A kale Caesar wrap at a ballpark? It’s a far cry from the nachos and hotdogs most crave as they gear up for the seventh-inning stretch, but who says baseball’s culinary counterpart has to come in the form of junk food?
On the opening day of the 2015 baseball season, Boston-based urban farming company Green City Growers—in conjunction with Recover Green Roofs—installed and launched Fenway Farms, a 5,000-square-foot plot positioned on the roof of the front office on the third base side of Fenway Park. The team behind the project set out to grow 4,000 pounds of produce last season and surpassed that number by 600 pounds, providing fresh food to the park’s EMC Club Restaurant, the press kitchen, select concession stands, and even employees. Here, we spoke with Green City Growers founder and CEO Jessie Banhazl about how they’re helping turn one of America’s most beloved ballparks into one of the greenest.
gb&d: How did Fenway Farms come about? And how did the collaborative aspect regarding your company and Recover Green Roofs play into this process of getting the project off the ground?
Banhazl: We participated in MassChallenge, which is a startup accelerator program, back in 2013, and were awarded the John W. Henry Family Foundation prize for social impact, which is how we were introduced to Linda Pizzuti Henry. Simultaneously, Fenway was planning to install a traditionally green roof, and had hired Recover to do the install. In speaking with Linda, we pitched the idea of Fenway installing a rooftop garden, which she was really excited by! The fact that we had worked with Recover Green Roofs on both the rooftop farm at Whole Foods Lynnfield and at ester restaurant in Dorchester was fortuitous, and made the entire process of converting over from a traditional green roof into a rooftop farm really seamless. Recover did the actual installation of the green roof membrane layers, the crates, the soil, and the irrigation system, and Green City Growers maintains the farm.
gb&d: Can you elaborate on the milk crate container growing system and how that works?
Banhazl: The milk crate growing system is quite elegant in its simplicity. There are 1,750 1’x1’x1 milk crates, each which are lined with a felt liner and filled with a custom soil mix from the Vermont Compost Company. The system also has a state of the art Weathermark SmartLink drip irrigation system, which can be monitored remotely (via a smartphone) and adjusts based on soil moisture level/weather. The whole growing system is incredibly organized and neat, which has been ideal for horticultural management.
gb&d: It’s interesting to read about arugula, broccoli, chives, eggplant, collards, etc. being grown for use at a baseball stadium. A bit far off from the typical nachos and hot dogs offered at most parks. Are these crops used at the general concession stands or somewhere a bit fancier within the ballpark?
Banhazl: The majority of the produce is used in the EMC Club Restaurant, which is the park’s high-end restaurant. We have been able to offset over 20% of the restaurant’s produce needs at the peak of the growing season. However, because the farm has been so prolific, the produce has been used in almost every kitchen in the park—notably, the press kitchen uses Fenway Farms produce, and there is a ground-level concessions stand that sells a kale Caesar wrap and a kale salad. The park also sent home some shares of produce to employees, like a CSA, which was a great unintended perk of the farm.
gb&d: Do you predict more sports stadiums/arenas will turn toward home-grown produce to expand their offerings in the future?
Banhazl: While healthier options probably won’t ever replace hot dogs or chicken fingers as the go-to concessions at ballparks, there is a real desire for healthy options and fresh produce among many fans. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more in-park gardens after the amount of press that Fenway Farms received, or at the very least, I anticipate that more parks will offer healthier options to typical fare.
gb&d: On that note, is this the only such roof at a baseball stadium that you’re aware of?
Banhazl: It is not the only garden at a baseball stadium, but it is the largest! In addition to Fenway Farms, there is Giants Garden at AT&T Park where the San Francisco Giants play, and Coors Field is home to the Colorado Rockies, and “The GaRden.”
gb&d: You estimated that more than 4,000 pounds of produce would be harvested this year during the spring, summer, and fall. Now that we’re in October, how did that estimation shake out in reality? Where does the excess produce go?
Banhazl: We passed the 4,000 pound mark in the first week of September! As of the end of October, we’ve grown over 4,600 pounds of produce. As I mentioned, the produce was used in-park at almost every kitchen. The EMC Club hosts events, which are often catered, throughout the off-season, so while the Red Sox season is long over, the farm’s produce is still being put to use.
gb&d: Why do you feel this is an important addition to Fenway? What are the environmental benefits?
Banhazl: This project serves to engage Red Sox Nation in the value of eating fresh food. Eating vegetables, especially those grown organically and locally, combats obesity and other common health issues. Fenway Farms represents the Red Sox’s commitment to health and wellness for both children and adults. Environmentally, eating locally grown produce cuts costs and harmful emissions from long-distance transportation. Additionally, green roofs act as an insulator, helping to reduce heating and cooling costs for the park’s offices below.