Kay and Greg Saarinen are as free-range as you can get. They’re living completely off the grid, just south of Wyndham, in a handsome solar-passive straw bale house that they built themselves. “This is an eco-friendly, self-sufficient, permaculture farm,” Kay explains with a grin, “and everything is done with a purpose!” Their home features stunning timber flooring constructed from the imperfect rejects sold by the mill as “firewood”. It also boasts a larder-style cool room and a user-friendly, stink-free composting toilet. “Our daughter Gemma was scared of toilet water for a while,” Greg recalls with a laugh. “She didn’t know what it was!”
Gemma is 11 and already a promising artist. She holds a tiny chick and whispers “ssshhh” as it peeps. Kay and Greg were four years into their self-sufficient adventure when Gemma arrived. They had left their secure jobs as chef and carpenter to pursue their dream of living ethically and abiding by the ideals of permaculture.
At six months, baby Gemma developed the common inflammatory skin condition: eczema. “We left the doctors holding a script for cortisone,” Kay recalls. “At the time, I was studying topical naturopathy and I turned to Greg and said ‘I’ve got this’.” Kay grins and laughs. “I said, ‘let’s use Gemma as a guinea pig’.” The cream Kay developed for Gemma’s skin was so successful that she began sharing it with friends who encouraged her to take it to the local markets. “My first market was so well received,” Kay remembers, “and Saarinen Organics grew from there.”
Now, Kay and Greg manufacture over 30 skin-care products, all of them ethically and sustainably produced completely by hand, on their beautiful farm. Kay is adamant that her business will remain aligned with the ideals of permaculture. “We want to be an asset to society,” she explains. “We use local products, local business, local labour. We barter where we can. Our business has grown and we are ready to expand, but for us, that doesn’t mean outsourcing manufacture to China. We would like to get a part-time farmhand and improve the business side of Saarinen Organics. That’s growth for us.”
The Saarinen Organics “lab” stands as a delightful timber cottage alongside the straw-bale house. Outside, garden beds are thriving with herbs. “Calendula, echinacea, stinging nettle, blue mellow, chamomile,” Kay names them with fluency and points with capable hands that surely have green thumbs.
Inside, large glass jars line the shelves like an apothecary’s warehouse. They’re filled with fermenting seaweed, comfrey, nettle and lavender. The room smells of things both familiar and unknown. Kay flicks through a well-handled “recipe book” complete with scribbled notations and reminders for next time. “Every recipe is different. Each cream base is unique.”
“She’s a very clever lady,” Greg says, watching as Kay moves around the lab. He has journeyed with her as Saarinen Organics took flight. “My mates say: ‘huh? You’re selling skincare to chicks?’” Greg laughs. “But I do. I sell alongside Kay at all the markets, talking to people about pimples and their beauty regime. I have had to think about how I can best input into this business.” Kay chimes in: “This wouldn’t exist without Greg. He does so much.”
Outside, we stand in the flourishing veggie gardens. A fattened lamb bleats a greeting and an eagle soars overhead. “You don’t have to do all this,” Kay says, gesturing to the farmlands. “But you can still support this in the products you buy. Permaculture is about giving back and increasing awareness and growing communities,” Kay says. “And I think that’s a beautiful thing.”