Urban gardening, especially in times of the global pandemic, is experiencing an immense hype. However, urban gardening can be traced back to the time even before industrialization. People had to feed themselves in the growing cities and initially grew their food in the immediate vicinity: in their own gardens, communal or allotment gardens or other areas in the city. As more and more people moved to the urban areas, citizens slowly stopped growing their own groceries – and bought it instead (utopia). Today, city and country life have little in common. To close this gap and bring the two worlds closer together again, Hannes, Lasse and Dennis founded their start-up Rankwerk. With their non-hybrid and organic seeds, the founders thrive to create the shortest supply chain in the world: from the backyard to the plate.
Our everyday food, whether it is fruits, vegetables or grain, is made from seeds and is therefore the basis for a healthy life. Due to the industrialization of agriculture, the seed market is concentrated on a few companies that mainly sell hybrid seeds: plants that are bred for perfection. These seeds were deprived of their ability to reproduce, thus making the farmers dependent on the industry, and creating monocultures. In order to bring old varieties back into circulation, to strengthen biodiversity and to bring people and food closer together again, in 2017, the Kiel-based brand Rankwerk was founded.
Originally, the three founders wanted to open an urban gardening shop to sell seeds and other garden products. However, the quality of the goods delivered did not convince the trio in any way, so they decided to establish their own brand with high quality standards and the idea of home gardening was born. Rankwerk’s vision is to take a step into a sustainable future by making cities more livable and greener as well as raising awareness of the topic of healthy eating. For the eight-person team, sustainable gardening does not have to be dusty and old-fashioned, which is why Rankwerk combines ecological and fair gardening items with beautiful design. All packaging is free from plastics. The brand only uses waste products from the wood industry and recycled materials for all shipping materials in order to save valuable resources. The seed bags are made from 100 % recycled wastepaper. Instead of UV varnish, the seed bags are coated with vegan glue and environmentally friendly inks. Short transport routes and CO2-neutral shipping via DHL GoGreen within Germany as well contribute to a resource-saving approach to the environment.
At Rankwerk, they consider sustainability holistically and see it as a process in which they want to continuously develop. All seeds are Demeter certified, non-hybrid and are suitable for growing on the balcony as well as in raised beds or on the windowsill. The Demeter certification guarantees that all seeds come from European breeders who breed organic and non-hybrid seeds with a focus on old varieties. Organic means that no herbicides and pesticides have been used in the breeding and propagation of the seeds. While focusing on the best organic quality, the founders also pay close attention to resource-saving, regional production and social working conditions. The brand creates complete transparency for its customers so they can find out where and how the seeds are grown. With clear instructions, included in every seed bag, they want to support their customers in the cultivation process – from sowing to harvest. The products range from seeds, hand-forged garden tools to natural planters and other accessories, simplifying the process of cultivation, even without previous experience. Rankwerk strives to make people aware of how they treat their environment and how they can do something good for it, for example by dispensing packaging material and long delivery routes and by growing vegetables themselves.
With their products, Rankwerk addresses everyone who is interested in a sustainable lifestyle and healthy nutrition. Gardening should be enjoyable and have a positive impact on people and the environment. The brand paves the way to industrial independence, away from monocultures and towards diversity and independent food security – to bring urban and country life closer together again.
Interview with Dennis Lizarzaburu and Lasse Popken
aware: What was your intention or inspiration when founding Rankwerk?
Lasse: From the beginning, our goal was to bring gardening back to the city. Not only did we want to make the city a little greener, but we also wanted to raise consciousness about the origin of our food. By accompanying our customers throughout the entire growing process, we wanted to show that everybody can garden!
To do this, we originally wanted to open a sustainable urban gardening store. However, we quickly realized that the available products did not come close to meeting our standards in terms of quality and sustainability. Therefore, we decided to create our own brand and were one of the first to bring sustainable gardening products to the market.
aware: Where do you source your seeds from?
Dennis: The origin and quality of our seeds is our number one priority! Therefore, we generally purchase our seeds from organic or Demeter certified producers in Europe. The certification of our producers creates the necessary transparency and trust – not only regarding the seeds and their quality, but also, for example, with regard to the compliance with social standards in production. If possible, we prefer to purchase our seeds from German producers, so we can minimize our transport routes.
aware: What result does non-hybrid and organic seeds have on the taste of the vegetable or fruit that grows from it?
Lasse: Organic seeds have the ultimate advantage of being much better for our health and our environment by avoiding pesticides in the production process. This provides an extra portion of pleasure in eating. But organic vegetables are also convincing in taste because they taste much more intense due to the significantly lower water content. By the way, this also makes vegetables and fruit last longer. Finally, the color of organically grown vegetables is much stronger. And we all know: The food should be a feast for the eyes, too!
aware: What is the difference between your seeds and conventionally produced seeds?
Lasse: The big difference between our seeds and conventional ones is that they are not only organically grown, but also open pollinated. This is a forgotten characteristic of high-quality seeds, but fundamental for sustainable gardening. Open pollinated means that seed can be collected from the fruit of the plant and used for cultivation in the next season. The reason for this is that the extracted seed has the same characteristics. This is not only very practical, but more importantly creates independence. Because in commercial agriculture, hybrid seed, i.e., seed that is not open pollinated, leaves farmers strongly dependent on a few very large seed producers from whom they have to purchase newly developed seed every year. The fact that hybrid seeds are also less resistant to environmental influences creates further dependence on fertilizers and pesticides. The use of open pollinated seeds thus has a huge potential in global agriculture! Another advantage: By open pollinated seeds, we contribute to the preservation and diversity of pure species.
aware: What is the benefit from growing your vegetables at home?
Dennis: The most obvious advantage: We create the shortest supply chain in the world – from the balcony or garden directly to the plate. But home gardening has another very central effect: It creates consciousness for our food and its origin. It shows us how much love and work has to be put into vegetables and fruit and thus makes us appreciate our food more again. Plus, it’s a sense of success and pride every time our own vegetables can be harvested!
Lastly: Gardening is a fantastic hobby that helps us balance our everyday life. Not only does it allow us to spend time outside enjoying the fresh air and exercise. It also has a meditative effect since gardening requires all of your attention. And let’s be honest: Who doesn’t like to get their hands dirty once in a while? The greatest thing about gardening as a hobby is that everyone can do it! We show our customers that you don’t need a garden to do gardening. You don’t even need a balcony to grow some vegetables and herbs – your kitchen bench is just fine!
by Marie Klimczak