Product is not a word usually associated with organic temples of experiential learning. But like chef-restaurateur Alice Waters, who launched the American school-garden craze 15 years ago in Berkeley, Calif., Musk, 39, says such gardens are essential to reversing obesity, which now afflicts one in three American children.
According to the Journal of American Dietetics, sixth-grade students involved in a garden-based nutrition education program increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by 2.5 servings per day, more than doubling their overall consumption. A class of fifth-graders who participated in garden-based lessons scored 15 points higher on science tests than students who learned in a traditional classroom.
“For me, there’s no point unless we are reaching a critical mass of people,” says Musk. “It’s not that small projects aren’t doing good things. If you serve four schools, you can feel very good about yourself. . . . The only way to solve the problem is to reach all of America’s 100,000 schools.”
Musk’s first step toward mass-producing school gardens is to install 60 Learning Gardens in Chicago, 60 in his home state of Colorado and 60 more across the country over the next year. An announcement with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s schools chief, Jean-Claude Brizard, could come as soon as Thursday, depending on the city’s teachers’ strike.
“Learning Gardens are great for Chicago and for students, and I’m pleased that 60 more of these gardens are coming to our schools,” Emanuel said via e-mail. “These gardens teach our kids about sustainability and help them learn to make healthy food choices in an engaging way. By developing healthy lifestyles and gaining the hands-on experience of working outside, the Learning Gardens improve the lives of thousands of our students and their families.”
Musk left his native South Africa in 1991 for Canada. But he soon migrated down to Silicon Valley where, with his brother Elon, he started a software company called Zip2. The brothers sold it in 1999 to computer firm Compaq. That year, Elon started a new company called PayPal in which Kimbal was an investor.
With money in the bank, Musk headed to New York to explore his interest in cooking. He enrolled at the French Culinary Institute and graduated right before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In the weeks following, he cooked for firefighters and police working near Ground Zero.
“The energy I felt — that awful and incredible energy — made me want to open a restaurant,” he says. “One with that sense of community I had experienced in New York.”