Kimbal Musk, Elon Musk's brother, on mission to revolutionize how Americans eat

On a crisp Denver morning, middle school students were discovering how to develop a green thumb with the help of Kimbal Musk, the brother of Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In the 90s, he helped his older brother launch Zip2 and the company that would become PayPal. These days, the entrepreneur is on an entirely different mission.  

"Real food is the new internet means that young entrepreneurs getting into food today, where they're bringing real food that just taste much better. That's food that you trust to nourish your body, trust to nourish the farmer and trust to nourish the planet is the opportunity of our generation," Musk told CBS News' Barry Petersen. 

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Kimbal Musk

CBS News

Musk still works with his brother's ventures Tesla and SpaceX. But his personal venture has become a life's work: replacing high-calorie foods with healthier ones. Musk always had an interest in cooking, attending culinary school after making it big in tech. But in 2001, he found purpose in tragedy.

"I graduated from cooking school just before 9/11. I woke up to the sounds of the planes hitting the building. I lived very close to the World Trade Centers and looked out the window, saw the towers fall, escaped that area was really intense and one of the hardest things I'd ever been through. But in that process I got invited to volunteer to cook for the firefighters," Musk said. "It taught me the power of community, taught me how food brings communities together, how real food can revitalize people even in the most traumatic circumstances."

Alongside his business partner, Hugo Matheson, Musk opened his first restaurant, The Kitchen, in 2004. After rave reviews, The Kitchen expanded to the Kitchen Restaurant Group, serving up high-end dining at Hedge Row and affordable farm-to-table dishes at Next Door.

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Kimbal Musk's startup Square Roots turns shipping containers into vertical urban farms

CBS News

"Local to us primarily means knowing your farmer and trusting where your food comes from. And for us that Next Door that means a farmer gets to know us directly. So the drive here we get to know them we visit their farm," he said.
Musk wants to make sure that no matter where you live, a farmer is never too far away. He's trying to make that a reality with his Brooklyn startup Square Roots, which turns shipping containers into vertical urban farms that fit two acres of outdoor growing space into 320 square feet.
 
With the amount of American farmers declining steadily, Musk isn't just investing in the technology to move farming into the future, but in future farmers themselves. In 2011, Musk co-founded his non-profit Big Green, bringing edible and educational nourishment to schools that need it most. 

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Kimbal Musk with some of the students involved in his Big

CBS News


"The idea behind the learning gardens is to connect kids to real food. ... They'll take that back to their home. They may get their parents to buy more nutritious food at the grocery stores but they'll make better decisions for the rest of their lives around real food. We're not here to tell them what to do but we want them to know what real food is," Musk said.
 
Big Green is currently serving 460,000 students in seven states and the hope is to reach 1 million children by the year 2020.
 
"I would say at times as much as 90 percent of the kids have never put their hand in soil, have never pulled a carrot out of the ground, have never grabbed a cherry tomato off its vine," he said. "And when they do do that and they try it for the first time it's like a magic trick for them. ... Their senses come alive to understand what real food can taste like."
 
For kids like eighth grader Paige Davis, Musk is planting the seeds of passion for real food.
 
"It just makes me happy to think that someone enjoyed planting that tomato and then I'm eating, like, their happiness," Davis said.  
 
A whole new meaning to an old truism: You can be what you eat.