The Buzz Feed - Best Food Security Efforts

Elon Musk’s brother is tackling food poverty by starting a gardening movement

MGM is “creating a culture shift around gardening and the value of growing your own food,” says Giustra. “We’re breaking down barriers by showing how simple it is to grow fruits, herbs, and vegetables.”

The initiative’s website features tips and resources from Modern Farmer, coupled with health and nutrition programming from Big Green.

The benefits of gardening

According to MGM, 9.3 million Americans started gardening in 2020 and up to $677 (€575) a year, on average, could be saved by growing your own fruit and vegetables.

In fact, over 30,000 lives and $5 billion (€4.2 billion) in medical spending could be saved each year in the US if people ate one more serving of fruit and vegetables a day, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 3.9 million deaths worldwide were attributable to people not consuming their 5-a-day in 2017.

Diets low in fruit and vegetables were accountable for around 172,000 and 118,000 deaths respectively, according to the Global Burden of Disease study 2017.

The WHO recommends adults consume at least 400g (i.e. five portions) of fruit and vegetables every day.

The pandemic has also put a harsh toll on mental health and a recent study from Princeton University found that vegetable gardening is a crucial way to improve mental and physical wellbeing.

“Planting a seed is an act of hope for a brighter tomorrow. We hope millions will join us to grow their own garden and give a garden to a family,” writes Musk.

During COVID-19 times, food poverty was particularly an issue for those who were already isolated, self-isolating because of infection, disabled, and experiencing poverty.

"This was a huge problem almost everywhere on the continent," according to Graciela Malgesini, EU and Advocacy Officer at the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN).

Italy, for example, saw a surge of 50 per cent in people using food banks during the first six months of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Food Insecurity Experience Scale, which measures individuals and households access to food, food insecurity rates are as low as 3.1 per cent in some European countries and more than 20 per cent in others across the continent.

Million Garden Movement

*Tell me Mr. Musk didn't scope out Harrison Ford to hold this seed? ;)
Harrison Ford Gardener

Best Food Security Efforts

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1 Million Gardens
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Kimbal Musk’s Quest to Start One Million Gardens

The tech veteran and restaurateur (and brother of Elon) has been preaching the ‘real food’ gospel for years — and his newest project may be his most ambitious yet


Musk, 48, eventually made a full recovery, but it involved spending two months on his back, which gave him plenty of time to think about the intersections of food, tech, and philanthropy. Since then, he has launched an initiative to put “learning gardens” in public schools across America (now at 632 schools and counting); courted Generation Z into the farming profession by converting shipping containers into high-tech, data-driven, year-round farms; spoken out vociferously against unethical farming practices and vociferously for the beauty and community of slow food; and this year, on the first day of spring, is kicking off a new campaign with Modern Farmer’s Frank Giustra to create one million at-home gardens in the coming year.

Aimed at reaching low-income families, the Million Gardens Movement was inspired by the pandemic, as both a desire to feel more connected to nature and food insecurity have been at the forefront of so many people’s lives. “We were getting a lot of inquiries about gardening from people that had never gardened before,” says Giustra. “People were looking to garden for a bunch of reasons: to supplement their budget, because there was a lot of financial hardship, to help grow food for other people, or just to cure the boredom that came with the lockdown. To keep people sane, literally keep people sane, they turned to gardening.”

The program offers free garden kits that can be grown indoors or outdoors, and will be distributed through schools that Musk’s non-profit, Big Green, has already partnered with. It also offers free curriculum on how to get the garden growing and fresh seeds and materials for the changing growing seasons. “I grew up in the projects when I was young, in what we now call food deserts,” says EVE, one of the many celebrities who have teamed up with the organization to encourage people to pick up a free garden or to donate one. “What I love about this is that it’s not intimidating. Anyone can do this, no matter where you come from, no matter where you live. We are all able to grow something.”


You and Hugo eventually started a restaurant [The Kitchen] that practiced the farm-to-table thing before it was even really a term. Why was it so important to you to have local suppliers and organic methods? At that point, was it mainly about flavor or was there a bigger ethic behind it?
For sure flavor was the driver. But I think that the thing that I resonated with more was the sense of this concept of community through food. You know, when I was feeding the firefighters, it was all about community. The fishermen would come and give us their fish, so we got the best fish you can imagine. The cooks were all volunteers. We were going through this really tough time. So for me, the community through food was what I loved about it.

[At The Kitchen], we literally had a basic rule to farmers saying we’ll buy whatever you grow. We said that if you can deliver by 4 p.m., then we will get it on the menu that evening.

So instead of that sort of eyesore that was in the backyard, we said, “These have to be right next to the classroom, right next to the playground. You’re not allowed to build a fence around it. And if you don’t want to do that, great, we’ll just find another school. But these are the rules for learning garden.” And because we were doing 100 at a time, the districts would work with us, including maintenance and installation and curriculum and teacher training. Pre-COVID we were teaching almost 350,000 kids every school day.

"Pre-COVID we were teaching almost 350,000 kids every school day."

And are there measurable effects?
Absolutely. Studies show that fifth grade in particular is the most effective grade. If you teach science in fifth grade to a kid, the exact same lesson in the garden versus in the classroom, you will get a 15-point increase on a 100-point score on their test scores.

But I’ve kind of said, “You know, we just need young farmers.” Real food doesn’t require it to be organic. If it’s a zucchini that happens to be grown conventionally, I’m still in favor of that.

It’s still a zucchini.
Right. That being said, organic is better. Farmers make more money on it. But it’s really about young farmers getting them into the business.

If you don’t mind, let me take one minute to just talk about [another initiative called] Square Roots. So there was a sort of a turning point in indoor farming technology around 2014, where you could really do quality food. Indoor farming’s been around forever, but the quality was really terrible. It would taste like water. No real flavor. But the technology of lighting really changed in 2014, and so by 2016 we said, “You know, there is a way here.” And what got me going was I really wanted to create this generation of young farmers. I love technology and I love food. And I think that if we bring the two together, we will get young people interested in farming again. And so we started out Square Roots as really a training entity.

You’ve referred to food as being the new Internet. Do you still feel that way?
Oh, my god. Absolutely. It’s showing itself. Food is different to social media and so forth. It takes a long time to build up supply chains, get consistent growing. It’s not as fast moving, but it is a much bigger business. Software is a $400 billion business. Food is an $18 trillion business. So the opportunity is much, much bigger in food than it is in software.

Say you get to a million gardens, are there any projections on what the environmental impact of that might be?
What we would be doing with these little green gardens is inspiring people to garden and empowering them to garden. The average garden generates about $600 to $700 worth of food a year. So it provides actual food to your family. You’re having a lower carbon footprint because you’re not shipping food around. It’s great for mental health. Think about Covid and how crazy we all are. This gets you out there. It connects you to your kids. Gardening is such a beautiful thing to do for yourself, for the community, for the environment.

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