Courtesy of The Kitchen
For nearly a decade, Kimbal Musk — Elon’s brother — has been on a mission to bring fresh produce to cities across the United States.
In 2011, Musk launched a nonprofit program, called Learning Gardens, in 300 public schools in American cities. Part-playground, part-outdoor classroom, the learning gardens serve as spaces where students learn about the science of growing fruits and veggies — and that they can taste great, too.
Now Musk is taking his nonprofit national and renaming it “Big Green.” In April, 100 schools in Detroit, Michigan will break ground on learning gardens. The Detroit project is backed by $5 million in funding from donors including Gordon Food Service, Pathways Foundation, and philanthropist Carole Ilitch.
Musk’s team also plans to expand Big Green to four other cities, including Colorado Springs, Colorado; Louisville, Kentucky; Long Beach, California; and San Antonio, Texas. The $25 million effort could see 100 more gardens built in each location by the end of 2020.
In an interview with Business Insider, Musk explained the genesis of the nonprofit’s new vision.
“As we started to grow, we realized we needed a name that talked to the importance of scale, the importance of reaching all kids of America,” he said.
“And then on the ‘green’ side, we wanted to teach kids about food, but also to pay homage to the fact that we’re getting them outside; we’re getting them connected to nature and to understand the way the Earth and climate works — and really give them an education beyond food. We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves in food. We do so much more than that.”
Courtesy of Kimbal Musk
In high school learning gardens, students have the option to run their own small food businesses. They grow their own produce, sell it to local restaurants and companies — as well as at farmer’s markets — and then keep their profits. (In Chicago, a Google cafeteria is a buyer.) On average, participating students make $400 a year, Musk said.
Big Green now also has a national board, which includes Valor Equity Partners founder Antonio Gracias, Planet Heritage cofounder Cindy Mercer, and Memphis Superintendent Dorsey Hopson. Since 2011, the initiative has received funding from mega-corporations like Wells Fargo, Walmart, and Chipotle, which Musk believes will help the nonprofit scale. He added that Big Green is open to working with independent or local businesses as well.
Musk hopes that Big Green will help fix the way American kids eat. Since junk food is often inexpensive and “funneled to low-income communities,” he believes that inaccessible fresh produce is a socioeconomic and human rights issue.
“Kids today are totally disconnected from real food. The industrial food that we create is high-calorie, low in nutrients, doesn’t taste good, and shipped from thousands of miles away. And we’ve been creating a massive amount of obesity and diabetes,” he said.
“In some low-income communities, nearly 40% of kids will go into kindergarten [overweight or] obese. That’s just unforgivable. That’s not something they did to themselves — it’s something we did to them. It’s time that we realize that it’s a human right to understand what we are putting in our bodies.”
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