NEW YORK — Nestor Cortes stood inside Yankee Stadium’s Gate 2 on Monday afternoon, listening attentively to a group of bright fourth graders, who were quite impressively explaining the process of vertical aeroponic gardening to the Yankees left-hander.
“Wow,” Cortes said, shaking his head with a laugh. “They know their stuff. They’re well-prepared. We’re learning from them, honestly. All of the stuff that they told me, I didn’t know about. I’m learning along the way and it’s pretty exciting.”
Cortes and teammate Michael King joined community leaders, Yankees executives and local students in helping the Yankees unveil the Yankee Stadium Tower Garden, which will allow for the growth of healthy, fresh produce that requires minimal resources.
Donning large yellow foam farmers hats, Cortes and King engaged in some baseball chat with the young fans, but both seemed more interested in the 10 structures that will provide a hands-on learning experience for students taking part in the “New York Yankees Healthy Home Plate Program.”
“It’s incredible,” King said. “I joked about it, thinking that these kids were going to be teenagers or in high school. When I found out that they were fourth graders, it was really cool to see how intelligent they are and what awesome work they’re doing for the community.”
Beginning in June, items grown in the space will be served to fans in select menu items, most notably in salads found at Yankee Stadium “grab-and-go” locations. The Yankees said that the Healthy Home Plate Program will also serve young people from New Settlement, a Bronx non-profit organization.
Earlier this year, the Yankees selected New Settlement as the new home for Bronxie the Turtle, whom Cortes adopted as the team’s clubhouse mascot late last season. New Settlement will also receive Tower Garden equipment at their facility in the Bronx.
“The fact that we’re 12 blocks away, it makes complete sense,” said Rigaud Noel, New Settlement’s executive director. “As a non-profit organization serving 17,000 families a year, it makes sense that the Yankees would invest in the community and in non-profits, further impacting our mission to helping those families in need.”
Yankee Stadium kitchens are utilized as classrooms during the season, with Legends Senior Executive Chef Matt Gibson engaging young people with hands-on cooking demonstrations.
“Seeing fresh food being grown, it’s contagious to want to use it and incorporate it in as many ways as I can,” Gibson said.
The curriculum for the Yankees Healthy Home Plate program is curated with assistance from the Green Bronx Machine, a non-profit organization founded by educator Stephen Ritz, who observed the effect of students’ food choices on scholastic performance, engagement and ambition.
“We grow vegetables, our vegetables grow students,” Ritz said, “and our students grow high-performing schools and happy, healthy resilient communities.”
Cortes asked if some of the produce grown inside Gate 2 would eventually land in the players’ area.
“Everything here looks great,” Cortes said. “Whatever they’ve planted here, we’re going to be able to use here in the stadium. Hopefully sometime we can taste it down in our clubhouse.”