Harriet Turnnidge tells Escape Southern Highlands how a childhood on the land set her on a course to create aedel, a botanical soap range handmade from the milk of her East Friesian sheep.
‘I grew up on farms around the Southern Highlands and Goulburn Tablelands, so I’ve always felt a real connection to the land. Admittedly, my first love was horses. I’ve owned and ridden horses since I was 10 years old, and my love for them maintained my connection to a rural lifestyle, and my interest in the natural environment, organic foods and natural body products. After leaving school I moved to Melbourne to study textile design, but my connection to the land remained strong.
After studies, I began working at Small Cow Farm in Robertson, and it was here I got my first lambs. Then I heard about a soap making course in Sydney, so I went along. I came home and started making soap with my ewes’ milk.
I love that I am my own boss, and can creatively combine my connection and love for animals with the seasons and natural products. At present I have 10 sheep, including this year’s lambs and the ram I got from Pecora Dairy in Robertson. I hand milk my girls twice a day now lambing is finished, and probably get between five and eight litres of milk. Summer is a busy season, as the ewes require extra time and care, and production generally increases for Christmas. A locally produced natural soap wrapped by hand makes a lovely gift. I freeze some of the milk to use for soap production in winter.
I make soap most mornings. I work in a little shed I call the soap shed and use the cold process of soap making, which includes about two litres of sheep’s milk per batch. I use pure essential oils with a botanical oil base such as olive and sweet almond, and never use synthetic ingredients or palm oil. Aedel is derived from the German word ‘edel’, which means ‘precious, noble’. Historically, East Friesians have ties to the Friesland region of northern Germany. I wanted a name for the soaps that would symbolise their origin, being made from pure natural ingredients with traditional processes.
There are six soaps in the aedel range. The rose milk is our most popular variety but I love the lavender milk as an everyday soap. Recently I have been working with some other beautiful essential oils to add a few new varieties, including a lovely woody, herbal scented bar that will be released soon. I’ve also been collaborating with local potter Peter Schmid to develop a series of ceramic soap dishes. Peter has years of experience and creates the most beautiful wood fired ceramics, so I am very excited.
I now have 18 stockists around Australia, and locally you can find aedel at Highlands Merchant in Moss Vale, Flower Flower in Mittagong, and the recently opened seasonal garden shop at Red Cow Farm in Sutton Forest.
Sheep make lovely pets and aren’t as stupid as commonly perceived. Having only a small flock, and living on five acres in an area that is becoming increasingly urban, I don’t really feel as though I’m ‘in sheep’ but I would like to be able to call myself a farmer one day. I think what I really love about this life is the rhythm of what I do, and caring for my sheep. You have to be a keen observer and love the outdoors, no matter what the weather. And they reward you. Having meat grown under your care, and milk from which to make cheese, yoghurt and soap, of course, gives a great deal of satisfaction. For me, it brings the value of all things into perspective.’