Sunday, August 16, 2015

Growing (Not Throwing!) Tomatoes at the Ball Park

No garden (yet!) at Albuquerque Isotopes Park
"For those that only associate baseball farms with farm teams and think of baseball food as consisting of two food groups (hot dogs and beer, or peanuts and cracker jacks), the ballpark might seem like a strange breeding ground for hyper-local, sustainable urban agriculture."  -from article in Climate Progress

If you listen to a baseball broadcast in Spanish, you might hear the announcer refer to the outfield as the yard (jardín). The word  jardín in Spanish can also mean the garden (as in vegetable garden). There are actually a few instances where vegetable gardens are part of the game of baseball.  Five Major League Baseball parks have devoted land for vegetable gardens: Coors Field (Colorado Rockies), Petco Park (San Diego Padres), Nationals Park (Washington Nationals), Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox) and AT&T Park (San Francisco Giants). The gardens are used to provide healthy ingredients for food at the ballpark and to provide a learning opportunity about gardening to young people. AT&T offers tours of its garden to youth.

Photo. Boston Red Sox
Two of the newest projects were launched this summer at Fenway Park in Boston and Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Fenway Farms is a 5,000-square foot rooftop farm along a previously unused stretch of roof behind Gate A in Fenway Park. "The impetus for the farm came from Linda Pizzuti Henry, wife of Red Sox co-owner John Henry," " Natasha Geiling wrote in ClimateProgress, a project of the online site ThinkProgress. " Linda had long been interested in figuring out a way to bring a focus on sustainability and healthy eating to the ballpark, and in the summer of 2014, Linda serendipitously crossed paths with Green City Growers, a Boston-based company that had been awarded a Social Impact Prize from Henry’s foundation for its work in creating urban garden and farms."

Photo: Washington Nationals
In the nation's capital, the Washington Nationals transplanted 180 plants of  tomatoes, zucchini, squash and herbs in a rooftop garden this summer. The produce will initially be used for food preparation for meals served in sky boxes and other premium areas.  "Based on the success of it, we’d like to roll it out to other areas of the ballpark as well," Jonathan Stahl, the executive director of ballpark operations and guest experience, told  WTOP  The Washington Post's DC Sports Blog also wrote about this garden earlier this summer.

Photo: City Farmer News
Community gardens evolve from other small projects.  In San Diego, Luke Yoder, former  director of landscape maintenance at Petco, decided to team up with executive chef Will Todd to incorporate fresh produce into the menu at Padres home games. "Yoder has since expanded that idea, creating one of the coolest features in any ballpark -- gardens extending through both the home and visiting bullpens," said an article in Cut 4.  Yoder's garden has featured 18 varieties of hot chile peppers from 18 countries.  “The pitching coaches and players like to play with them and pop one every once in a while to get them going," Yoder told Sports Illustrated.

Photo: San Francisco Giants
Futher up the coast in California, the still relatively new AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, features a  large area spanning 4,320 square feet, appropriately dubbed the Garden. "In addition to produce, the Garden houses a bar, tables, benches, a fire pit, and two concession stands that serve food prominently featuring Garden-grown ingredients. Produce-wise, the Garden grows everything you’d expect to find in a backyard garden patch (lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini) and a few things you wouldn’t (passion fruit, lemongrass, hops). When it opened, Giants right fielder Hunter Pence — a self-proclaimed health nut — was on site to christen the Garden," said Baseball Park Digest. There is also a great article about this garden in Modern Farmer.

When the garden first opened at AT&T in 2004, the Giants tweeted that they had the first  “organic, edible garden" in Major League Baseball. Not so, said the daily newspaper in San Diego.  "The San Diego Padres are about to enter their third season with one," said The San Diego Union-Tribune. (Not to be outdone in San Francisco, the football franchise, the 49ers included a rooftop garden at their still-new Levi's Stadium)

Photo: Colorado Rockies
In the Rockies, Colorado State University Institute for the Built Environment has developed a 700-acre site dubbed the GaRden. As is the case with all the other parks, the GaRden was created to provide fresh produce to the concessionaires who serve food to the public. "The GaRden is on display for the 500,000 fans who pass through Gate A of the stadium each season. For the second year running, it has provided on-site vendors with fresh, hyper-local produce that is grown sustainably and with organic principles," said the CSU magazine Source "The sustainably produced and managed vegetables, herbs, flowering ornamentals and plants."

There are 25 other baseball teams in Major League Baseball, which means the potential for another 25 ballpark gardens in cities like Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York, Kansas City, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. There is precedent in some of these cities: tomatoes, sunflowers and corn were grown in Shea Stadium, the former home of the New York Mets. The Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers at one time also grew produce in their bullpen areas, according to Smithsonian magazine. And the Baltimore Orioles grew tomatoes in foul territory in left field at their old Memorial Stadium home, said The Baltimore Sun in 2011.

Let's not limit ourselves to the Major League Teams.  Every team has at least five affiliates, which means opportunities for community gardens from Albuquerque and Nashville to Albany, N.Y.,  Durham, N.C., Spokane, Wa., Jupiter, Fla., Portland, Me., Dayton, Oh, Missoula, Mt., and dozens of other cities.

The gardens go beyond the promotion of healthy eating.  “These practices are an entryway to so many environmental issues, from water scarcity to agriculture and chemical impacts on our land,” Alice Henry told ClimateProgress.

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