On the Road with the Non-GMO Project and Ms. Janelle Monáe

November 10, 2011

Megan VanZandtSometimes life sends an unexpected opportunity to your door and all you can do is welcome it with a big “YES!” just to find out where it will take you. That’s how I found myself cruising the country this fall, riding in a rock star bus with the Non-GMO Project, Silk Soymilk, Janelle Monáe and the Campus Consciousness Tour (CCT). In some ways, the experience was not too far off from my normal life—green events, love for travel, and great music—but in reality life on tour is an experience all its own.

Half rock tour, half environmental tour, CCT aims to inspire and educate college students about social and environmental issues via a high energy, fun, and engaging event – music!  Founded by Reverb, a nonprofit engaged in producing eco-friendly music tours, CCT has established an incredible dynamic between musicians, environmental organizations, corporate sponsors, and students. This year, the CCT team traveled from Maine down the East Coast to New Orleans, then back and up through the Midwest. For three weeks, we bounced from college campus to college campus with a fleet of tour buses, bands, and a mobile eco-village.

What’s an eco-village?  That’s where I come in. My non-profit and corporate friends and I assembled an inviting tent village at each campus. This year we had representatives from Fair Trade Universities, Oxfam America, Brita Filter For Good, and Silk Soymilk and the Non-GMO Project—who I had the pleasure of representing. In addition, Fun., an awesome indie pop band, joined us for an acoustic set during the day. In the evenings, we had the chance to talk to students before the main show – Ms. Janelle Monáe!

Cornell EcoVillage

Cornell EcoVillage

My goal as an eco-villager was to help students: 1) Understand what GMOs are and the issues surrounding them, and 2) Explain the process by which companies can have products verified by the Non-GMO Project.  Although Silk soy and almond milks have always been non-GMO, they recently signed on with the Non-GMO Project, emphasizing their commitment to using only non-GMO ingredients in all of their beverages.

Overall, I found students eager to absorb the information we were sharing. Specifically, I found 5 key elements of the tour as being very effective for communicating our message and getting students’ interested and involved in learning about GMOs:

1) Partnership – Many people already love Silk as a brand, and were very excited about samples. This served as great segue into a bit of education around GMOs and assuring them they had another reason to love Silk.

2) Curiosity – College students might be the most curious demographic on the planet (aside from kindergarteners) and are ready to soak up whatever they can.  I found many people to be passionate about food and the environment…even to the point that they were ready to volunteer for the Non-GMO Project!

3) Activation – Reverb developed a brilliant strategy to encourage student participation.  Every evening, guests received an activation card (similar to bingo).  In order to have each square stamped they had to visit each booth, play a game, and get a stamp.  Once complete they had a chance to win a meet and great with Ms. Monáe. We had close to 1,500 students do the activation activity at our Silk/Non-GMO Project booth!

Student Volunteers at Tulane University

4) Volunteers – Every night college students volunteered with our nonprofit partners in the eco-village.  They brought fresh energy and enthusiasm, and the students could teach one another about the issues they were learning.

5) Music – What better way to attract attention than a little booty shakin’ music?  All the artists on the CCT tour were incredibly supportive of our environmental goals and encouraged students to get involved.

For me, the tour was a blast!  What an opportunity – mission-driven work, travel, music, rock stars – life is good.  The tour provided a great platform for connecting students with the work of the Non-GMO Project in a way that was engaging, educational and very fun!

- Megan VanZandt, Brand Ambassador for Non-GMO Project and Silk on the Campus Consciousness Tour