Wilder Land (formerly Ptthee) is a Dutch herbal tea company with 4 Returns at its core. Founder Daan van Diepen and Matthijs Westerwoudt work with more than 25 farmers to sow diverse flowers and herbs across Dutch farmland. Through fun and funky branding, Wilder Land connects city residents with the restoration of Dutch nature. The work of Wilder Land clearly hits the right note; in 2019 the Dutch duo won the ASN Bank prize helping them grow their business.
I caught up with Daan (you can see him on the left in the above pic) to hear more about Wilder Land. Especially as to how they are inspiring a transition to regenerative agriculture in the Netherlands. So, put the kettle on, make a brew and read on!
Hey Daan! How did Wilder Land begin?
Matthijs and I set out in 2018 to generate demand for products produced in a 4 returns way. It started with the idea that Dutch farmers want to farm as regeneratively as possible, as long as they get paid for it. The more demand we can create for 4 returns products, the more we can help farmers transition towards regenerative agriculture. And as Wilder Land, we started doing that with tea.
But why tea?
Tea is both easy to start and grow. With the herbs we use, you can sow them in March and two to three months later you already have a first harvest, and some herbs give you a second harvest later in the year. Next to this, tea is a well-known product with high demand. We also saw that demand for herbal tea in the Netherlands is increasing, while almost no herbal tea is grown here. So, we saw tea as a great opportunity to start.
In 2018, you and Matthijs received a pilot fund from Wij.land, how did you use it?
We used pilot funding from Wij.land to do a lot of testing. Both on the production side like investing in seeds and some small machines, but we also conducted marketing tests. Before we built a website, we wanted to find out what people would think. So, we ran advertisements on Facebook about the idea to get a feeling for if people wanted this. We got many questions about the idea, giving us a confirmation that Dutch-grown herbal tea is something people want to buy. After that we built the website, created the logo and spent time developing the first flavours. But the biggest boost from the pilot funding was the access to the network of Wij.land farmers.
And how does Wilder Land work with those farmers?
There are currently two models. In the first model, a farmer receives €0.15 every year for each square metre they sow with herbs. They keep that patch growing for at least three years. We calculated that figure to be somewhat higher than the current earnings of that land from dairy farming. Farmers have nothing to do apart from sow seeds in September or March. A few months later we harvest 50%, leaving the rest for insects. At the end of each year farmers let cows graze the area, which not only offers all kinds of dietary and health benefits for cows but also means the herbs will come out stronger the following year.
However not all the herbs we need grow well in a grassland. For the second model, we make agreements with farmers to grow lanes of a particular herb. That requires more energy for watering and weed control. When a farmer chooses this model, they get a better price and we pay them per kilo. Diversity is ensured by making sure at least one lane is a meadow with everything in a mix.
Can you tell me how many hectares you have in cultivation?
In total, there are between five and six hectares in cultivation. But the Wilder Land model is not based on efficiency or per square metre. With one efficiently grown hectare, you would have enough herbs for the coming years. Our mission is to connect with as many farmers as possible and show the benefits of nature-friendly farming.
For example, at one farm the cows broke through fences to reach the herb lanes because they wanted to eat the herbs that badly. The farmer was fascinated because it showed that his cows crave a more diverse diet. Now he is thinking “what can I do to make all my grasslands diverse?”.
In another example, we work with a young farmer in his late teens. He was so interested in the idea that he wanted to test it and now he grows herbs for us on a plot of 300m2. It is a small area, but if he can see the benefits of regenerative agriculture, then on that farmland there will be a positive impact for the next 50 years.
So rather than thinking about hectares in cultivation, it’s about the impact of sowing a regenerative seed. Currently we’ve partnered with 27 farmers and we’re now in the proces of onboarding another 10 this spring. So we hope to have around 37 this summer!
Inspiration is clearly a big driver of your work. How else do the 4 Returns influence Wilder Land?
The idea that you can run a profitable business and restore nature. Aligning natural capital and the return of financial capital is at the core of our work. However, it is not idealistic, it is realistic and that is what people need to get used to. Wilder Land is a normal company that sells products to run a profit. But we ensure that while making money, we are restoring natural systems in the Netherlands.
What have you found to be an important aspect of keeping the business growing?
Well, we are always trying to innovate. For us, that means not only selling the fact we are regenerative but innovating on all elements. Right now, we are innovating and expanding our flavours. We developed a black and green tea from herbs which only come from the Netherlands. And recently we collaborated with a creative agency to study popular tea brands and to work on a design and packaging that is different from the current tea brand landscape. It is important to innovate on all these aspects, because after all we have to make sure that people love our products.
Other than tea, what else can people expect from Wilder Land?
We want to focus on connecting people living in cities with what is happening in Dutch farmland. With tea we tell the story of restoring nature in the Netherlands in a fun and accessible way. When you open a package of Wilder Land, you find a QR code inside and you can scan it to enter a whole world of Wilder Land. Now it’s just one video, but we are working on creating all kinds of inspirational content.
Big supermarket brands are interested in the tea from Wilder Land but that is not part of our goal. We want people to connect with farmers. They can hop on their bike and visit local farm stores and see where the herbs grow. This way the whole process becomes transparent and people directly support and connect with farmers transitioning towards regenerative agriculture.
Can you tell me which initiatives currently inspire you?
Right now, I am inspired by farmers like Joost van Schie, who works with Wij.land, and Arjan van Buuren from landgoed Velhorst, who collaborates with Natuurmonumenten. They are already working to the tune of 4 Returns and it is amazing to see how they implement regenerative techniques on their land. These kinds of farmers are multi-talented. They have a strong business-sense. They understand their land, the biology and ecology. And they are also technically sharp, ready to fix a tractor when it’s broken. It is incredible to see the number of skills you need in order to run a regenerative farming business.
Last question Daan. Do you have plans to create new products?
Yes! In the future, we want to market all kinds of products that stimulate regenerative agriculture. With Joost van Schie and some other farmers, we planted a “theehaag” – a kind of hedgerow. This has herbs but also bushes and trees over different layers. In other locations we’re planning to plant walnut trees because we use the leaves for our “Off-black blend” and later on we will harvest the nuts to produce other products.
The bigger we grow, the more diverse our products can be and the more farmers we can reach and help transition towards regenerative agriculture.
Be sure to check out the Wilder Land website and while you’re at it, treat yourself to some biodiversity-enhancing, dutch-grown and delicious herbal tea! And scroll down for some beautiful pictures…