In one of the most popular theme parks in the country, hydroponic growing techniques are just as much of an attraction as race cars and roller coasters.
At Epcot, located at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, millions of guests have been introduced to innovative gardening ideas since the park opened in 1982. Epcot Living With The Land takes guests on a boat ride through the history of agriculture, with a modern day look at working greenhouses using hydroponic and aquaponic techniques.
Visitors board small boats for a gentle glide past recreations of how farming has been done through the ages, how harsh weather affects crops, and the environmental toll that the Earth has taken with some earlier farming techniques. Then guests are introduced to what the narrator says is considered the farming of the future, hydroponics.
The theme park has been opened for more than three decades, so it helps to put the age of the attraction in context with modern day reality. Back in the eighties, hydroponics was definitely a very unique way of farming. Today, it is not as well known but it is a much more accepted. Even so, Living With the Land is probably the first introduction to soil-less growing for most visitors who probably would never have heard of hydroponics if they hadn’t enjoyed the Disney ride.
Disney World has even made growing vegetables exciting, as boatloads of visitors glide through huge dome-shaped working greenhouses with crops growing on either side. There are unusual plants that captivate guests, such as the nine-pound lemons hanging off of trees. Of course, there are unique Disney touches, too, including tomatoes and cucumbers grown in the shape of Mickey Mouse heads thanks to special molds placed around the produce as it is growing.
Many well known companies and agencies, such as the USDA and NASA use these greenhouses and the biotechnology lab for actual research being done on plant genetics and developing new species resistant to disease, such as plum pox. Visitors to Disney can glimpse inside the lab and see researchers at work.
More than ‘just’ a garden
The huge attraction not only serves as a source of edutainment as well as a working lab, but the food grown in the massive greenhouses is eaten and consumed at the Walt Disney World Resort, too. The produce, such as the Mickey Mouse shaped cucumbers, is served in restaurants on Disney property. In fact, nearly 500 heads of lettuce are used each week at Sunshine Seasons, a food court just steps away from the Epcot Living With the Land attraction.
Food that is grown in the greenhouses but not used in restaurants is brought to Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park to feed the animals.
While the Epcot Living With the Land attraction is a brief introduction to the use of hydroponics and aquaponics at the Walt Disney World Resort, interested guests can take the Behind the Seeds tour for a more in-depth explanation of what goes on in the greenhouses, as well as the opportunity to walk through the greenhouses, try produce grown on-site, and get a photo with a Mickey-shaped tree.
Images courtesy of Kim Button