It started with a simple question at a meeting at the start of 2016. Katie Pandolfo, the general manager of StubHub Center, asked chief engineer Gary Wilson if the LA Galaxy's home venue could have a garden. When he answered yes, Pandolfo tacked on another question: “Can we have a greenhouse?”
From that initial conversation, so much has literally grown at StubHub, where previously underutilized portions of the 126-acre grounds have blossomed into small-scale urban farm tended by AEG employees -- and even Galaxy players, too. The setup includes a one-acre garden with raised planters, a greenhouse that’s been used for seedlings, a chicken coop providing fresh eggs, and an apiary providing a home for bees that found their way onto the property.
Pandolfo notes that a number of their employees are stereotypically health-conscious Californians who gravitate toward fresh, healthy food, but were limited in what they grow as they live in apartments. That's part of what inspired the move to create the garden -- along with its educational opportunities.
“We already have groups of grade school students come through on tours,” she says, “but this allows us to shift the focus to, ‘How do you perform like an athlete?’ with food being a part of it.
“There are some kids learning what these herbs smell like for the first time, who have never eaten a tomato fresh from a garden before, and don’t quite know where some fruits and vegetables come from.”
The benefit, meanwhile, of course extends to the team. A few years ago, the Galaxy hired a team chef, Morgan Bunnell, who's passionate about farm-to-table cooking, and uses food grown on site as the starting place for dishes that feed players and employees. Herbs, kale, Swiss chard, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers from StubHub's crop continue to fuel both team and staff.
“It’s helpful to be able to just run out to the garden, grab what you need, and run back in,” Bunnell says.
StubHub produce frequently makes its way into dishes like quinoa-tabouli salad and baba ganoush, while Bunnell works the hyper-local eggs into both breakfast and dessert items, as workday and team schedules require.
Both Wilson and Bunnell have spotted a couple of the players out in the gardens, tending to plots either on their own or in tandem with employees.
Galaxy midfielder Baggio Husidic has taken a keen personal interest. He prescribes to eating a plant-based diet — preferring that to the term “vegan” — and notes he's experienced improved performance and sleep since making the switch.
Now, he's growing his own beets and Swiss chard in one of the StubHUb garden plots. "It’s good to know exactly where your food is coming from," he says.
“My first year as a full-on vegan was in 2014 when we won the Cup, and it was the best season of my career,” he adds. “I didn’t miss one training session. My recovery rate was great; my distance coverage was really good.”
Maintaining the evolving urban farm is a collaborative effort, which they’re taking on it part because they know environmentally mindfulness important to Galaxy owner Phil Anschutz. And because it’s possible to grow year-round in Southern California, they’re finessing their selections for what they plant in each of the two growing sessions annually.
It’s a project that’s seen Wilson, in particular, stretch beyond his typical day-to day duties. “I never really aspired to be a beekeeper,” he jokes, but he’s been especially proud of what the apiary has done to provide a home for the bees that have flown onto the StubHub grounds.
“The exterminator we called in suggested, ‘If you just give them a place to go, they’ll be amazing,’” Pandolfo recalls. In the apiary, the local bee population has flourished, producing 300 to 400 pounds of honey each twice-yearly harvest.
The benefits of all of this, too, could soon trickle down to fans. There are plans to make the garden even bigger and better in the coming months, including redoing its entrance in order to make it part of the matchday experience.
And speaking of the game-day experience, they’re now growing hops, too, and they’ve begun to let local microbreweries linked to the team to experiment with them. By next year, Wilson thinks they’ll be growing enough hops to allow those brewers to create Galaxy-themed beers. Cheers, then, to the garden coming full circle in 2018.