Living with the Land Day Thread

One of my favorite rides at Epcot is Living with the Land. It’s Epcot’s ‘behind the scenes’ attraction (in a class with Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which showed actual veterinary work done on the Animal Kingdom animals, and the Backlot Tour, which in theory at least showed actual aspects of movie production before its ignominious demise). In this case, LWTL is a look at Disney’s food production, a slow paced boat tour through an active hydroponic greenhouse that grows literal tons of vegetables and fish each year for use in venues all around the parks. If you’ve ever eaten a meal in the parks more gourmet than a hot dog, chances are it had some component grown in the LWTL greenhouse.

The ride starts with a tour through some charmingly chintzy dioramas, the most impressive of which is a prairie farmhouse.

See the dog on the porch? It was modeled after Walt Disney’s dog, and is the same basic animatronic that also appears in the Carousel of Progress and Pirates of the Caribbean over at Magic Kingdom.

The other biomes featured include a thunderstorm, a rain forest, and a desert. All of them can also be viewed from above by those dining in the rotating Garden Grill restaurant, which is the eatery most consistently stocked with produce from the ride itself.

After this tour of dioramas, the boats emerge into the hydroponic greenhouse, starting in its impressive geodesic dome, which mirrors the Buckminster Fuller-inspired architecture of the park icon, Spaceship Earth. (These upcoming photographs were taken by me on the “Behind the Seeds” tour).

Many of the plants are pruned, sculpted, or molded into a Mickey-like shape. This black pepper tree is the oldest plant in the greenhouse, having been planted 15 years ago.

Another component of the greenhouse complex is the plant lab, where research into growing techniques and pest management is conducted by Disney botanists in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture. On the tour you get to see some of this up close – Here are some leaves ravaged by leaf miner larvae, which can be located and eaten before they cause problems by a certain species of carnivorous wasp:

It’s not just vegetables – there is a whole aquaculture corridor that’s nearly impossible to photograph due to its low light. This area of the ride is almost certainly the source whenever tilapia, catfish, or head-on shrimp appear on Disney World menus. There’s also an integrated aquaculture display out in the greenhouse at large.

There are also a number of hydroponic and vertical farming techniques on display, including this conveyor belt of cylinders bearing herbs.

Living with the Land is, at this point, the strongest remaining vestige of the old EPCOT: an educational, functional, experimental facility that’s part ride, part farm, part museum, even part restaurant. It’s dry and hokey and in its own way insanely ambitious, and I love that it’s still around, producing the mild fish and edible flowers and mint leaves I eat around the World.