When it comes to feeding the players of the L.A. Galaxy, Los Angeles' Major League Soccer (MLS) team, chef Morgan Bunnell has a big job on his hands. Not only does he need to come up with menus that will satisfy the players' personal tastes — defender Ashley Cole once requested that the chef make the food more bland; midfielder Baggio Husidic avoids all animal products — but Bunnell has to work with the club's nutritionist to create healthful yet delicious meals using seasonal ingredients that will satisfy a range of dietary needs. Fortunately for Bunnell, sourcing those ingredients got a lot easier since the team started its own garden, greenhouse and chicken coop at the StubHub Center in Carson.
Located just off the stadium concourse where the Galaxy and Los Angeles Chargers play their home games, the StubHub Center's garden isn't something sports fans would notice on their walk from the box office to their seats. It's nestled just beyond some concession stands through a nondescript gate, hiding away rows of planters of budding produce like peppers, strawberries, Swiss chard, tomatoes, beets, spinach, artichokes, corn, carrots and even hops planted by L.A. Galaxy and StubHub center employees on their own time.
The StubHub Center joins a budding group of pro sports arenas farming produce on site. In Santa Clara, the 49ers' Levi's Stadium is growing greens and herbs on its rooftop garden. The Boston Red Sox have Fenway Farms, another rooftop produce project, at Fenway Park.
"We have all of this space here, and now that we have our chef for the Galaxy, he was really into gardening, it made a lot of sense," says Katie Pandolfo, the stadium's general manager, who had the initial idea to build the garden. "We have a lot of employees here who live in apartments who didn't have the opportunity to garden at home, so to have the opportunity at work is pretty incredible."
Some of those gardening-curious employees include players, like goalkeeper and beet planter Brian Rowe.
"I'm from Eugene (Ore.); we have a lot of nature up there. We had a couple vegetable gardens at my parents' house up there when I grew up," Rowe said. "To be sustainable and be able to produce some of our own eggs as well as some vegetables and spices and herbs — it's pretty cool."
Midfielder Husidic also got involved. "I grow some beets up there and I get excited when Chef Morgan makes a beet salad," Husidic says. "I was the one who planted them and it comes full circle getting to eat them."
Bunnell was thrilled when he heard about the stadium's garden plans. Before he was feeding soccer players, Bunnell ran the kitchen at the Blue Dragon in Hawaii, working with a neighboring farm to grow ingredients for the restaurant. When he started cooking for the Galaxy, Bunnell planted produce for the team's meals at his home in Huntington Beach.
"That was one of the first things I planted," Bunnell says, pointing to a kale bunch in the stadium garden. "We cook it down and put it in a layer of lasagna. We also chop the most tender leaves to put in a salad." The chef doesn't have far to travel: It takes about a minute to walk from the expansive kitchen located in the south end of the stadium to the garden where he sources ingredients year-round to feed from 90 to 180 players and staff daily.
Herbs are one of the most crucial elements of the garden for the kitchen. There are bushes of lavender, lemongrass, oregano, rosemary and basil that Bunnell uses in both food and drinks for the Galaxy.
"He does some good Asian cuisine, some stir-fries and vegetable wraps — actually everything he does is good," goalkeeper Rowe says of Bunnell. "We do taco Tuesday, Mexican food, salads — it's a good arrangement of food."
"Figs, green beans, yellow wax beans, cucumber, beets, cherry tomatoes, corn, all different herbs," Bunnell says, breaking down a recent salad combination. "There's mint, cilantro, parsley, basil, kale." Salads can also feature the stadium's eggs, and dressing made with honey from the StubHub Center's eight beehives.
"We have a lot of flowers and fruit trees, so bees have always been an issue here, and we've treated them as a pest," says Gary Wilson, the center's chief engineer.
About a year and a half ago, Wilson saw a TV show about urban beekeeping, which inspired him to put their bee problem to better use. Now the Galaxy bees produce about 800 pounds of honey annually. The StubHub Center staff use most of the honey as a calling card, giving branded bottles as gifts to friends, family and colleagues.
The garden, greenhouse and hives are all pieces of a bigger picture for StubHub Center. The organization allocates a certain amount of funds annually toward green initiatives, such as replacing the potted plants on the concourse with fruit-producing dwarf citrus trees. Up next, an orchard of avocado trees will replace a grassy hillside on the property just around the corner from the garden.
"It's growing all the time," Wilson says of the stadium's garden. "It's a work in progress."