands and products to life and helping connect farmers and producers with the people consuming their products.

If you’re interested in developing your own provenance story, we have developed a handy toolkit to help get you started.

For more information on the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award head to www.agrifutures.com.au/people-leadership/rural-womens-award/