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Growing gardens and young minds

Growing gardens and young minds

[photo of Kimbal Musk]The gourmet, locally sourced food that Kimbal Musk, Com’95, serves at his award-winning Colorado restaurants is a far cry from the home-made Easter eggs he used to sell as a child in South Africa, but their common themes are entrepreneurism and food – consistent passions that have directed the course of his life.

Following his graduation from Queen’s, Kimbal ran a College Pro painting franchise for two years before moving to California to start software company Zip2 with his brother Elon (see the Review cover story of Issue 1, 2013).

Although their focus was on burgeoning internet technology, food remained Kimbal’s true passion. As soon as he had the chance following the lucrative 1999 sale of Zip2, he headed to New York to enrol at the French Culinary Institute.

He was still in New York, freshly graduated and living 10 blocks from the World Trade Center, when the terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. He quickly volunteered to help with relief efforts and spent the weeks immediately following the attack cooking shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the top chefs in the world and driving ATVs loaded with food down to the firefighters working at Ground Zero.

“It was an amazing experience, and it accelerated my love of food and desire to connect people to food,” he recollects. “We weren’t serving up cafeteria food; it was some of the best food the firefighters had eaten in their lives, cooked by the best chefs.”

That experience convinced Kimbal to go into the restaurant business. The result was The Kitchen family of restaurants in Colorado, an enterprise that ultimately led to the establishment of a complementary non-profit restaurant, The Kitchen Community.

The Kitchen Community’s mission is to connect young people with “real food” by creating Learning Gardens in schools and community organizations across America.

These Learning Gardens feature a modular set of robust, raised planters with built-in irrigation. They can be put together like a Lego set. The planters are not only functional but also beautiful, making a tangible and visible difference to the environment.

“These gardens allow us to reach kids without preaching at them,” Kimbal explains. “It creates an environment that kids want to play in and run around in, that teachers can run classes in, and that kids can take tests in.”

He points to research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association that has found that sixth-grade students involved in a garden-based nutrition education program increased their daily fruit and vegetable consumption by 2.5 times. It’s also been found that students participating in garden-based lessons score an average of 15 points higher on science tests than their classroom-based counterparts.

With the help of donors who are matched with interested schools, The Kitchen Community team installed 21 Learning Gardens in their first year: 13 in Colorado, six in Chicago, one in Los Angeles, and one in Arkansas. Their projected rate of growth is astonishing. This year they’ll install 44 more Learning Gardens across the U.S.; the goal for 2014 is 180.

“We believe that Learning Gardens are the most effective, cost-effective, and apolitical way to connect kids with real food,” Kimbal says, “but making that connection will always be our mission, so even if we get to every school in the country, it doesn’t stop there. We’ll find other ways to do it.” Find out more at thekitchencommunity.org