Public Works: Growing Fresh Food at the Ballpark
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Public Works: Growing Fresh Food at the Ballpark

The San Francisco Giants have built an urban farm in their stadium to teach kids about nutrition and provide fans with healthy snacks.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Photo courtesy of Blasen Landscape Architecture.

Baseball, like all sports, constantly evolves. Franchises move to new cities. Player salaries get bigger. Team fortunes rise and fall. One thing, though, has consistently remained square and true: baseball has always embraced delicious, tantalizing, deplorably unhealthy ballpark food.

This season, the San Francisco Giants are changing that—sort of. The team that brought you Willie Mays, Gaylord Perry, and Brian Wilson’s fearsome beard has become the first in professional North American sports to install an urban vegetable farm at its stadium.

Located behind the centrefield wall of AT&T Park, “the Garden” uses vertical aeroponic towers (a technique for raising plants without using soil) to grow lettuce, cucumbers, chives, tomatoes, avocados, leeks, chard, strawberries, blueberries, lemons, limes, and kale, all of which are served at the stadium’s concession stands. The space, over 1,300 square metres in size, also houses a sod farm, which grows replacement turf for the playing field and gives spectators a place to picnic. And fans are invited to take in home games from the Garden’s bar, dining tables, and bench seats.

Rendering courtesy of Blasen Landscape Architecture.

The Giants aren’t replacing the hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack—just supplementing them with garden-fresh menu options like bruschetta, herb-marinated olives, roasted nuts, Mason jar salads, fresh-fruit smoothies, vegetable sandwiches, and flatbreads.

Perhaps most importantly, they are using the Garden to teach local kids about healthy eating. The ballclub is working with San Francisco–area chefs, farmers, and community organizations to host youth-targeted classes on sustainability, urban gardening, and preparing decent meals.

But wait—healthy eating? Aeroponics? Mason jars? Sounds kind of unlikely for a sports organization.

Maybe not: pro athletes are some of the most obsessive nutrition advocates around. Considering that every calorie they consume is carefully monitored by team staff, bringing the healthy foods closer to home only makes sense. Giants right fielder and fan favourite Hunter Pence has already started eating kale salads made from the Garden’s produce, and his teammates are following suit.

Like the Giants, the Toronto Blue Jays are active in providing food education to youngsters. As part of the Jays in the Classroom initiative, players such as Kevin Pillar and Anthony Gose have been making school visits to talk about healthy living and handing out nutrition guides along with team swag. How great would it be to see these lessons happen in a lush garden, under the Rogers Centre’s open dome?