"When children pull a carrot out of the ground, it's like a magic trick,” Kimbal Musk, CEO and Co-Founder of the Boulder, Colorado-based The Kitchen Family of Restaurants, tells me.
This act of magic is something that Kimbal is working hard to spread to children living in urban cities throughout the nation by taking them back to the roots of fruits and vegetables. Literally.
Kimbal’s talents and passions are versatile, however, extending from innovations in Silicon Valley to his own restaurant, The Kitchen Cafe, LLC.
Through one of his latest endeavors, a 501c3 nonprofit called The Kitchen Community, Kimbal is creating a place where students can learn about the food they eat and how it is grown through the establishment of Learning Gardens.
If you’ve heard of SpaceX, Paypal, Tesla Motors, or Zip2, you’ve heard the Musk name before. Kimbal’s brother, Elon Musk, either founded or co-founded each company, and Kimbal continues to be involved by residing on the board of both Tesla Motors and SpaceX. In fact, he has invested or been a part of a number of technologies and innovations at their initial stages.
Kimbal’s talents and passions are versatile, however, extending from innovations in Silicon Valley to his own restaurant, The Kitchen Cafe, LLC. Through it, he works to inspire guests with his unique and eclectic dining experiences. Now, Kimbal also hopes to ignite the passion and understanding he has for agriculture with the next generation of palates through The Kitchen Community nonprofit.
“We have noticed that when students are involved in growing and nurturing vegetables, there is a visible increase in the likability of those vegetables for those students,” Kimbal says. “That's something I want to make sure every child has a chance to experience."
That is a dream well under way, according to Joan Haug, President of The Kitchen Community.
“Our goal is to launch 100 Learning Gardens over three years in each new market we enter,” Joan tells me. “If we establish one garden per qualified school, we have the potential to reach up to 60,000 students early in their education to form a connection to real food and making healthier choices.”
Joan, who grew up in a farming community and whose mother was a farmer, has always had a passion for community and the process of learning. After teaching in the Long Beach, California area for 13 years, she moved to Colorado with her husband and was immediately on board with the Kitchen Community after hearing about the importance to the future of farming it was looking to emphasize.
“I’ve been with the company about three years, and it’s changed a lot,” she said, explaining that the program was originally intended as an extension of the playground. It has since grown into a space where children can learn about the land and agriculture first-hand.
The impact of the program and the success of its growth has been exceptional and far-reaching for Kimbal and his team.
“The program has evolved to reflect more of a classroom environment,” Joan says, detailing that many of the gardens include seating and tables so teachers can discuss science or gardening in an outside space. “It’s really up to the school as far as uses, but we try to focus on gardening and science that matches the educational standards.”
The program has grown from its modest beginnings in Boulder, Colorado to encompass Learning Gardens throughout the greater Denver area, as well as Chicago, Memphis, and Los Angeles. In Chicago, The Kitchen Community has already achieved its 100 Learning Gardens goal, and is now working to accomplish the same in the remaining locations.
The impact of the program and the success of its growth has been exceptional and far-reaching for Kimbal and his team, inspiring a new project to introduce high school students to the business aspects of produce and food production.
“In Chicago, we are rolling out a new initiative entrepreneurship program that focuses on local sourcing with high schools and requires that they build a business plan over the course of a year,” Joan tells me, explaining that the organization has received initial funding for the pilot and will start with an apprenticeship of about 50 students this summer and four Chicago high schools next academic year.
Kimbal’s The Kitchen, along with other restaurants in the city, will be working with the students on understanding the supply chain, as well as pricing, supply and demand, and seasonality.
If the pilot is successful, Joan tells me that the team hopes to enlist five high schools per year to integrate the program.
The Kitchen Community helps primary schools by providing soil, gardening tools, seasonal seeds, and a Garden Educator for every 20 schools to help the students build their own Learning Garden. How schools are chosen is based on an application process, where one of the requisites is that candidates have 80 percent or more of its students on the free or reduced lunch program.
“While we fund the initial construction and launch of the Learning Gardens, we look to suppliers to sponsor some of the additional resources they will need to keep the program up and running,” Joan tells me.
The organization currently employs a landscape architect in each region to design and ensure a full installation within two to seven days, depending on terrain. The Kitchen Community provides soil, seeds, tools, and a hose for the garden. On the official Planting Day, students transfer soil and seeds, and learn about agriculture as they garden. All resources are obtained from local and regional vendors that either donate or provide a discount on items like high-quality soil, seeds, and seedling plants.
“But still, a lot of what The Kitchen Community provides comes out of pocket through the nonprofit or through fundraisers and sponsors,” Joan notes.
Breaking through the asphalt and allowing children to fall in love with the journey that produce provides is the purpose of these projects, Joan tells me. It not only allows them the chance to experience the range of fruits and vegetables available to them, but exposes them to new opportunities.
“If students aren't exposed to gardening at an early age, how will they know that these possibilities are available to them?” Joan asks.
That’s what The Kitchen Community comes down to–showing children the soil beneath the concrete and allowing them a personal space to experience the wonders of planting produce, ensuring the future of the industry. Because, as we all know, children are the future.