July/August 2014 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Christine Souza
Photos by Gary Kazanjian
Fresno Grizzlies hit it out of the park with Farm Grown program
Fresno Grizzlies mascot Parker T. Bear helps Visalia farmer Jeremey Doucette of Doucette Farms arrange produce for the farmers market, held every Friday during home games.
Fresno Grizzlies baseball fans who stand up during the seventh-inning stretch to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" may ask for more than peanuts and Cracker Jack once they've visited Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno.
During Friday home games for the Fresno Grizzlies—the Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants—fans can purchase just-picked fruit, flavored raisins, spicy pistachios, olives and other fresh items directly from growers at an onsite farmers market.
The market is part of the Grizzlies Community Fund's Farm Grown program, established in 2012 to promote Central California agriculture. Farm Grown includes a literacy component for children as well as other features at Chukchansi Park such as a garden, farm-issues forum and agricultural exhibits and displays—all brought to attention by Grizzlies mascot Parker T. Bear.
The farmers market at the Fresno Grizzlies ballpark features local produce and is one of the Farm Grown program's home-game activities that promote local agriculture.
"Focusing on agriculture here at the ballpark is pretty neat. I didn't even know they grow some of these crops right here in the valley, like cherries," said fan Mike Jennings of Fresno, commenting on the selection of local produce at a recent game. "It's neat that they're doing this farmers market; it's better for you than eating chili fries."
One of the farmers at the market, Jeremey Doucette of Doucette Farms in Visalia, grew up farming with his grandparents. Doucette went away to college, later returned to the farm and proudly carries on his family's legacy.
Stephanie Martin of Renegade Snacks of Fresno provides samples of her flavored raisins.
"Now, I am a one-man farming operation. I grow peaches, plums, nectarines, pluots, mandarins, citrus—any fruit that grows on a tree," Doucette said, adding that he enjoys interacting with fans at the ballpark. "People are here for the baseball game, but they warm up to the farmers market pretty quickly."
Jennifer Hayes, who stopped at various tables to sample produce, said she was excited to see local fruit at the ballpark.
"The market is a great idea," said Hayes, decked out in her Giants T-shirt, baseball glove in hand. "People want to munch on something healthy while at the game."
Jessica Tavares and Kyle Adams of Adams Stuff N' Olives of Visalia offer gourmet stuffed olives.
One of the busiest areas of the market—especially for kids—was Renegade Snacks, a Fresno company co-owned by Stephanie Martin. Her business specializes in locally grown raisins flavored with lemon, strawberry, watermelon and orange.
"Ballpark customers often comment about our raisins being a great, healthy snack to have while watching the games," she said. "We have repeat customers who look for us each time we're at the park and they often send their friends to check us out."
Peanuts, popcorn, pistachios
In addition to fresh fruit and flavored raisins, fans are introduced to the bold flavors of pistachios grown and seasoned less than two hours from the park.
Fresno Grizzlies infielder Adam Duvall snacks on a fresh peach from Doucette Farms.
"Everybody loves pistachios. It's not peanuts, but it's one of the best nuts around," said Nick Barry of Yurosek Farms Gourmet Pistachios near Bakersfield. "We sell different flavors like garlic, chili lemon, jalapeño, sweet chipotle, salted and unsalted. Periodically, we'll get a kid that has never tried them and they are like, 'Oh my gosh, Mom, we've got to get some.' It's a great, great atmosphere and a lot of fun."
Although still a relatively new addition to the ballclub, the Farm Grown program's farmers market can bring in as many as 25 vendors when harvest is at its peak.
Fresno Grizzlies infielder Adam Duvall, originally from Kentucky, said he appreciates California agriculture, especially what's grown in the Fresno area, and how its helps him maintain his diet and fitness routine.
Local produce is featured at the Grizzlies home games.
"I've always eaten pretty healthy. I try to mix in a lot of vegetables because when we're on the road, it's tough to get a lot of vegetables in," Duvall said. "I'll try to eat a salad or fruit instead of fries in order to keep my vegetables and fruits up."
A true farm team
Farm Grown educates fans about agriculture and promotes healthy eating and exercise. The Grizzlies say it is the only program of its kind in California and is a fitting complement to an agricultural hub such as Fresno.
"As a farm team, we grow the next generation of San Francisco Giants. Just like growing new Giants, this area grows the food that feeds the world and it's just a perfect tie-in," said Jerry James, Fresno Grizzlies vice president, who encouraged the ballclub to develop a program. "I said, 'What you have here is something bigger; it is something that everybody will identify with.'"
The Grizzlies play at Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno.
And there is indeed the bigger picture—for both the team and area farms. The Fresno Grizzlies is a minor league baseball team in the San Francisco Giants farm system, where standouts Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Sergio Romo, among others, played on their way to the major league club. And Fresno County serves as one of the nation's top agricultural regions, producing grapes, almonds, poultry, tomatoes, milk and more than 350 other crops.
"A small percentage of fans that attend a game are really interested in the game and everybody else is there for the experience," James said. "What we're trying to do (through Farm Grown) is provide the experience. It's about family entertainment."
Displays remind Grizzlies fans about the agriculture for which the area is known.
Homegrown home run
In a typical season, about 500,000 Grizzlies fans will have experienced the Farm Grown program during home games. The purpose of the program, James said, is to enhance connections between urban and rural communities.
To that end, large crowds of season ticket holders and other fans gather at farm forums, where community leaders discuss issues important to agriculture and the community such as water and rural crime. James describes the forums, held at the ballpark on some game nights, as "relevant" and "well attended."
"We give our fans an opportunity to understand agriculture in the Central San Joaquin Valley," he said. "If there are issues with water, we address how that might impact them at the grocery store."
Grizzlies player Adam Duvall says eating fresh produce and staying fit helps his game. (Photo courtesy of James Ramirez/Fresno Grizzlies.)
As Grizzlies fans find their way to their seats, they pass an agriculture zone with displays that feature growing grapevines or a pomegranate or pear tree. They'll see that ornamental trees were replaced with fruit trees and vines, allowing for teachable moments that continue to be developed at the park.
"This is so cool; I didn't even know they had this here," said fan Pam Kobashi from Clovis, whose family is retired from growing grapes.
As Fresno cherishes its agricultural heritage and educates the community about farming, the Farm Grown program, James said, may be repeated at other parks around the country.
"Minor League Baseball is really looking at what we're doing with Farm Grown. A lot of the other teams are in the Midwest—in the ag belt—and they see this as a great opportunity to continue to grow the league presence," James said, adding that it's gaining momentum in California, too. "We talk to the Giants a lot and if you look now, they are building an herb garden in center field. This trend will only get bigger."
Editor's note: In September 2014, after a 17-year partnership with the San Francisco Giants, the Fresno Grizzlies became the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros.
Young fans are wild about reading
Children are excited as they sit on the floor in the elementary school assembly room waiting for a 6-foot-6-inch orange bear wearing a baseball jersey and orange tennis shoes. The guest of honor arrives. It's Parker T. Bear, the mascot of the Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball team.
"Parker and our team go to the school site for an assembly, where they act out content within our magazine such as the story, 'What's for Dinner, Parker?' We engage kids with different props and at the end, we challenge kids to read 10 books," said Fresno Grizzlies Vice President Jerry James.
The visits to schools in Fresno County and five nearby counties are part of Wild About Reading, which is now included in the team's two-year-old Farm Grown program. About 60,000 kids in more than 200 schools meet the reading challenge each year, which entitles them to two free Fresno Grizzlies tickets. Schools with the highest number of readers are eligible to win e-readers and laptops for their libraries.
"Teachers love it and they really love the fact that we're bringing farming into their classrooms," James said. "It's a win for everybody."
Parker Simon, a 9-year-old Little Leaguer in his hometown of Clovis, says he enjoys the Farm Grown magazine's articles, puzzles and games about agriculture.
Central to Wild About Reading is Farm Grown magazine. This agricultural, education-based publication features articles about top athletes; puzzles and games; a story about Parker; and information about agriculture, nutrition, safety and the environment.
"My kids are readers anyway. They love to read, and to read for tickets to go to the baseball game was a lot of fun," said Celia Huntington, a third-grade teacher at Bellevue Elementary School in Atwater, whose students earned laptops for their school library last year.
Students get excited the moment they see the bear, she added.
"Parker focuses on healthy eating and having an active lifestyle. He also features agricultural education, such as how the food gets from the field to our plates," Huntington said. "It is very interactive and motivating."