School Garden Grant Program: Alaska Fertilizer & Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Alaska Organic Fertilizer is an Atlanta-based industry leader that creates an organic product from the by-products of the fishing industry. With a new leadership team, the company was seeking to help define the brand through a campaign that would invest in the long-term health of the industry by introducing children to gardening, supporting teachers, and generating sales and social media content. Together with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, an organization whose mission is to preserve biodiversity, the fertilizer company set out to reach its customers, 37 percent of whom are millennials, and 85 percent of whom make purchase decisions based on whether a company can demonstrate social good. Cornell Labs had an established school program, which gave Alaska a strategy for marketing the concept in Lowe’s stores. Alaska created co-branded displays for Lowe’s, which made the benefits of the program very clear.
Having worked with teachers for more than 10 years, the Cornell Lab education team has a good sense of what teachers want and need, particularly as it relates to teaching required standards.
The resulting program, called The School Garden Grant Program, emphasized the science learning and environmental benefits of planting a garden. Cornell created a survey that functioned as an application. The application was open for six weeks and it asked for a specific plan for creating and maintaining a garden, and that each group identify potential partners such as a PTA or local gardening club and then to create a budget. More than 600 applications were received and 10 winners selected. The winners did not receive their funds until they attended webinars and got coaching on creating a successful garden. The program then created web pages and hands-on activities to do in school gardens. The program was also presented at four National Science Teacher association conferences where a four-page flyer called “Gardening Connections” described the basics of school gardens and offered additional resources. Garden grant winners were required to provide photos suitable for social media and a recap of the garden’s progress so that the work could be shared.
The program worked. It was a wet, cold spring, and the same product sold at other comparable retailers saw sales fall 3.9 percent below what they had been in the previous year. At Lowe’s however, where the collateral materials about the partnership and the donation to schools were prominently displayed, sales were up 7 percent compared to the previous year. A new cycle of grants was launched in fall of 2017, with a larger budget, and 850 applications were received in eight weeks.
Teachers who received the grants expressed great satisfaction with the materials, while Cornell Lab and Alaska have been able to give their own audiences a sense of pride in the beautiful gardens and enhanced education that kids around the nation are getting.