When the new Atlanta Falcons stadium opens for the 2017 NFL season, a group of volunteers will be churning up a different kind of yardage outside the venue than the football players rushing inside. These enthusiastic workers will be tending a landscape feature that is gaining popularity at American sports arenas: edible gardens.
“We are still developing the concept for the gardens,” said Scott Jenkins, general manager of the new stadium that is rising on the Westside. “We are getting close to finalizing the design, but it will have an area of raised beds and then edible plants in a few other locations around the site. The raised beds will be at the southwest corner of the stadium, and other edibles will be planted along Northside Drive,” he said.
Blueberries will be among the food crops, Jenkins recently told the Environmental Policy and Sustainability Committee of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Georgia is the country’s top-producing state for the antioxidant-rich fruit.
Other crops will include two varieties of figs and two apple varieties, said Lauren Standish, an associate and project manager for HGOR, an Atlanta planning and design firm providing landscape architecture design services for the project. “The urban ag area will be enclosed with 10-foot-high ornamental fence similar to the style located around the stadium,” Standish said. The gardens will be irrigated by storm water collected from a storm detention vault, she added.
The idea for the garden stemmed from a dual strategy to achieve the highest level of LEED certification from the U.S. Green Buildings Council and as a way to possibly benefit the Westside communities where the stadium is located, Jenkins said. Final decisions have not been made on how the gardens will be managed or what will happen to the produce. However, Jenkins said the Westside “would be our target, whether it’s working with a local school on gardening and healthy food or providing food to a local food program.”
The Arthur M. Blank Foundation and the Captain Planet Foundation, an environmental stewardship group co-founded by Ted Turner in 1991, have both been supportive of the initiative. In fact, Captain Planet has installed edible gardens in 140 schools in Atlanta and in Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb, and Fulton counties.
The Falcons’ decision to include edible gardens at their new facility is part of a trend in urban agriculture that is catching on in the sports world. As an example, Jenkins cited the The Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL, which he said “are doing a fair amount of onsite growing.” Elena Cizmaric, director of corporate communications for the Blank Foundation, pointed out that there is a rooftop garden at the San Francisco 49ers Levi’s Stadium. The San Francisco Giants staked a claim to being the first pro franchise to bring urban agriculture to big league stadiums when it installed an edible garden beyond the outfield fence at AT&T Park in 2014.
Falcons’ fans need not worry, though, food options at the new stadium are unlikely to go vegan.