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OPTIMIST ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Home Runs and Horticulture: Urban Gardens Hit the Big Leagues

SUMMARY:

Think Global, Eat Local Part II

By Sadie Wilbur, Editorial Intern, August 2018

Gardening has a power that is political and even democratic. And it is a political power that can be applied constantly, whereas one can only vote or demonstrate occasionally.—Wendell Berry
Just behind centerfield wall of AT&T Park, one of the most beautiful baseball stadiums in the United States is a hopeful glimpse into what could be the future signature food of baseball. And it's not the plethora of greasy favorites like polish dogs, peanuts or salted, jumbo pretzels.

Instead, a 4,320-square-foot, edible garden continues the green of the outfield. The Garden at AT&T Park is extensive, offering over 90 varieties of seasonal fruits, vegetables, and herbs. This trend of creating gardens on ball-park property began in 2012 at the San Diego Padres Petco Park, and might be most elaborated at “Fenway Farms” in the Boston Red Sox stadium, but the Garden at AT&T Park is one of the most accessible and creative uses of centerfield we’ve seen.

On game days, anyone with a ticket can engage directly with a working garden that produces a diverse edible bounty. Fans have the opportunity to dine along communal tables surrounded by crops of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Most of these communal tables have a bed of herbs that allow fans to pick and use for garnish.

In this week’s Optimist View, Part II of the Think Global, Eat Local series, we turn the spotlight on this urban garden inspiring communities to grow their own food and see the untapped potential in the unused spaces all around them. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Hannah Schmunk, the Manager of Food Education for Children at Bon Appetit Management Company, the Giants’ award-winning food service partner.

Stepping Up to the Plate

Environmental stewardship is a top priority for the Giants, and the Garden presents an excellent opportunity to further distinguish their acclaimed ballpark while also blazing a trail for sustainability in sports. “Having an edible garden in a ballpark demonstrates that it’s possible to grow food anywhere,” says Hannah. “We hope that when visitors see our garden flourishing in such a unique and unexpected space, they might feel inspired to start one of their own.”

 

AT&T Park

Blueberries, strawberries, avocados, tomatoes, peppers, squash, lettuces, lemons, kale and more are picked fresh and prepared only a few paces from where they grew. Once prepared, the produce is served in the healthy menu offerings of Bon Appetit’s two bistros located inside the garden, the Hearth Table, and Garden Table.

It is a small space to work with but they maximize that space by growing vertically with innovative aeroponic towers. Each tower can grow up to 44 plants on a tiny footprint. Water recirculates constantly through the aeroponic towers, which use up to 95% less water than conventional farming by recycling 100% of the growing solution. Growing a diversity of plants in each of the raised beds is another way Bon Appetit maximizes the garden space. The raised beds are on a timed drip irrigation system, and only the exact amount of water needed for each plant is used. All gardening methods are organic and water conservation is a top priority.

 

AT&T Park

The garden is small for your typical farm, but farms come in all shapes and sizes and this garden provides a living example of what urban agriculture can look like. Gardens can flourish in unexpected places and the Garden at AT&T Park presents an exciting opportunity to show the larger community the many roles that a garden can have in an urban environment.

Digging Deeper: Building Community Around Food

“The Garden is a special space because it brings people together around something that we all have a connection to, and that’s food,” says Schmunk. Anyone with a ticket is welcome in this beautiful garden from two hours before a game to the game’s end. Premium seats, club seats, or nose-bleed seats, it doesn’t matter how much you paid for a ticket, everyone has equal access. As fans connect with each other, they also experience the possibilities of a garden; and many will walk away inspired to start one for themselves, or at least be impressed by the profound effect a garden can have on an unsuspecting baseball fan.

The Giants routinely top 40,000 fans per game, so the garden sees a lot of action. Thousands of people get the opportunity to see the food that they’re accustomed to eating in plant form, growing in an urban environment. Our modern food system lacks transparency and as a result, many of us feel disconnected from the story of our food. “It is so rewarding to see the awe and excitement of people of all ages and backgrounds as they discover what their food looks like at the source and realize the story of their food,” shares Hannah. When we spend time in a garden or farm, we get to experience an important and powerful connection with the natural world.

Planting the Seeds of Prosperity

Beyond providing a one-of-a-kind food experience within AT&T Park, the Garden serves as a living, learning classroom that encourages children to live healthier, more active lives. When I spoke to Hannah, she had just finished up a culinary class that taught students about healthy, sustainable options for breakfast. They made zucchini muffins, strawberry smoothies, and overnight oats (my favorite!).

 

Fenway Park

All year long, students from local schools, community groups, homeless shelters, and summer camps are invited to visit the garden and participate in Bon Appetite’s Culinary Education Program. This experience is so special because, “the Giants are heroes for many of these kids who grew up in the Bay Area, and visiting the stadium is a highlight of their childhood,” Hannah explains. Through hands-on activities, children learn about the importance of healthy eating, they see first-hand where food comes from and how it grows, and they learn how to harvest and prepare that food as a meal.

“For a long time, I’ve been wanting to help connect children and our larger community directly to the origins of their food and to inspire them to make healthy and responsible food choices,” says Fedele Bauccio, CEO and co-founder of Bon Appétit Management Company. “This particular project has been a dream of mine and I am so proud to see it finally blooming.”

Since everybody eats, it seems like a good idea that everyone has at least a basic understanding of where food comes from and how it is grown. By increasing this awareness and delivering healthy and nutritious produce, the Bon Appetit is positively impacting the community and the larger environment.

Cultivating Change

Humans are a problem-solving species. We identify challenges—How do we get food? How do we make the shelter? How do we stay healthy?—and then we find creative ways to solve those problems.

Cities around the world face a host of challenges as they attempt to meet the increasing demands of urbanization. But, right now, we have the opportunity to change course and recognize the tremendous potential of the city as a solution to many of these problems. Look around the world, and you will find that change is underway.

As Wendell Berry noted, “eating is an agricultural act.” It is also a political one—an act of democracy that can change our food system. Urban farms, community gardens, and farm-to-table restaurants are beginning to shine brighter and brighter as beacons of hope and transparency.

Urban landscapes are being transformed based on a vision of cities that are resilient, sustainable, and livable. We all play an equally important part in our food system and change is possible when we make a collective effort.

The future is full of possibility. And, it’s a future we’re excited to live in.

I recently started a backyard vegetable garden and if you’re interested in starting an urban garden of your own, there are many free guides available on the internet. My personal favorite is a guide from the City of Seattle. The City of Seattle encourages gardening at home, in community gardens, and on urban farms, and their guide Growing Food in the City (pdf) explains how to:

  • Pick the best location for gardening
  • Prepare garden soil with compost for planting
  • Learn about when and how to plant
  • Plant for a longer, bigger harvest
  • Garden year-round
  • Store and share your harvest, and more!

In 2009, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey nominated T. Colin Campbell as one of the Top 25 Intelligent Optimists. Together with his son, Nelson Campbell – director of the documentary PlantPure Nation – the Campbells are working to promote a national health movement centered on a plant-based diet. Nelson says, “We believe that millions of people working together can fix a problem that industry and government largely caused. And we believe this may show a new way forward for how we can solve other of our social problems.” T. Colin Campbell and Optimist Daily Editor-in-chief Jurriaan Kamp discussed the importance of plant-based diets, living compassionately, and reconnecting with the source of your food. Click here to watch the full webinar.

If you have not read Part I here it is: Think Global, Eat Local Part I

More articles like this:
Taking Root in the City
Inspiration: A Year Without Processed Food
Want Better Mental and Physical Health? Step Outside
City Life
Farming for the Future
Do It Yourself Salsa Verde

This is Part II of Think Global, Eat Local, a series about urban agriculture as a nature-based solution for cities

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  • 11/20/2018

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