Life’s Main Ingredient

The Nutrients for Life Foundation was formed in 2004 with the mission of educating the public about the beneficial role fertilizers play in society. In recent months, Nutrients for Life has gained traction with its Fertilizer Is Life’s Main Ingredient consumer campaign and a variety of other activities. We asked Harriet E. Wegmeyer, executive director of the group, to fill us in and let us know what part retailers might play in the effort.

What was the purpose of the Fertilizer Is Life’s Main Ingredient campaign?
We realized as an industry that fertilizer education was coming from others — mostly the media and environmental groups citing negative depictions of fertilizer. We decided to try something we had never done — speaking directly to the public about fertilizer or crop nutrients, and so Fertilizer Is Life’s Main Ingredient was born. The concept is that all of our food, which is used to make all the wonderful recipes we enjoy, begins with fertilizer.

Where has the campaign been used?
Nutrients for Life ran the campaign in the Wash­ington, DC, market in the fall of 2008 on WTOP – the most-listened to radio station in the market with over 1 million listeners a week — and also placed the print ads on DC’s Metro, which serves more than 800,000 riders a day. At the end of the campaign, we were able to move the needle and change people’s perceptions according to our pre- and post-campaign surveys. We wanted to make people think “what does fertilizer mean for me? I eat food, so it’s important to me.”

What did your surveys show?
Post-campaign, nearly half of survey respondents agreed that fertilizers are a main ingredient for a healthy world. Prior to the campaign, 8% fewer agreed with that statement. Also, after the campaign, less than one-third agreed that fertilizer use should be reduced in the United States. Before the campaign, two-thirds wanted fertilizer use reduced.

Through the Internet, we also reached 24 countries, 36 states, and had our Web site traffic increase 79% from November 2007 to November 2008.

Your group has also been involved with an exhibit at the Smithsonian as well. What is that about?
The Nutrients for Life Foundation is the lead sponsor of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s Dig It! The Secrets of Soil exhibition in Washington. The exhibition, allows visitors to delve into soils’ role in our lives, including the role of nutrient-rich soil for food production. Nutrients for Life is also sponsoring the exhibition when it goes on tour around the country to 10 different locations starting in 2010. The middle and high-school science curriculum developed by Nutrients for Life will be included in teacher educational materials as the exhibition travels.

Tell us more about the educational curriculum.
Nutrients for Life has several educational pieces available for teachers, students, and the public. Among them is the science-based curriculum, Nourishing the Planet in the 21st Century, a six-lesson plan supplement for science teachers focused on soil composition, nutrients for plant growth, and feeding the growing population. Since its release in 2007, we have distributed more than 3,600 copies of this curriculum.

How has it been received by the teachers?
Nutrients for Life surveyed the 571 teachers who had provided e-mail addresses. With a 21% response rate, we found that nearly half of those have used the curriculum. And 95.8% of teacher-respondents who used the curriculum found it helpful in their lesson planning. Twenty-two percent identified our lesson plan two, Properties of Soil, as the most valuable to them in their teaching.

Your board members are some of the bigger companies in the fertilizer business. Why are they so keen on this effort?
We are a proud industry and we have every reason to be just that. After all, 40% to 60% of our world’s food supply is directly attributed to fertilizer. Through all of our varied activities, our goal is the same: to educate people about fertilizer’s importance. Companies in the fertilizer business — retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers, cannot sit back and hope that others will tell our story; others aren’t likely to speak up for the good that fertilizers do for all of us. Through schools, media, and the public, Nutrients for Life is dedicated to improving people’s perception of fertilizer.

What would you like retailers to do? Is there a part that they can play in Nutrients for Life?
Retailers have many opportunities to get involved. Something as simple as hanging a Fertilizer is Life’s Main Ingredient sign in their store (provided complimentarily) gets the message out. Retailers are historically highly engaged in their communities. With these relationships, retailers can hand-deliver the curriculum to their middle and high school; drop off Fun with the Plant Nutrient Team and posters at the local elementary school; give talks to garden clubs and others using the Foundation materials; run our ad in your local paper; request to be added to the Foundation’s mailing list (e-mail or mail); and donate time or money to the Foundation. Nutrients for Life is a charitable organization and has as its mission activities that benefit and should be supported by everyone in the fertilizer industry.

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