April 21, 2015

Disney’s Living with the Land Epcot Greenhouse Can Grow 35,000 Tomatoes from 1 Tomato Plant in 16 Months and Produce 9 Pound Lemons

One of the coolest, and most thought-provoking, experiences of The Walt Disney World experience thus far is the greenhouse ride at the Living with the Land attraction in Epcot.  By focusing on renewable farming techniques and applying best-practices in technology, the researchers and scientists that work in this facility have been able to dramatically increase crop yields in low-soil environments, engineering tomato plants that produce up to 35,000 tomatoes in 16 months, 9 pound lemons, lettuce plants that produce tens of thousands of heads of lettuce, and even fish and alligators.  

What I find particularly interesting is the implications for space colonization (no that isn’t a joke).  If the facility could ever become self-powering, perhaps with some sort of nuclear reactor, a self-sufficient bio-dome would be entirely possible.  There would be adjustments for gravity force that would need to be made.  Why aren’t our tax dollars going to research stuff like this?  World hunger could be essentially eliminated and mankind’s greatest asset – our combined intellectual capacity – could be freed to focus on other problems, such as engineering and biology.  

Walt Disney Epcot Greenhouse Entrance

The doors opened and the boat in which we rode made its way on the water canal into a large greenhouse with plants growing on either side of the bank.

Coffee Growing in the Epcot Living with the Land Greenhouse

The Epcot Living with the Land greenhouse can grow crops from all over the world regardless of climate, including coffee, cinnamon, vanilla, lemons, peppers, etc.

Vanilla Growing in the Epcot Living with the Land Greenhouse

The vanilla plants growing in the greenhouse ...

Miracle Fruit Miracle Berries Growing in the Epcot Living with the Land Greenhouse

The entire trip, Aaron has been asserting that Disney is so magical, that somewhere on the property, they are probably growing Miracle Berries, or Miracle Fruit, the magical food that causes your taste bud receptors to switch so that once you've eaten one, the hottest pepper would taste like the sweetest sugar candy. The effect is temporary, of course, but he's been wanting to grow them forever. Sure enough, we round the corner in the boat and Aaron lets out a triumphant, "Ha!" and points. Disney grows Miracle Berries.

Cacao Growing in the Epcot Living with the Land Greenhouse

The Epcot greenhouse even grew Cacoa, the plant that produces the essential ingredient in chocolate. This place is awesome! You could grow your own coffee, tea, sugar, cinnamon, chocolate ... why aren't all farms like this?

Bhut Jolokia Ghost Pepper

Don't touch this plant - the Bhut Jolokia, or Ghost Pepper or Ghost Chili, is the hottest pepper in the world. It is normally grown in India and rural Sri Lanka, where it is called the Cobra Chili. This chili pepper is 401.5 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. In the past few years, a handful of other chili peppers have been considered hotter (the Dorset Naga and Naga Viper, and Trinidad Scorpion Butch T), but is so powerful, that scientists in India's defense department are researching ways to use the ghost pepper in non-lethal hand grenades as a weapon to force terrorists to surrender. Bombs using the Bhut Jolokia are used to keep wild elephants at a distance as a safety precaution.

Farming Fish in the Epcot Living with the Land Greenhouse at Walt Disney World

A door opens in front of the boat and we are brought into a room where fish are being grown in tanks, farmed just like the lemon trees or tomato plants.

Hybrid Tilapia Farming

Schools of Tilapia were being grown in the tanks to my right in the greenhouse ... which is, paradoxically, red.

Alligator Farming

The Disney scientists even work on farming alligators and other animals to prove that mankind could create modern equivalents of Noah's Ark in the event of a natural disaster or the need to preserve a species.

Exiting the Fish Farming Area

We exited the fish farming area and entered another greenhouse ...

Growing Rice in the Disney Epcot Living with the Land Greenhouse

They are able to grow rich alongside corn alongside bananas alongside tomatoes alongside cotton ... it's amazing.

Growing Wheat in the Disney Epcot Living with the Land Greenhouse

If the world were better organized, food could be grown en masse in skyscraper-like greenhouses, free of disease and plague, at rock-bottom costs to make it more affordable for the world's poor. Would it bankrupt the average farmer? Yes. But they'd find other work (after all, virtually every one reading this had ancestors who were farmers and most of us aren't today). The gain to civilization would be worth that sacrifice if hunger could be eliminated in parts of the world where kids starve to death and life expectancy is under 35 years old.

Tomato Tree at the Epcot Living with the Land Greenhouse in Walt Disney World

The tomato trees at Disney were phenomenal. One of the trees (they grow them as trees with minimum soil instead of traditional bushes) produced 35,000 tomatoes in 16 months.

Growing Lettuce and Other Plants at the Living with the Land greenhouse at Walt Disney World's Epcot

There was another insane statistic regarding the lettuce, which you can see in the distance in the spiral tubes ... something like 15,000 heads of lettuce from a single plant. The tubes provides nourishment that, I presume, is computer-controlled based upon feedback from plant nutrient levels. That is just a guess but I was trying to analyze the wires as we went through the ride and figure out where they went.

Suspending Plants without Soil

I liked the suspended plants, grown without soil.

Nine Pound Lemons at Walt Disney

The lemon trees were awesome ... Disney can produce 9 pound lemons from its greenhouse. I have no idea how large a glass of iced tea would need to be to accomodate a 9 pound lemon but it's still fantastic they were able to figure out the process.

Disney Greenhouse Research

We passed what looked like a research lab in the greenhouse. There were also private tours available; the next time we go back, I'm signing up. This whole sustainable-environmentally-friendly-mass-production-of-food interests me.

Banana Tree

The banana trees were productive ... the leaves are huge.

Why couldn’t the Walt Disney Company create a subsidiary, let’s say Disney Foods, LLC, and begin a prototype greenhouse in the middle of the country, producing enormous quantities of food and selling to suppliers?  They would have the resources to compete with an Archer Daniels Midland.  If they just wanted to continue their food research, they could create a 501(c)3 instead, Disney Food Pantry, and give all of the harvest away to food banks, while raising donations to hire scientists and researchers.  That is the type of thing I would joyfully write a check to support.  There is so much to think about here … this is probably going to be one of those “big idea” moments in my life that will result in some action 10 or 20 years from now that will seem like it happened overnight but instead was the result of me thinking this over … it’s just awesome.  

  • Gilvus

    Hydroponics and aquaculture are not new technologies, but there are several issues that prevent anything like this from taking off. They can be separated into two broad categories: economics and politics.

    – Efficiency: one 9-pound lemon is impressive, but it takes exponentially more time, money, and energy to grow than 18 half-pound lemons.
    – Infrastructure: monumental startup costs (building the warehouse) and vastly increased overhead (maintaining a computer-regulated piping system). This is compared to simply putting seeds in the ground and occasionally providing nutrients and pesticides.
    – Intellectual property: Monsanto will demand hefty royalties for
    anything it can slap its name on, down to the diameter of pipe that’s
    optimal for tomato roots.
    – Demand: the end result is a product that’s obscenely expensive and only desirable to a very small niche market (i.e. very wealthy, very environmentally-conscious folks).

    – Influence: Agribusiness has a huge lobby, just like Big Pharma, Big Coal, and Big Oil.
    – Research: Scientists can only discover things if they receive grants. And the people who grant money are  government agencies and big companies (see previous point).
    – Fear: I want to pull out my hair when I think about misinformation concerning genetically modified crops. Some people think GM crops will cause mutations in babies or grow teeth and bite back.

    TL;DR: there’s a gazillion barriers to entry, and world governments won’t do anything about them until people demand it. I share your frustration about this, but like so many global problems it stems from the basic human desire to see results NOW rather than later.

    • Joshua Kennon

      Thank you for the analysis, Gilvus.  It’s just so frustrating because we have so many answers already in our possession to make the world a better place and they’re being squandered.

      On a personal moral and ethical level, I have significant disagreements with the business practices of a handful of the agricultural companies.  Was it them that, many years ago, were trying to engineer foods that produced no seeds so people had to constantly buy new seeds from the company?  I’d have to research it but I recall hearing something along those lines.  If it’s true – and, again, I don’t recall so I am not asserting it is – the whole mindset goes against millions of years of evolution and natural law – that things exist to reproduce.  The idea of attempting to purposely create a world of constant dependence by requiring poor farmers to buy new seeds annually … I don’t know … though normally effusive in my speech, I can’t quite articulate how I feel about it other than to say it strikes me as fundamentally evil in the truest sense of the world, almost bordering on what people would call Satanic in Western civilizations.  I can own tobacco companies, alcohol companies, pharmaceuticals, and big oil shares, but I have never been able to bring myself to buy shares of stock in a specific firm (which I won’t mention) regardless of the price.  It is a personal, religious, and philosophical decision.  

      It may or may not be rational but it is how I feel.  So far (and God willing forever) I’ve earned everything I have ethically, honestly, and productively.  I’ve never cheated on my taxes, ripped someone off, or stolen.  I look back fondly on different holdings I have and take pride that I was able to identify opportunities and take advantage of them.  Right or wrong, I don’t want a single penny in dividends from a company like the one that concerns me (again, I’m not going to mention the name).  Perhaps I’m being completely irrational.  But it’s my own philosophical and religious beliefs in the nature of the world.

      • Gilvus

        No problem. You continually share what you’ve studied (business, investing, and sociology), so the least I can do is share a little of what I know (I’m in environmental geology).

        Yes, Monsanto and other Big Ag companies sell genetically engineered crops to farmers and legally prohibit them from hoarding any seed for next year’s harvest. I have no clue how they enforce this, but that means the farmer must buy a new cache of seed from the company before each year’s harvest, or face . I know this is how it works with maize (my parents are in the industry), and I suspect it works with other grains as well.

        Eventually the bugs, fungus, and bacteria that were defeated by the GM crops adapt to their situation and find new ways around the crops’ resistances via natural selection.  Thus Big Ag companies must constantly conduct very expensive, very in-depth research to continually turn out new GM crops. That’s the justification for their actions – part intellectual property, part sustainability (both for themselves and for the year-to-year harvest). The ethical implications of essentially creating super-pests is a whole different can of worms…

        A similar system is used in Big Pharma, where the process of bringing a single drug to market can costseveral billion dollars and take over ten years!  That’s why they get a decade-long monopoly for simply creating a new chemical compound.

        • Gilvus

          or face legal retaliation*. Oops.

    • Janice

      You have good points on hydroponics. I just wanted to give a bit of info on the “9” pound Lemon. It is called a Pondorosa (sp?) Lemon and takes the same amount of time as regular Myers Lemons. I have a Myers that gives lemons the size of a large orange. I have a friend who grows the Pondorosas and he said you can make a lemon pie with just one, they give that much juice. :) Disney has a great “Behind the seeds” tour that is awesome. Did it a couple of years ago.

  • crabhooves

    The idea of animals being farmed is loathsome to me – especially that Tilapia tank in the “red”house. For the amount of fish living in such a small tank, I can’t imagine they live any kind of life worth living. We’ve passed a profound and horrible (yet inexplicably unspoken) moral line when animals are no longer senient, living, feeling creatures capable of pain and stress and everything we feel (though typically on a less complex level) and have become units of production, like a tomato or a bushel of wheat.

  • epcot

    when i go to walt disney world in july im going to ride this ride it looks so cool!!!!

  • Vinny

    Unfortunately all the amazing facts, pictures, and stats are due to GMOs (genetically modified organisms). There’s evidence that gmo foods are detrimental to your health. Learn for yourself. Do a google search on GMOs.