19 April 2010

With little or no soil

Today, we’re going to start a two part article feature one of the underappreciated and overlooked gems of Future World, the Behind the Seeds tour in The Land pavilion. The second part of the story, a photo exploration of the tour, can be found here on Thursday morning.

For starters, let’s begin with what Walt Disney World has to say about the tour itself, “Discover the secrets of how The Land Pavilion grows delicious produce indoors on this special backstage tour. See the future of agriculture, go alligator gazing, release lady bugs and learn the advanced—and often experimental—techniques used to grow hydroponic crops with little or no soil. Watch how new methods are being developed to cultivate plants around the world and help make the Earth a healthier place to live.

That is about as succinct of a description as I, or anyone else, could give to Behind the Seeds, which means that I am going to go into way more detail than is necessary about the experience.

The tour starts with the gathering of participants in the small alcove that hosts the restrooms near the entrance to Soarin’. From there you step through a set of doors and are immediately backstage at The Land. Introductions are made all around, and the members of the group move deeper into areas not usually seen by guests. The first stop is a laboratory where a multitude of plant tissue cultures from a variety of species are collected, cultivated, and grown into small plants that can be taken home via the Mickey’s Mini Gardens program/merchandise.

From here on, Behind the Seeds moves into the various greenhouses that are seen along the Living With the Land boat tour. The two major differences between touring these facilities with Behind the Seeds as opposed to the boat are that the greenhouses are viewed in reverse order and guests have much more time to explore the greenhouses on foot. Guests are also allowed, and actually encouraged, to ask questions along the tour, gathering further insights into the processes taking place throughout the living laboratories.

The first greenhouse is the most technically advanced greenhouse, with focuses on hydroponics, aeroponics, integrated aquaculture, and the ability to produce plants in space. You are invited to explore the spaces here, obviously without interfering, where you can get so close to some of the procedures you can actually see the nutrient spray nozzles. Along this section of the tour guests are also exposed to pest management solutions, vertical growing techniques, and shown how to create your own hydroponic tank (complete with hand-out). This also happens to be the tastiest portion of the tour, where guests are invited to sample a cucumber that has been grown in the greenhouses.

Moving forward, the next room on the tour offers up some of the systems that can be used to generate high produce yields. Along this leg of Behind the Seeds guests are shown the Mickey molds for cucumbers, pumpkins, and other vegetables, the tomato trees which have been known to supply Guinness World Record setting amounts of crops, as well as a variety of vegetation stations where the gathered plants can be handled. It is also in this space that the theme of pest management is reintroduced, as children in the group are allowed to release ladybugs which will feed on smaller, more damaging, pests.

The group then moves into the aquaculture greenhouse, where fish farming is the topic of the moment. Along with sustainable fish farming practices, this section of Behind the Seeds also discusses how endangered species, such as the American Alligator on hand, can be cultivated and brought back to numbers above the endangered mark. It is here where the tour also takes on another interactive element, this time allowing the participants to feed the fish.

In the final greenhouse of the tour, the group makes its way into the tropical greenhouse. In addition to the techniques being implemented here to create and foster balanced farms in tropical environments, there are also a couple of container gardens not visible from the Living With the Land boat tour. The tea and spice gardens, the latter of which has samples in containers which members of the Behind the Seeds tour can examine and smell, exemplify the idea that anyone can create a garden that can have a positive impact.

Proving that sustainable crops can be created, the vegetables found within the greenhouses are used in the meals prepared inside The Land pavilion’s restaurants, and occasionally in other restaurants of Epcot. Similarly, the fish populations here can also be found plated at some Walt Disney World restaurants. While the only thing consumed on the tour is a slice of cucumber, the knowledge imparted to guests and the interactive nature of Behind the Seeds make this tour an unforgettable, repeatable, and thoroughly enjoyable experience, even if the tour only lasts a little over an hour.

For information on booking the tour, which I highly recommend you do the next time you are going to be in Walt Disney World, guests can call (407) WDW-TOUR [407-939-8687] or drop in at the information desk near the entrance to Soarin’ where you can learn more about Behind the Seeds and book your party. And be sure to come right back here on Thursday, when the Gazette will take you on a photo safari of Behind the Seeds.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article, Ryan. For the longest time I've been meaning to take this tour; now that I know of someone who's taken it, I've added it to my to do list for my next Epcot trip.

Do you happen to know how often the tour is held? I'm pretty certain it's held every day, but is it held hourly during Future World operating hours? Or, does it run on a different schedule?

Ryan P. Wilson said...

Tim, the tours are held every day, generally about once an hour or so through the morning and into the afternoon, but there are no evening or night tours.

Disneyana World said...

who was your tour guide?

Ryan P. Wilson said...

His name was Tom.

Marcus Powers said...

Hey there. Just started reading, loving it so far. Question: I'm going to WDW in June. I've been plenty of times and have seen a lot, but not the Behind the Seeds Tour. I'm interested in taking it, but my travel companion has never been to any Disney park, this will be her first visit. We'll be there for five days. I'm trying to figure out if taking the tour is worth it or if we should focus our time (or more specifically, hers) on doing all the "big" stuff since this is her first visit. (And I'll be back again, for sure.) Thoughts?