Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Disney's Sustainable Farming Research

We had a wonderful long weekend at Disney World recently. During the zip zip touring of the parks amidst throngs of strangers out for President's Day weekend, we enjoyed a leisurely boat tour through Epcot's Living with the Land attraction. I recalled that we had seen some of Disney's hydroponics research during our last visit in 2003, but I couldn't remember the details. They really do a nice job of focusing on key reasons for sustainable farming, while staying true to their animatronics approach to entertainment. The boat ride takes you through some very-Disney like scenery and a voice over that gives a very moderate message: "we had amazing advances in productivity in farming, but didn't understand the consequences of those advances... now we have to rethink things."  It occurs to me that this is probably pretty effective at engaging people, rather than putting them on the defensive.

Then you turn a corner into a very non-Disney-like greenhouse and aquaculture area. Disney is researching Integrate Pest Management (IPM) methods and hydroponics to increase yields of plants while reducing dependencies on chemical fertilizers and insecticides. They are also growing lesser known plants to see how they adapt to the climate and might be further used. They highlighted a tomato tree, though I'm not quite sure what it really is.. it did look like a tree. In any case, the tomato tree has lasted up to 18 months in their greenhouse and produced a massive number of tomatoes. They demonstrated a mixed hydroponic and aquaculture system using cilantro growing over tilapia.

They talked about the research being done in conjunction with the USDA, and from a little Internet searching, it looks like the University of Florida is also involved. Their gardens cover about 2 acres and they use the produce in some of their restaurants. They said they also farm 55,000 lbs of fish each year, which are also served at the restaurants.

It's great to see large companies like Disney using the power of their platform to advocate for their environment. At Epcot, there is this exhibit and others that focus on sustainable energy production, generally with a pretty even presentation (imho). The Animal Kingdom, naturally, focused on endangered animals and protecting their environs. With tens of thousands of visitors daily, I imagine the message gets through to at least a few new people each day.... particularly to a few kids, to whom it matters most. I'd love to hear from anyone who has done the full greenhouse and garden tour. I'm curious to understand better what they really are concentrating on and whether their actions match their tour boat.

This post is part of the Real Food Wednesday blog roll at Kelly The Kitchen Kop.  Check it out for recipes and various lessons in the hunt for Real Food across the globe.


  1. Hi Renee,

    Disney also offers a "Behind the Seeds" tour that goes backstage at Living with the Land. I took this tour a few years ago and it was interesting. More info is at:

    - Scott Smith

  2. Hi there! I found you through Real Food Wednesday, and always click to anything DISNEY! We live in South Florida, have 3 girls & just finished our second year with season passes. We are very familiar with the Land boat ride. It's one of my husband's favorite.

    We were there the weekend before you, and I remember really hearing that quote for the first time. It's great to see big corporations starting to "get it."

    Thanks for sharing!

    Denise @ Creative Kitchen

  3. I had no idea Disney had that! It's been years since I've been there.

  4. My husband and I love the Living With The Land ride, and usually ride it 2-4 times on each trip. :-)

    Now that I know more about Monsanto and GM crops and all that, I do detect a bit of white washing in the presentation, but over all I think it's a great and educational ride, and I love love LOVE the greenhouse area! I'm always so impatient to get past the farm land scenes and wish I could slow the ride down at the green house part. I so want to do Behind the Seeds, but cost and time are prohibitive.