Already in 1988, the German company lehmann natur committed itself to the idea of enabling all end consumers to enjoy sustainably grown organic fruit and vegetables. Meanwhile, organic has successfully found its way out of the niche, and the company operates its own farms in Spain, which have been successfully converted to biodynamic and permaculture standards. Therefore, instead of being a mere import export business, lehmann natur considers itself as a producer – and a pioneer for sustainable agriculture. This year, the company launched its own seed brand “LEHMANNS Bio-Saaten”. How come? Our communication manager Ina Hiester spoke to Christina Marandi, Head of Quality Management, and Lisa Kadagies, who is responsible for communications and sustainability.
How come lehmann natur is committed to organic seeds?
Christina Marandi: There are two reasons that motivated us at lehmann natur to get involved in organic seeds. Firstly, every year we need seeds for our own fincas in Spain, where we grow oranges, pomegranates, pomelo, kaki, kumquats, and avocados on 135 hectares of land. And very often, it’s not that easy to get hold of high-quality, organic or even demeter-certified seeds. Secondly, we regularly conduct audits at our suppliers. The question of which seeds are being used is a part of our checklist – and much too often the answer is that conventional albeit non-dressed seeds are used.
This has to change: Both the supply and demand for organic seeds are still too low. We at lehmann natur are convinced that organic must be thought from the beginning, from the seed to the plate.
Since the beginning of this year, your brand “LEHMANNS Bio-Saaten” has been available at German retailers. Where do you get your seeds from, what does your assortment look like, and where were the products sold?
Christina Marandi: We source our seeds from Portugal, from Sementes Vivas. Here, most of the seeds are bred and propagated. The herbal seeds, however, originate from the Sekem Farm in Egypt, where biodynamic pioneering work has been carried out for over 40 years. We have more than 30 different products in our seed range, including fruit vegetables and flowers.
As a sales support, we offer a large display, which contains all varieties, and a smaller display which is reduced to 10 varieties. At least half of the products per display are already certified biodynamic, two varieties are currently in transition to biodynamic, which is communicated accordingly on the packaging. In this first season which has now come to an end, our seeds were available in about 2,100 shops in Germany. In addition, our complete assortment can also be ordered via our online shop.
Although lehmann is one of the largest organic fruit and vegetable wholesalers in Germany, the company has so far hardly been visible to the end consumers. What made you create your own brand for organic seeds?
Christina Marandi: Lehmann Natur has been an organic pioneer since 1988. We have our own permaculture farms in Spain as well as high quality standards and cooperate closely with our suppliers. With our expertise and decades of commitment in the organic sector, we do not have to hide behind the supermarket brands.
Lisa Kadagies: “LEHMANNS Bio-Saaten” also bring us closer to the consumer and thus presents us with the opportunity to create transparency and awareness around the topic of seeds. We communicate directly with our consumers via our social media channels. This is a completely new field of work for us and it’s super exciting and interesting.
Obviously, more organic and biodynamic plants in German gardens and on German balconies are a great success – but how can more farmers become convinced to use open-pollinated, organic seeds?
Christina Marandi: Most farmers do what the market demands. If no one asks for food from open-pollinated, organic and biodynamic seeds, then of course there is also little willingness among farmers to use these seeds, which are usually more expensive than conventional seeds. It’s a vicious circle, because this results in a lack of financial resources that would be needed to make research, development, breeding, production and marketing of organic seeds economically viable. The pressure must therefore come, first and foremost, from the market. And if open-pollinated products are then available in the store, their advantages must be communicated well. But additional funding is also important: One of our retail customers, for example, finances the breeding of seed-resistant carrots.
Lisa Kadagies: With “LEHMANNS Bio-Saaten”, we also want to strengthen the demand for and awareness of organic seeds at the end consumer and create a closer connection between man and nature. We see our seeds as a first step in our seed strategy. We are, in a way, sowing the required interest among consumers.
Which role do open-pollinated plants play in connection with permaculture?
Christina Marandi: We see permaculture as an agricultural, biodiverse system in which plants and animals live in harmony in intact ecosystems. Ideally, such ecosystems can preserve themselves with minimal human intervention. Of course, this only works if the plants are also able to multiply.
Over many years, we have developed official, proven, and functioning permaculture guidelines – the use of organic seeds and open-pollinated varieties is of course part of this. The guidelines have now been published by our association “Society for Permaculture in Agriculture” GePeLa e. V.
How will lehmann natur continue with its organic seeds?
Christina Marandi: This year’s launch of our organic seeds was an exciting time for all of us. Now the seed season is over and we have to sort through our returns, which we can offer again next spring – because the seeds don’t go bad – something that is completely unfamiliar for us as a fruit and vegetable dealer! At the same time, of course, we remain in contact with our community, which is already harvesting first fruits from our seeds. And next year we will see: Will other markets include our seeds in their assortment? Together with Sementes Vivas, we are well prepared for further growth.
Thank you very much for the interesting interview.