Farm to fork takes a different twist at Whisper Creek Farm in Orlando, Florida. Located in the shadow of the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, the sustainable farm supplies the needs of one of the area’s most elegant resorts and is leading central Florida’s local food movement.
The 7,000 square foot vegetable and fruit garden on the edge of the golf course supplies the produce for two of Orlando’s premier resorts, the Ritz-Carlton and the JW Marriott, both located on a vast spread of property known as Grande Lakes Orlando.
The Ritz isn’t where you’d first think of putting in an organic garden. Yet its design and location on property was thought out well before the resort ever opened to guests in 2003.
Sustainable farming practices
The JW Marriott wanted Melissa Kelly, the only two-time James Beard Award winning female chef, to open a restaurant at the property, based on her Primo restaurant in Maine. Primo is what Melissa Kelly calls a “Full Circle Kitchen,” where nothing is wasted. Her commitment to sustainable farming practices, utilizing seasonal foods and growing as much as possible on-site has gained her accolades for over 15 years.
In order for Kelly to even consider opening a second location in Florida, she knew she’d have a list of demands focusing on sustainability and organic practices that most resorts would never agree to.
“I gave them this whole list and expected never to hear from them again,” Kelly said, “but they said yes.”
So as the resort was under construction, two gardens were carved out of the landscape to supply Kelly’s Primo restaurant, as well as other restaurants at the JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, and private events. Whisper Creek Farm is the largest, located a short stroll away from the towering resorts. The Primo Organic Garden is much smaller and located just outside of the restaurant, with raised beds teeming with produce.
Kelly estimates that about 40% of the restaurant’s produce needs are supplied by the on-site gardens. The rest is ordered from local and sustainable small farms in the area.
More than just a garden, Whisper Creek Farm is a destination for gourmet sustainability. Four beehives are located on-site, producing 320 pounds of honey that is used in the resort’s foods as well as the new nano-brewery. Chickens have just been introduced, providing eggs for the restaurants.
A new restaurant has even been created around the concept of the farm. Known as Whisper Creek Farm: The Kitchen, the menu offers small plates which will prominently feature produce and eggs grown onsite, as well as the beer brewed on property.
Grande Lakes Resort guests can take a tour of the farm, learning more about the resort’s commitment to sustainable practices. Private events are often held in the 11,000 square foot space, as well.
For Kelly, Whisper Creek Farm in Orlando offers her double the joy of growing and harvesting the ingredients for her restaurants.
“I come to Florida and it’s strawberry season in January, and then in Maine I have strawberry season again in June. It’s always something new and exciting for me because the garden dictates what goes on the menu,” she said. “When you cook like this, you have to be really flexible, but it’s when you make the best food. You’re eating what’s in the moment, it’s precious.”
Images courtesy of Whisper Creek Farm at Grande Lakes Orlando