Sarah Ryhanen is the custodian of two of our favourite things out there right now: artisanal soap brand Saipua and the World’s End farm. Trading in the merciless art world of New York to grow flowers in the beautiful countryside further upstate, she’s basically living our dream.
Articulate and thoughtful, she is also capable of plucking great soundbites out of thin air (has there ever been a more perfectly succinct answer to why flowers make such great gifts than the one she gives at the end of this piece?). More so than this however - or perhaps because of this - what resonates is an overwhelming sense of the values, passions and work ethic that she pours into every aspect of her flower-filled life.
We were thrilled to delve into her background and the two unique projects to which she is currently devoting her life.
Your website states that your background is in contemporary art. Could you tell us a little about your journey from there to founding Saipua?
I was working my dream job - assistant curator at the non-profit art centre, Exit Art. It took a few years working my way up in the art world to get there. I had come to NYC with a newspaper clipping of a review for the famous show, ‘The Reconstruction’. But then a year into my job there I got restless and starting seeing how the art world was not for me. By that time I had already started Saipua as a hobby project to help sell my mother’s soap. I was making the flowers for openings at Exit Art and enjoyed that immensely. My boss and mentor, Jeanette Ingberman saw this all before I did - she called me into her office one day and asked what was going on. I resigned on the spot and was really supported by her to make this transition to pursue flowers and Saipua full time.
Did a love of flowers exist alongside your love of art, or was it a natural progression from one world to the other? Do you see similarities between the two?
I think I'm good at arranging things, seeing colours together and seeing balance - or beautiful imbalance I should say. My love of flowers started with a particularly striking bouquet I was given for my 25th birthday by my partner Eric, a few years before we opened Saipua.
What triggered the decision to buy your own farm? It must have been a huge undertaking! Was it a struggle to reconcile the logistical challenges etc with the no doubt an incredibly romantic vision of running your own flower farm?
We knew we could never afford to buy a place in NYC where we worked and lived - and I definitely wanted an opportunity to start tinkering with gardening and growing some of my own flowers. The romance of farming is real, but it looks very different to the way it is often portrayed in the media. It's hard to describe it; for me it's a lot about striving for some sort of synergy in life, or simply put - just more connection to life. When you grow your own food and raise your own meat and arrange your own flowers, that’s a pretty real experience. Now that we've figured out that stuff, the next part is figuring out how to share pieces of those experience with our community. People in the city are just so hungry for nature, and our ultimate goal with the farm at Worlds End is to offer them a resource to tap into that very human right.
Where does the name Saipua come from? And why 'World's End'?
Saipua is derived from the Finnish word for soap, saippua. My dad is Finnish and there is a very rich bathing culture there surrounding the use of sauna baths. We removed a 'p' to make it unique to our business.
World’s End came from my favourite TC Boyle book - and also refers to the far flung location of the farm. We're really in the middle of nowhere.
Could you talk us through a typical day at World’s End (if indeed there is such a thing)?
Winter is slower and consists just of animal chores, morning and afternoon. We wake up around seven in the morning and see animals between eight and nine – the sheep get hay. Then we break the ice out of their water containers and haul hot water up to them. We have two livestock guardian dogs that live with the flock and they get fed and petted. The chicken coop gets opened and the 17 laying hens get new feed and water. Then often I'm inside working on the computer (I'm trying to write a book, slowly…) or spinning our sheep’s wool.
What is your favourite thing about running your own flower farm?
Growing whatever dream flowers I want! It's been an immense amount of struggle and failure but slowly we really are starting to grow some incredible flowers that I can't get anywhere else. This is a dream for a flower designer.
And the most challenging?
Balancing that with the attention I need to pay to our business in the city. I love the back and forth, I feed off it, but it's not easy. Saipua in the city needs so much vision and attention and we struggle to make both exceptional every season. The farm benefits our city work - those clients get the best flowers - but it's a struggle to make sure our energy doesn't get split as we grow the business to be in two places...
Its clear from your website that the team you work with is incredibly important to the journey you’re on. How do you find people for a project such as this? Are they from farming backgrounds or more unexpected walks of life?
I'm glad that's clear - I'm crazy about my team - and we'd never have gotten to where we are without the insane amount of work and vision of the current and former staff. They are really from all over the map - literally and figuratively. We hire for personality only. I don't care if they know anything about farming or flowers or event logistics - that can all be taught. Values and work ethic and a certain zest can't be taught.
Do you have any particular approach/goals that you feel define Saipua/World’s End, and perhaps sets you apart in the flower world?
Two things really drive us - sensitivity to nature and community. With every decision we make, we ask ourselves: does this serve our mission to build a community or effect environmental change? If yes then we move forward, if not we toss the idea. I think lots of my colleagues participate in the business with those things in mind. Maybe not to the same extent. But we really occupy an incredible flower world right now; one that is hungry for better, cleaner flowers grown with responsible labour.
Are you working on any particularly interesting projects or with any notable clients at the moment?
We're launching PLANTLAB this March - a week of programming all about houseplants, plant culture, and city food growing. Details soon...
Do you have a favourite flower? Does it change dependent on different variables?
Why do you think flowers make such good gifts? What in your opinion sets a good gift of flowers apart from a bad one?
Flowers remind us of the beautiful, temporal nature of life. It's the best gift ever.
Find out more about Saipua here.