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Inside AT&T Park's New Garden Section

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Drive past most open air baseball stadiums during the long winter off-seasons, and you may get a disheartened feeling. There's something sad about that enormous space going unused for large periods of time, the vitality that once surrounded the area dead for the winter.

San Francisco's AT&T Park, however, doesn't have the same constraints that parks in the Midwest or Northeast have. Being situated in the relatively moderate climate on the Bay means few extreme hot or cold spells, allowing the park to be used for purposes other than baseball during the off-season. And now, the park is actually taking nature up on its offer by growing food throughout the year: there's a new Garden Section located behind the center field wall of AT&T Park.

The concept is years in the making, ever since Fedele Bauccio, president of the park's high-end concessions provider Bon Appetit, had the idea of creating a green space in the stadium that could be used to produce vegetables for the park's concessions. But, as ideas occasionally have a way of doing, it stalled and never found the right footing to move forward.

Until President Obama stepped in.

See, when the Giants won the World Series last year, earning them -- among other things -- the customary trip to the White House, President Obama mentioned how glad Michelle was to hear the Giants were putting an edible garden in their park. Unbeknowst to him, there were no concrete plans at the time. But there began the year-long process of finding the correct space in the ballpark and getting it into gardening shape.

"We had to remove the concessions stands located behind center field, the batting cages that were back there, the groundcrew equipment," explains Shana Daum, V.P. of Public Affairs for the team.

These were relatively easy problems to solve. But when the planning stages for the actual garden began to take shape, there were legitimate baseball issues to consider as well.

For instance, there's a reason ballparks don't allow fans to sit in the middle of center field. Imagine the fans getting together and deciding to wear white T-shirts to a game. Then, imagine the batter standing at home plate trying to see the white ball coming at him at 95 miles per hour in the middle of that pure white backdrop.

"It's right in the batter's eye," says Daum, of the garden area. "So we had to keep the integrity of that. It can't obstruct the batter when he's at home plate."

Once that was taken care of, the planning moved to determining what vegetables should be grown in the stadium, a decision handled mostly through the influence of mother nature. As such, the garden's full of crops like kale, spinach, chard, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce.

Here's a schematic of how the entire garden is set up:

gardengraphic1-thumb-600x385-77601

All fans are allowed into the garden during the game, where they can see how the crops are coming along while taking in the game. (Albeit, through use of big screen TVs, unless they position themselves near one of the small cracks in the fence.) And then, they can head to the nearby concession stand and order from a list of items that utilizes those same veggies.

The current garden area menu consists of flatbread pizzas, smoothies, salads, and sandwiches, but the items grown will be also used throughout other dishes in the park. (Once the garden gets the proper state and local permits, that is; canopies still need to be installed to protect the crops from, say, fans who get angry at the opposing center fielder and want to show their disgust by throwing a beer at him.)

But the garden is not just operational on game days. The team only uses the facilities 81 times a year, not counting the deep playoff runs the team has become accustomed to. During the other 284 days of the year, then, the garden will be used as a community classroom where students can how their food is grown and how to prepare it.

"We envision bringing celebrity chefs in, whether they're ballpark chefs, from the clubhouse or local restaurants," says Daum.

The finishing strokes are still being painted onto the program, but Daum and company are hopeful they'll begin bringing in classes shortly. In the meantime, the rest of San Francisco can take solace when they walk past during that long winter baseball-less stretch knowing something's keeping the park warm for their boys in orange and black.

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