Tampa’s Amalie Arena serves hot dogs, nachos, and the rest of the foods that fans expect at an NHL game. But the arena also offers herb-studded risotto, seasonal soups, and a salad bar—all sourced from the stadium’s onsite hydroponic farm.
Since 2014, this 1,120 square foot vertical farm has been the source for up to 80 percent of the fresh produce served in the arena’s club level restaurants and executive suites. On game nights, this can mean feeding up to 5,000 Tampa Bay Lightning fans, and those in charge hope to see that number rise.
“We were getting a lot of feedback from fans who wanted more fresh options,” says Darryl Benge, executive vice president and general manager at Amalie Arena. “It’s been successful in our premium spaces, now we’re trying to figure out how to scale it and bring it to regular concessions.”
Amalie is not an anomaly. Fans at Levi’s Stadium and AT&T Park in San Francisco, Nationals Park in Washington, DC, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore can now also nosh on local foods while cheering on their favorite teams.
As the trend gains fans, more arenas are looking for opportunities to incorporate farms alongside baseball fields, basketball courts, and hockey rinks.
Golden 1 Center in Sacramento and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta—both under construction—also plan to emphasize local foods. In Atlanta, raised beds will produce fruits and vegetables for Falcons fans; in Sacramento, 90 percent of the foods served in the concessions at Golden 1 Center will be sourced from more than 750 local farmers, ranchers, and artisanal food producers within a 150-mile radius of the stadium.
“From the start, the arena project has been about celebrating the region and creating something that is uniquely Sacramento,” says Michael Tuohy, executive chef and general manager for Legends Hospitality at the Golden 1 Center.
Ninety miles west, the trend has already taken root in the Bay Area. In 2014, Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO) partnered with San Francisco Giants to establish The Garden at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The 4,300 square foot garden behind the centerfield wall, tended by Farmscape Gardens, produces dozens of varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. In a show of team spirit, the garden manager plants black and orange tomatoes and edible flowers to match the S.F. Giants’ colors.
The Garden, accessible to all ticketholders and open two hours before the first pitch, has two concessions: Hearth Table serves traditional ballpark fare like flatbread pizza and all-beef hot dogs made with ingredients grown onsite, and Garden Table is a vegetarian restaurant using produce harvested from the garden in smoothies, salads, and soups.
“You might want a hot dog and garlic fries at one game and a salad and a smoothie at the next one,” says Hannah Schmunk, community development manager for BAMCO. “We wanted to let fans know that the park has options for everyone.”
Although fan demand is the major driver of the farm-to-stadium trend, it also presents the biggest challenge.
Tampa’s Amalie Arena invested $30,000 to build its hydroponic farm, taking advantage of an unused space near the loading dock to construct 125 towers with 3,000 growing spaces, or about the equivalent of one acre of land. In peak production, the farm barely grows enough produce to meet the demand in its club-level restaurants and executive suites; expanding the size of the farm to serve all of its concessions—which Benge hopes to do—will require a lot of creativity and a significant renovation.
And, in an arena that serves more than 20,000 fans, supplementing the farm’s produce with vegetables from local producers is also a challenge. In fact, most of the farmers Benge approached about supplying produce for restaurants and concessions at Amalie Arena couldn’t meet the demand.
“We knew going in that we’d have to deal with production issues,” he says. “It’s a learning curve.”
For Tuohy in Sacramento, designing a menu that combines stadium classics fans have come to expect with unique offerings that emphasize local ingredients at the Golden 1 Center has been a challenge.
“We need to have the fresh produce for locally sourced bahn mi and a classic hot dog [made with beef from a local ranch] with all of the fixings,” he says.
At AT&T Stadium in Dallas, food and beverage provider Legends has taken a different approach to sourcing local and organic produce for the 80,000 Dallas Cowboys fans who attend each game. The stadium employs two full-time purchasers who seek out local farmers and ranchers who can meet the demand (such as the We Over Me football field farm at Paul Quinn College). Currently, 10 percent of ingredients come from the local area.
“We work with local producers to manage supply and demand systems and [require] continual communication to know where quantity/quality levels are,” explains George Wasai, director of food and beverage for Legends at AT&T Stadium.
The Garden at AT&T Park doesn’t track the amount of produce it grows—and Schmunk notes it’s a small fraction of the of the amount needed to satisfy Bay Area fans’ appetites for local fare—but the goal was never to focus on production.
“We wanted to be part of this unique form of agriculture that is taking hold with the hope that fans would fall in love with the space and start to value farms and the sources of their foods,” she says.
Photos, from top: Fans dine in The Garden at AT&T Park (SF); The Garden at AT&T Park, Legends at AT&T Stadium (Houston)’s George Wasai and Tony Sinese meet with farmers from We Over Me Farm at Paul Quinn College, one of the Stadium’s local growers, to plan their menu.