Musk's nonprofit Big Green builds 100 learning gardens in Memphis schools

Big Green Memphis celebrated the installation of the 100th learning garden at Memphis-area schools, an initiative of entrepreneur Kimbal Musk that began in 2015. The nonprofit plans to donate 45 more school gardens over the next three years. 

Related: "National nonprofit to gift 100 community gardens to Memphis schools"

“It’s just a really great space that they can use obviously for gardening but also for a number of other subjects,” said Lisa Ellis, Big Green regional director. “Our mission is to bring real food to the kids of Memphis, and one way we’re doing that (and to help change habits) is exposure to real food, learning about where their food comes from and why it’s important.”

The Memphis office of Big Green broke ground on the first garden in early 2015. The 100th garden was built March 21 at Hamilton Middle School. 

“We place these learning gardens in schools to teach kids about real food through garden-based curriculum and a beautiful garden space that becomes an outdoor classroom.”

Big Green has worked with ASD, Jubilee and Shelby County Schools, providing gardens for free to the public schools, and there are a couple of private schools in the programs that have purchased their own garden.

“When we start to work with a school, we spend usually the first year helping them to master basic garden skills,” said Ellis. “And then usually in the second year if the school is willing we start to integrate our garden-based curriculum.”

The version of the curriculum is available for elementary, middle and high school levels. Students enjoy special planting and harvesting days year-round.

“I think what we care about the most is what the kids do with the food that they grow,” said Ellis. “It’s completely up to the school. All that’s important to us is that it stays in the community, and they eat it. That can be done in snack preparation or sending it home with the kids.”

Boulder, Colorado-based Big Green, formerly known as The Kitchen Community, was started by Kimbal Musk, and there are similar Big Green school-based garden programs in Detroit, Denver, Indianapolis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles. Big Green is related to The Kitchen, a chain of farm-to-table restaurants with two locations in Memphis. 

“Our goal is to give something to these communities that will bring them together,” said Ellis.

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Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.