Hidden tour at Epcot teaches sustainable gardening

Greenhouses at The Land produce 20 tons of food for restaurants

By Kirstin O’Connor - Reporter/Anchor

ORLANDO, Fla. - If you've ever ventured through the "Living with the Land" boat tour at Walt Disney World's Epcot theme park, there's a hidden adventure inside the greenhouses.

News 6 anchor Kirstin O'Connor took a "Behind the Seeds" tour alongside Les Frey, a horticulturist for Walt Disney World. From backstage, visitors can touch, taste and even test their knowledge of more than 150 plants grown around the world.

"We have a team of about 30 scientists with backgrounds in all forms of agriculture, so they work out here throughout the greenhouses daily, and will harvest the flowers, the herbs, the tomatoes, the cucumbers, and then deliver them right to the restaurants," Frey said.

Chefs from Walt Disney World restaurants Sunshine Seasons and Artist Point serve the produce daily, and can even make requests for certain fruits and vegetables to be grown.  

"It's fantastic to walk in and talk to the folks that work here and say, 'Hey I'm thinking 
of doing this dish in the spring, can you help grow these items for me?' And they say 
absolutely," said Chef Scott Tosh, from Sunshine Seasons.

But it's not just the restaurants at Epcot, many of the Disney Resorts pull from the produce grown in these greenhouses.

"Even the food kiosks that you see as part of the International Food and Wine Festival, some of that produce comes from here," Frey said.

So how much food are people getting fresh off the Disney vine?

"Overall it's about 20 tons a year, that we harvest," Frey said.

All of the produce is grown hydroponically, a lesson the tour guides help guests take home with them.

"These plants are actually moving around on a conveyor, down inside there, the roots are 
just hanging there exposed and then every four to five feet they're sprayed with all the 
water and nutrients they need to grow," Frey said. "So one thing our guests ask us, is how we do this at home, they want to be able to grow their own fruits and vegetables so that they're fresh."

More than 2,000 heads of lettuce can grow simultaneously inside the greenhouses, along with 40 tomato vines. Sections of the tour showcase some surprises for guests.

"That is called the nine-pound lemon, it's an ordinary lemon that occurs  naturally in the world, it just gets much larger than your typical lemon," Frey told visitors.

Signs throughout the greenhouse point guests to the country pavilions inside Epcot where they can taste the homegrown produce.

"Some of the menus will say 'Grown at The Land' but it's a hidden secret that you learn 
only here at Walt Disney World," Frey said.

"And I think overall guests are becoming more conscious of what they eat every day and even 
sharing that with their kids as well," Tosh said.

You can sign up for a tour by visiting the "Living with the Land" attraction at Epcot, or calling 407-939-8687. Pricing is $25 per guest. 

Copyright 2017 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.