The Urban Farming Trend That’s Taking Over Major League Baseball – BY NATASHA GEILING JUL 15, 2015 8:00AM UPDATED: JUL 15, 2015 3:56PM


In May of 2001, Boston Red Sox coach John Cumberland planted beefsteak tomato plants in the team’s bullpen — 18 of them, to represent the last time that the team had won the World Series in 1918.

“I’m trying to change the karma,” Cumberland, the bullpen coach, told the Boston Herald. “There’s been bad soil here. Hopefully now it’s good soil.”

Cumberland’s tomato plants no longer grace Fenway’s bullpen (though the team finally got their World Series win in 2004), but in the fifteen years since beefsteak tomatoes took root in America’s oldest ballpark, the idea of growing food in a baseball stadium has transitioned from a whimsical attempt at disrupting bad karma to a growing trend embraced by teams across the country. Today, five major league teams have installed urban farms and gardens within their baseball stadiums — and those involved with the projects say that the fans are eating it up.

“The reaction is incredibly positive,” Jessie Banhazl, founder Green City Growers, told ThinkProgress. “People are really excited to see this particular area of the park that was not being used for anything all of the sudden being a thriving farm.”

At the beginning of the 2015 season, Fenway opened a 5,000-square foot rooftop farm along a previously unused stretch of roof behind Gate A, dubbing the area “Fenway Farms.” The impetus for the farm came from Linda Pizzuti Henry, wife of Red Sox co-owner John Henry. 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.

Banhazl and her colleagues at Green City Growers pitched Linda their idea of creating an urban farm within the walls of Fenway Park. To their surprise, the park had already been considering the idea, looking for ways to turn the vacant space of roof behind Gate A into either a green roof or a garden.

“We were very lucky to have been picked to be the Red Sox’s other farm team,” Banhazl said with a laugh.

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. But sports fans, it turns out, are beginning to think more about the environmental footprint of their sports experience. According to a poll conducted by Green Sports Alliance, a Portland-based arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council that helps sports teams adopt best environmental practices, 81 percent of sports fans express concern about the environment. The poll also found that 58 percent expect their favorite team to be leaders when it comes to environmental action. There are a lot of ways a sports team can integrate environmental issues into their day-to-day operations, from building LEED-certified stadiums to developing a robust recycling program. But few measures offer such an advantageous blend of fan interaction, consumer education, and marketplace profit like revamping the stadium’s food scene.

“Sports brings people together like no other institution,” Alice Henly, a resource specialist with Green Sports Alliance, told ThinkProgress. “It is a tremendous role model at the center of American culture, but also this powerful force in the marketplace. The overlap of more sustainable food options and the evolution of consumer interest is a tremendous business opportunity for the sports industry.”

AT&T Park's center field garden, with fans. AT&T Park’s center field garden, with fans.

CREDIT: Bon Appétit Management Company

Growing vegetables in a ballpark isn’t necessarily a new trend. Before Cumberland tried to “reverse the curse” with some beefsteaks at Fenway, the Mets, the Braves, and the Tigers all reportedly grew some kind of greenery in their bullpens, whether it be tomatoes, corn, or sunflowers.

But integrating the gardens with an eye toward improving a park’s sustainability is a relatively recent movement. There’s a bit of debate about which team created the first edible Major League garden, but the title is most often given to Petco Park — home of the San Diego Padres. In the spring of 2011, Luke Yoder, the park’s director of field operations, planted an assortment of hot peppers and tomatoes. Today, Yoder grows a mix of produce depending on the season — from avocados to blueberries — and the goods are incorporated into a few food items sold around the ballpark, appearing in salsas, relishes, and more.

A season later, two more baseball parks opened their own gardens. The first was at Coors Field in Denver, where Colorado State University teamed up with the Rockies to create the GaRden, a network of raised beds filled with organic soil and watered from drip lines made from recycled material. At 600 square feet, it was, for a time, the largest on-site garden in baseball.

But not for long. In July of 2013, during a White House visit to celebrate their 2012 World Series Victory, the San Francisco Giants announced their plans to turn the centerfield bleachers in AT&T Park into the largest on-site edible garden at a major sports venue.

“With rows of kale and strawberries and eggplant, the Giants are going to help encourage local youth to eat healthy — even at the ballpark,” President Obama said during the announcement.

Shana Daum, vice president of public affairs and community relations with the Giants, says that from the start, the thing that set the Garden at AT&T Park apart from other ballpark gardens was its scope — both its size, and its integration into the overall game experience.

“Other parks before us, it was more of a garden that you passed by and could walk by, but it wasn’t interactive,” Daum told ThinkProgress. “We thought that we could bring community groups of children here to learn about how you can live in the middle of the city and you can grow a garden.”

AT&T worked with Blasen Landscape Architecture and EDG Architects to re-imagine the center field bleachers into an edenic escape for baseball fans. Together, they built raised beds and aeroponic growing towers, and fertilizing the soil with leftover coffee grounds from Peet’s Coffee. When it was initially envisioned, the garden was to span 3,000 square feet and be totally organic, replete with kale and strawberries that would eventually find their way into the stadium’s concessions.

When it opened in June of 2014, the space — dubbed the Garden at AT&T Park — covered 4,320 square feet. 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, Giant’s right fielder Hunter Pence — a self-proclaimed health nut — was on site to christen the Garden.

“If you want to inspire kids to eat healthy,” Pence said, “you have got to eat healthy yourself.”

And so the Garden at AT&T Park was the largest edible garden at a baseball stadium, until the next baseball season, when all 5,000 square feet of Fenway Farms took root in the Boston landmark. Because Fenway is the oldest baseball stadium in the country, and included in the National Register of Historic Places, it took especially careful planning to create Fenway Farms. The Red Sox consulted with architects and structural engineers to make sure that the chosen section of roof support the weight of a farm, worked with a company that specializes in building green structures on rooftops, and brought in Green City Growers to plant, maintain, and harvest the crops.

All told, the Red Sox had to get approval from five different government agencies at the city, state, and federal level before the farm could become a reality. The Red Sox also installed a smart irrigation system for the garden, which senses weather and moisture in the air and tailors the irrigation to current conditions. Combined with a milk-crate planting system, that Banhazl describes as “totally modular,” the farm is expected to produce some 4,000 pounds of food a year. An added advantage is the farm removes some rainwater that falls on the stadium’s roof, meaning less water flows into the drainage system — a benefit of green roofs in general.

But even with thousands of square feet dedicated to on-site food production, these urban farms are only able to produce a small fraction of the food served at the stadiums. In San Francisco, the produce from the garden is used exclusively at the two concession stands located next to the growing area. At Fenway, the produce from the farm is used only in the EMC Club Dining area, the park’s smallest volume food operation. In the grand scheme of all the food that comes in and out of a ballpark, creating produce for a handful of operations, especially those only available to a select number of ticket holders, can come off as trivial at best and elitist at worst.

Which is partly why these baseball gardens aren’t simply interested in feeding their fans — they’re also trying to educate them.

Visiting children get a lesson in sustainable agriculture at AT&T Park.Visiting children get a lesson in sustainable agriculture at AT&T Park.

CREDIT: San Francisco Giants

A month into the Garden at AT&T Park’s existence, the Giants decided to create a position dedicated to bringing the garden to the fans — a sort of liaison between baseball and farming. To Hannah Schmunk, who had been working for the park’s food service partner Bon Appetit in another role, it sounded like a perfect opportunity.

“I heard about the Garden at AT&T Park about a month after it opened, and I thought it was the coolest thing that I’d heard in a long time,” she told ThinkProgress. In September, Schmunk stepped into the role of community development manager, charged with designing the way the space is used on game days, developing tour programs for the space, and running the Garden’s kids program.

The Garden hosts tours of children almost weekly, with 20 to 25 kids involved in each field trip. When the kids first arrive at the Garden, Schmunk gives them an activity that allows them to explore the space — a scavenger hunt, some leisurely harvesting, or planting. Then, they move into cooking activities that incorporate taking the produce from the garden and turning it into a healthy meal. To the children, who Schmunk notes view many Giants players as real-life heroes, learning about healthy eating and agriculture in the same space that their favorite players play makes for an instant connection.

“What I’ve seen in our kids programs that has been so magical is really how the garden comes alive for the kids,” Schmunk said. “They haven’t spent much time in gardens or farms, and they’ve grown up in the inner city. To watch how much joy it brings to harvest a carrot and they can’t believe their eyes that it would come from under the soil … has been truly magical.”

But it’s not just the youngest fans that are subconsciously exposed to the benefits of sustainable food when they come to the Garden.

“I think the biggest impact … that we have is that the ballpark seats 41,500 people on a given night, and this is a garden that is highly visible,” Schmunk said. “We’ve become so disconnected from our food, and the story behind it, and where it comes from. Because our garden is public and open to anyone that comes to a Giants game … we’re able to reconnect and reestablish the connection between people and their food.”

Fenway has seen similar interest from fans since the debut of their farm. The ballpark has always been a popular location, with locals and tourists alike, and hosts tours on a nearly 365-day-a-year basis; due to demand, the farm was added to the stadium tour this year.

“There has been a lot of great interest, and most importantly for us there has been a lot of great interest from students and young people,” Chris Knight, manager of facilities services and planning for the Red Sox, told ThinkProgress.

This season, the Red Sox have hosted a few different school groups, but like San Francisco, they’re hoping to implement a full community program, complete with education outreach. But Banhazl hopes that the movement toward sustainable food and education programs in ballparks doesn’t stop at Fenway.

“All it takes is a little bit of space and a commitment from the park,” Banhzal said. “I don’t see why this couldn’t be done at every ballpark around the country.”

Other ballparks already appear to be taking a cue from Petco, Coors, AT&T, and Fenway — in early June, the Washington Nationals announced that they were converting a portion of their D.C. park into a rooftop garden that would house 180 plants, from zucchinis to herbs. The garden will use compost made of food waste from the park, and the vegetables and herbs will be incorporated into food served in club-level concessions throughout the park. The team told WTOP Washington that, if all goes well, they hope to expand the garden to other parts of the stadium.

To Alice Henly, the five baseball parks that currently boast onsite gardens are just the first wave in an inevitable trend towards an increased emphasis on sustainability at sports venues.

“These practices are an entryway to so many environmental issues, from water scarcity to agriculture and chemical impacts on our land,” she said.

Gardens are a particularly hot trend, she notes, because they enhance the visitor experience — allowing fans to sit among flowers and bumblebees while they enjoy their game — but they also provide an important bridge between two worlds that might, at first glance, seem unrelated.

“It really connects these teams with their communities, and reinforces their commitment to these hugely important issues,” Henly said. “The food that is served at venues, to millions of fans, is a way for iconic sports teams to teach their communities about where their food is coming from, and why that’s important for the health or their communities, each individual fan, and the health of our agricultural system as a whole.”

Meet One Of The First Home Care Workers In The Country To Win A $15 Minimum Wage – BY BRYCE COVERT POSTED ON JUNE 29, 2015 AT 4:03 PM



Kindalay Cummings-Akers has been working as a personal care attendant, caring for the elderly and disabled in their homes, for nearly a decade. But she will soon be making $15 an hour for the first time ever after she and her union, 1199SEIU, reached an agreement with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) at the end of last week.

“I’m so excited, I am,” she told ThinkProgress with joy filling her voice. “I’m happy that we have opened the door. It’s a big thing.”

Home care workers have long been poorly paid, thanks in part to the fact that they are excluded from federal minimum wage and overtime requirements. They make just $9.61 on average, while a quarter live in poverty and three in five rely on public benefits.

Cummings-Akers’s wages and those of her fellow attendants had stayed stuck at $10.84 an hour for years before a contract last year brought them up to $13.38. But after she and other home care workers joined up with the Fight for $15 movement, those in her union have become the first home care workers in the country to win such a wage level.

Despite the low pay, home care aides do tough work. For her client and his wife, who has dementia, Cummings-Akers gives them showers, lifts them and their wheelchairs, gives them medication, makes them meals, takes them to doctor’s appointments and talks with the doctors, does the grocery shopping, cleans their clothes, and even helps care for their cat. “It’s a lot of work, it truly is a lot of work,” she said. “When you do work like this, you have to be a very strong person.”


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In Selma, GOP Lawmakers Explain Why They Don’t Support John Lewis’ Bill To Restore Voting Rights Act – by Alice Ollstein Posted on March 8, 2015 at 9:03 am

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) says hasn’t read the bill to restore the Voting Rights Act. CREDIT: ALICE OLLSTEIN

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) says hasn’t read the bill to restore the Voting Rights Act.

SELMA, ALABAMA — Dozens of members of Congress, and many more Republicans than ever before, came to Selma this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the infamous attack on voting rights protesters known as Bloody Sunday.

Some lawmakers told ThinkProgress the event highlighted the urgency of passing a currently languishing bill that would restore the full powers of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Others showed little interest in doing so.

On his way to the commemoration ceremony, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said it’s been “powerful” to hear stories from Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who helped lead the Selma march 50 years ago and was severely beaten by police. But when ThinkProgress asked if he supports Lewis’ voting rights bill, he replied, “I haven’t looked at it. Is there a Senate version?”

A Senate version was introduced several weeks ago, and currently has zero Republican sponsors.

Portman, who has advocated for cuts to Ohio’s early voting period and voted against the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, added before walking away: “This day is about more than just tweaks to the Voting Rights Act. This is about ensuring equal justice and learning from the lessons of the past.”

This year’s congressional delegation also included Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) — a vocal supporter of voter ID laws in South Carolina — and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), who has tried to pass laws to require proof of citizenship for voting, a policy found to disenfranchise eligible voters in other states.

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EXCLUSIVE: Obama Will Personally Chair U.N. Security Council Meeting by Hayes Brown Posted on August 18, 2014 at 2:03 pm

President Barack Obama chairs a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in 2009

President Barack Obama chairs a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in 2009

CREDIT: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

President Barack Obama will preside over a meeting of the United Nations Security Council during his attendance of the U.N.’s annual General Assembly, ThinkProgress has learned, marking the second time in history that a U.S. president has done so.

The last time the U.S. was president of the Council during the weeklong opening of the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) was 2009, the year that President Obama assumed office. Then the meeting was convened to discuss the spread of nuclear weapons and material, and Obama’s presence ensured it was a widely attended event that lead to the unanimous passage of a resolutionmeant to strengthen safeguards against nuclear proliferation. According a draft schedule for this year’s UNGA week, seen by ThinkProgress, the current plan is to have President Obama take advantage of the Council’s presidency once again, this time to discuss counterterrorism.

Specifically the meeting will cover the phenomenon of foreign fighters travelling to conflict zones and joining terrorist organizations, as seen in thesurge in foreigners joining ranks with such groups as Jahbat al-Nusra in Syria. “Certainly the problem of terrorists traveling to foreign conflicts is not new, but the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters has become even more acut,” a U.S. Mission to the U.N. official told ThinkProgress when asked about the meeting. “The internet and social media have given terrorist groups unprecedented new ways to promote their hateful ideology and inspire recruits. The conflicts in Syria and Iraq have highlighted this threat, with an estimated 12,000 foreign terrorist fighters joining that conflict.”

Currently the plan is to have a U.S.-drafted resolution to address the phenomenon negotiated and ready to pass during the September meeting. During the last time Obama chaired the Council, the leaders of Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China — the other permanent members of the Council — were all in attendance. This time, the audience is not guaranteed to be quite so lustrous. France’s mission to the United Nations told ThinkProgress that French president Francois Hollande should be attending the General Assembly but would not confirm whether he would be attending the Security Council meeting. A spokesperson for the British mission said that plans were still being finalized for that week, but “will take into account” President Obama chairing the meeting. Neither China nor Russia’s missions responded to queries from ThinkProgress, but Russian president Vladimir Putin has proven himself an infrequent attendee at the annual General Assembly meeting.

Every month, the presidency of the Security Council rotates between the 15 member body, giving them the chance to set the agenda and lead meetings of the body. September, the next time that the U.S. is slated to hold the gavel, is also when the General Assembly — which comprises all 193 member-states — holds its annual meeting at U.N. headquarters. World leaders and other high-level dignitaries flock to New York and diplomatic meetings on the sidelines often produce results, including last year when the U.S. and Iran spoke direct at the highest level since 1979. Obama’s presence will make the upcoming meeting the first Head of Government-level Security Council session since 2009.

“When President Obama first chaired a Security Council meeting, the question of the US relationship with the organization was much more salient than it is today,” David Bosco, an assistant professor at American University and author of a book on the workings of the Security Council, told ThinkProgress in an email. “Obama’s first time in the chair was an opportunity to very visibly distance himself from what was perceived–not always fairly–as the hostility of the Bush administration to the UN’s work. The US/UN relationship has now become much less fraught. There are plenty of frictions, but there’s no sense of hostility from Washington.”

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