On a hot summer day at Fenway Park there’s a different kind of team, hard at work, on a very different type of field. High above Yawkey Way, along the 3rd Base side of the stadium, you’ll find Fenway Farms, a 5,000-square-foot working farm that's growing produce that is being served at Fenway and donated to a local food rescue. Instead of Wally or home runs, we’re talking about peas, kale, and scallions, to name just a few of the many varieties of produce growing here.
The relatively lightweight milk crate farm was installed by Recover Green Roofs and is managed by Green City Growers (GCG), who also maintain the largest rooftop farm in New England atop the Whole Foods in Lynnfield. GCG was introduced to Linda Henry after winning an award through the Henry Foundation, which led to the Fenway Farms partnership. A spot had already been designated by Henry as a potential green roof, and a little bit of that magic that lives in Fenway must have been at work because the space happened to be furnished with perfect growing conditions for a rooftop farm.
“The milk crate system was chosen because it is very mobile and modular, like Legos,” says Jessie Banhazl, CEO & Founder of Green City Growers. There are over 2,000 milk crates and the small boxes can be arranged to take up every available space, which is helpful given the unusual angles and shape of the roof. But there’s big return for such a relatively small farming space – the farm currently cultivates about 6,000 pounds of produce annually!
“I’m so spoiled now,” says Fenway’s Executive Chef, Ron Abell. “The care and nurturing [GCG] put into it, the organic nature, it’s incredible.” When asked his favorite part of having Fenway Farms in his operation, Abell says, “The food travels 100 feet and it’s in my kitchen. You don’t have to do much to it and it tastes amazing.”
“Luckily, baseball season happens to align perfectly with the growing season in New England,” Banhazl explains, so the farm operates primarily while the park is in full swing. That means fans can often see the farmers at work, harvesting produce or tending to the crops. It is also one of the most popular stops on the park tour, where approximately 10,000 people a week get to see “the best farm team in baseball” as the guide punned to the group who passed through during our visit.
The farm is split into two spaces. There’s an area of closely controlled farm rows that maintain the strict standards required by the park’s food production company, Aramark, and grows about 35% of the produce served in the EMC Club throughout the season. Then there’s the vineyard vines deck, which grows produce around its perimeter and between event spaces. This area hosts youth and community engagement programs, like the Fenway Rooftop Sessions, and 100% of the produce grown here is donated to Lovin’ Spoonfuls, the largest food rescue agency in New England.
Chef Abell, in his 12th season at Fenway Park, creates a new menu at the EMC Club for every home stand. “I like to experiment,” he says. “Being this close to the produce really gets your creative juices flowing and opens your mind to what you can do with it. Like kohlrabi – we use it in root vegetable hash, shaved on to salads, and even pickled – it’s great!”
The culinary team strives to be as zero-waste as possible, using as much of the produce grown as possible – carrot tops in pesto, beet greens in salads, and a variety of preserving techniques for whatever can’t be used fresh during the baseball season. Late-season tomatoes are roasted and frozen for stocks and braises, chilies are turned into hot sauce, and cucumbers and green tomatoes are pickled. “What we harvest here can make its way around to almost anywhere in the ballpark,” Chef Abell said. Look out for items, such as a kale Caesar wrap made with kale from the farm next time you’re at Fenway.
The choice of what to grow on this small-scale farm is an annual collaboration between Green City Growers, Chef Abell, and his team. The variety is impressive, producing everything from hearty greens and root vegetables to French breakfast radishes, and of course, copious amounts of scallions for Chef Abell’s infamous scallion pancakes. There are even strawberries that grow twice a season, to the delight of the park’s pastry staff.
We were lucky enough to visit Fenway on one of the biweekly days when the folks from Green City Growers work on the farm. A few farmers picked the day’s impressive haul, which included 30 pounds of kale, 20 pounds of Swiss chard, and 20 pounds of scallions, as well as heirloom tomatoes, Italian and Oriental eggplant, chives, thyme, mint, sorrel, and parsley.
They were also planting new mid-season crops of carrots and radishes. One of the farmers is Production Site Specialist Carissa Unger, who talked about the particularly good soil used here. “It’s the best soil I’ve ever worked with. It’s wet and fluffy.” The proprietary organic blend from the Vermont Compost Company was specifically chosen for its light weight, yet superior nutrient and moisture retention. The quality of the soil is one important reason why the farm can successfully grow large plants, such as heirloom tomatoes, in tiny 12x12-inch milk crates.
This isn’t just another trendy undertaking by a high-profile organization. It’s real food that’s grown and served right at Fenway Park. That’s not to say that the posh location has no bearing on the success of the project. It’s obvious that the budget is plentiful and the maintenance top-notch. Not many projects of this scale go from concept to fruition in about 8 months, but that kind of dedication is exactly what’s making Fenway Park a leader in sustainability initiatives.
The drip irrigation system is the most efficient and sustainable style, distributing the water directly to the roots of the plants, avoiding waste through evaporation. The system also has weather sensors that deactivate the irrigation when it rains. Other sustainability benefits include improved building insulation, help with storm water runoff, and reduced pest-management needs. While the farm still has to contend with some flying pests, not a single four-legged digging creature has made its way up onto the roof, making it a bit easier for the farmers to protect and maintain the crops.
The only unfulfilled wish the team has is even more space to grow a larger percentage of the produce consumed at the park. The obvious success of the project means some form of expansion isn’t out of the question. But for now, partnerships with local farms, such as Ward’s Berry Farm in Sharon, provide larger quantities and produce that can’t grow in milk crates.
And make no mistake, the term 'Green Monster' will continue to take on a whole new meaning in this unique corner of 'America’s Most Beloved Ballpark'. We encourage you to take a hike up to farm to see what’s on deck during your next Fenway visit.