At first glance, a sports stadium is an odd place for an onsite garden, though it’s not unprecedented. After all, Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., and Fenway Park in Boston have had them for several years now.
What is a bit more unusual about the garden on the grounds of the StubHub Center in Los Angeles is that its cultivation is done not just by stadium staff or outsiders volunteering or hired for the purpose, but also by some members of the professional sports team that plays its home games there.
Yes, a number of the players of the L.A. Galaxy, the city’s Major League Soccer team, can be seen from time to time tilling, weeding and planting along with more anonymous StubHub Center employees.
That horticultural enthusiasm suits Morgan Bunnell, team chef for the Galaxy, perfectly because it gives him a steady source of very local and very fresh produce and herbs with which to create meals for the players and staff, who in turn get to eat what they helped grow. Bunnell and his team are responsible for feeding Galaxy players, coaches and onsite staff while they are on the premises, as well as members of the team’s minor league affiliate who train at StubHub Center and students and staff of a soccer academy the Galaxy sponsors.
The garden includes a chicken coop where hens provide about a dozen fresh eggs daily for the kitchen.
The produce being grown in the garden and adjoining greenhouse includes a wide range of crops from peppers, tomatoes, corn and carrots, beets, spinach, zucchini and green beans plus herbs like basil, rosemary, oregano and lemon grass. In addition, arrays of planters dotted around the facility hold citrus plants that currently provide lemons and limes to the kitchen, with avocados potentially on the way soon. Grapes from vines planted a couple of years ago may eventually follow in another year, Bunnell hopes.
Besides the plants, the garden also contains a chicken coop where a group of eight hens produce about a dozen fresh eggs a day for Bunnell’s kitchen, and beehives that generate about 800 pounds of honey annually, some of which is used in the kitchen with the rest bottled and given as gifts to friends, family and associates of team and facility personnel. The bees, of course, also serve a critical purpose in pollinating the various crops in the garden.
The chickens are fed kitchen scraps and most of what they don’t eat gets composted to fertilize the garden. The fowls seem particularly to like beet greens and in fact head straight for the beet plots if they’re let loose, but that preference can also be used to advantage.
“When we go to get eggs, it can be a challenge to come in without some of the chickens getting loose, so now we throw them some beet greens to keep them busy before we come in,” Bunnell laughs.
The kitchen can serve anywhere from about 80 people to 170 or more a day, Bunnell estimates, mostly during the lunch period. The menu rotates through a variety of ethnic cuisines ranging from Mexican and Asian to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern to maintain day-to-day variety.
“I draw inspiration from the garden,” Bunnell offers. “Usually, I take a walk down there and see what we have most of and try to use that before it spoils.”
When FM spoke to him, Bunnell had a big push on to utilize ripening eggplants with which he planned to make dips like baba ganoush, with a crop of butternut squash probably up next after that.
The garden’s bounty has cut some of his procurement requirements by filling most of what he needs for staples like tomatoes and most herbs. “We haven’t had to buy green onions since we started the garden,” he offers.
Bunnell works with team nutritionists on the menus, which are fit to the needs of the players. Fish and chicken are the animal proteins emphasized, with red meat kept at a minimum. Salads—especially beet salad—are a big favorite, usually with protein as a topping. The salad bar, always stacked with a wide variety of fresh ingredients—including chopped hard-boiled eggs from the chickens raised in the nearby coop—is very popular with the office staff, Bunnell reports, as they can customize their meals to fit various ethnic profiles, from Asian and Mexican to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern. Mexican cuisine, especially fish tacos and burritos, tends to draw big crowds overall on the days it is offered, with Mediterranean cuisine a close second.
Bunnell, who is now in his third season with the Galaxy, had previously sourced some of his ingredients for his kitchen at StubHub Center from a garden he maintains at his home, so the easy access to this more expansive source of fresh produce—the garden is only about a minute’s walk from his kitchen—was quite welcome. In his previous position with the Blue Dragon restaurant in Hawaii, he worked with a nearby farm to source fresh ingredients, so he is very familiar with adapting his menus to what is available fresh at any given time.
Now, he just has to go out to the nearby garden with a couple of assistants to pick what is ripe, even if that’s a bit of a challenge when the Southern California weather is at its summer peak.