Tag Archives: Walt Disney World Company

Local Tower Garden Farmer Produces Aeroponic Food for Disney, Emeril’s, and other Fine Orlando Restaurants

Our mission at Future Growing® is to inspire healthy and sustainable living around the world, by empowering people with the technology and training to do so. We have been on this journey for almost a decade, with over 100 successful projects across North America.

The GreenHouse

Katherine Grandey, owner and operator of The GreenHouse. (Click photo to enlarge)

The local, grass roots urban food movement has given us the opportunity to meet some truly extraordinary people along the way, and the urban farmer we’ve featured this week is no exception. She is not only a first-class producer of premium produce, but has been instrumental in transforming the quality and standards for the locally grown food market in Central Florida.

I met Katherine Grandey, co-founder and owner of “The GreenHouse”, in Orlando, Fla., three years ago. Even though she was a highly-educated professional with a career and a young family, she wanted to be more engaged with her family, live a healthier life, and run her own company.

With that vision in mind, Katherine developed three main goals for her business:

  1. Produce healthy, safe food for her family.
  2. Provide local, healthy, chemical-free, low-carbon footprint food to the Orlando-area community.
  3. Work a moderate amount of hours and have time to raise her children.

To meet these goals, Katherine created a business plan with three main objectives:

  1. Produce food that is “beyond organic”, meaning that the food is more nutritious, has a smaller carbon footprint, and uses far less water.
  2. Start off with a 100-tower Tower Garden® farm in an affordable 48′ x 48′ greenhouse and office.
  3. Utilize Future Growing® patented vertical aeroponic technology to grow a multitude of produce in very little space to produce the highest quality local food available in Central Florida.

After developing her successful business more than two years ago, I recently had a chance to catch up with Katherine on the success of her Tower Garden® farm. Here is what she had to say:

Katherine, I am so proud of the work you are doing! You are obviously very busy. Who are your current clients?

Several high-end restaurants at the Walt Disney World resorts, along with Emeril’s Orlando, Ritz Carlton, Marriott World Center, Hilton, and several others.

Apopka 2 Apopka 3.jpg Ritz
Tower Gardens

Tower Gardens® (Click photo to enlarge)

These are big accounts! How did you land them…and keep them buying from you year round?

It is a well known fact that food grown in Florida has heavy pesticide residues. This is a natural side effect of farming in a state that has tremendous insect and disease pressures. The emerging local food movement in “the Sunshine State”, combined with the state’s looming water crisis, has created a boom of opportunity for farmers like me.

The restaurants we sell to demand the highest quality local, healthy, pesticide-free food. They also need seasonal consistency, which is something that has not been possible for outdoor farms. The Future Growing® Tower Gardens® allow us to have total control over the growth of the plant. The towers are so predictable and grow plants so consistently, that we can plan our seeding, transplanting and harvest four to six weeks in advance and be able to count on those numbers.

Petite leafy green mix, one week after transplant

Petite leafy green mix, one week after transplanting. (Click photo to enlarge)


Micro greens

Micro greens. (Click photo to enlarge)

We also have incredibly small losses, and the consistency of growing allows us to be able to deliver the same quantities weekly to our restaurants, making us a lot more reliable than “traditional” farms.

Because Orlando hosts large, international conventions, we can even accommodate special events and one-time orders, if we know far enough in advance.

What crops does The GreenHouse specialize in?

Petite leafy greens, lettuces, herbs and micro greens. A few of our micro greens include arugula, green sorrel, Swiss chard, and Tuscan kale.

Baby arugula

Baby arugula. (Click photo to enlarge)

What are some of the ways you have tried to sell produce, and which way is the most profitable?

Chives

Chives. (Click photo to enlarge)

We sell our produce “live”, with the roots attached. Living food grown in the aeroponic Tower Gardens produce the freshest, most flavorful aroma you can imagine, so the chefs really love it!

Petite sizes seem to be in demand with these clients, and I can turn these crops around in just 15 days with aeroponics! We sell and deliver directly to restaurants, which we find to be the most profitable. We also sell some plants through local produce distributors.

Florida has some extreme growing conditions that can bring in the bugs and diseases. How do you combat that?

The GreenHouse

North side of The GreenHouse. (Click photo to enlarge)

Our locally manufactured greenhouse from Imperial Builders and Supply is designed specifically for the harsh Florida climate. We have insect screens to keep the “bad” bugs out, evaporative cooling pads to keep us cool in the summer, and special light-diffusing plastic to keep the intense sun away from our crops.

Growing our food vertically keeps the plants up off the ground and allows for plentiful air circulation, which deters most pests and diseases. We use only organic sprays or beneficial insects for the few pest challenges we encounter at specific times of the year.

Releasing beneficial insects into the greenhouse

Releasing beneficial insects into the greenhouse.
(Click photo to enlarge)

Katherine, based on the information you just provided, I calculate that you can produce 135,000 plants in this small area on an annual basis. That is a tremendous turnover. I know you like to spend a lot of time at home with your family, so how many employees do you have?

Not too many, besides myself. We have one full-time manager, who oversees order fulfillment, seed planting, crop transplanting, and the cleaning and general greenhouse upkeep. We have a second full-time employee who works closely with the manager to fulfill the aforementioned jobs. We have an additional one to two part-time workers who help transplant, harvest, and maintain the greenhouse. We also work with a variety of community volunteers and college interns who help keep labor costs low, but gain education and experience in return.

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The GreenHouse volunteers hard at work!
(Click photo to enlarge)

Katherine, besides meeting your business goals, what have you enjoyed most about your work?

I love watching the expression on the chefs’ faces every time I walk in with a delivery! “Katherine is here!” they say, since they can smell the living food as soon as I walk in the door!

I am also someone who tries to live a green lifestyle. With our cool greenhouse and vertical aeroponic technology, we have been able to show people that there is a solution to the environmental challenges we face in Florida. I can grow an enormous amount of plants vertically in my small greenhouse with as little as five percent of the water as the outdoor farmers. I don’t use contaminated agriculture water, herbicides, or chemicals. My food is nutrient-dense, clean, and free of harmful pathogens. People just love it! They have come to understand what we are about and stand for, and that has given us a loyal following.

To learn more about Katherine and The GreenHouse, please click here.

Tim Blank
Founder and CEO, Future Growing® LLC

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Integrated Pest Management

This week, I’m excited to share some of the secret tips used by our professional growers for successful organic pest control.

Ladybugs

Ladybugs. (Click photo to enlarge)

For those of you who are lucky enough to call Central Florida your home like myself, you know that this part of the country can be a growing paradise — and during some seasons, an insect nightmare. Although Florida has an incredible climate, the high nighttime temperatures and humidity in the hot season create the perfect home for almost every vegetable pest imaginable.

Twenty years ago, I began my tenure at Walt Disney World Company at The Land at EPCOT Center. The Land is a two-acre, protected growing biome, where we grew over 100 food crops from around the world using almost hydroponics technique imaginable. Because we grew such a diversity of crops year-round at this facility in Florida, pests and diseases could become a huge problem almost overnight! At The Land, we controlled harmful diseases and insect pests by using Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

The Land at Epcot

“The Land” at Epcot Center. (Click photo to enlarge)

IPM is the practice of using a combination of organic-type sprays, beneficial insects to eat the bad bugs, farm cleanliness measures, and good plant training practices which allow the sun and air to circulate in the plant canopy. Why would Disney utilize IPM 20 years ago, when organic food was hardly known by the average consumer and chemical pesticide use was commonplace? The answer: The thousands of guests coming through the middle of the Epcot greenhouse every day on a boat ride made it technically impossible to spray harmful chemicals in the greenhouse.

There is an old saying: “Necessity breeds innovation”. In this case, necessity created 30 years of groundbreaking research and successful application of natural pest control practices in the world’s largest hydroponic showcase facility. Much of the IPM research was done in conjunction with the University of Florida, and can be found in many scientific publications.

Bell Book and Candle

Bell Book and Candle Rooftop Farm – New York (Click photo to enlarge)

I share this story because it inspired me to teach every new Future Growing vertical farmer to do the same. Our clients produce healthy, local, chemical-free food for consumers — and for every plant that is purchased from one of our growers, another chemically-treated plant is not purchased from “Big Agriculture”. This is a perfect example of how the world’s problems can be reduced or eliminated when each consumer makes a conscious choice to live a greener life!

There is a science behind the use of beneficial insects. An entomology background is generally required to identify the genus and species of the problem insect. Once the pest problem has been properly identified, the specific genus and species of a predatory insect must be purchased and released at specific intervals for maximum kill rate. Some outdoor farms that have a wide variety of crops, such as Bell Book and Candle, create a natural environment for many of the good bugs to reproduce and create their own natural ecosystem.


IPM Blog 5

The second option is to use organic sprays on a regular basis during the heavy pest season. Below are three of my favorite organic sprays that have given our growers tremendous success, even in a place like Florida during the warmer months! If you are a home gardener, you can use the same formula to easily and safely control pests right in your own back yard!

Here’s an organic spray for many insects like aphids, mites, thrips, whiteflies, and other small insects. This formula even serves as a mild fungicide. Mixing instructions follow:

  • Horticultural grade insecticidal soap, 1 tablespoon per gallon of water
  • Horticultural grade neem oil, 1 tablespoon per gallon of water
    • Mix everything well, and then continue to shake periodically during use.
    • Always spray in morning, before sunrise, or in late evening. Never spray in sunlight.
    • Spray plants liberally — soak them — and be sure to get the undersides of leaves where the insects feed.
    • Discard old spray. Do not save!
    • Clean sprayer well after each use.

Apply once a week during light pest season — or twice a week during heavy pest season.

Organic spray for all worms or caterpillars:

  • 1 tablespoon per gallon of water (or label rate), of Bacillus thuringiensis (BT, brand name Thuricide)
    • Follow label and mix well.
    • Always spray in morning, before sunrise, or in late evening. Never spray in sunlight.
    • Spray plants liberally — soak the plant well — and be sure to get the undersides of leaves where the worms or caterpillars feed.
    • Discard old spray. Do not save!
    • Clean sprayer well after each use.

Apply when you first start seeing worms in the areas they are feeding.

Organic spray for leaf fungus like powdery mildew:

  • Potassium bicarbonate, or Mil-Stop brand.
  • Follow instructions on label, and mix well.
    • Always spray in morning, before sunrise, or in late evening. Never spray in sunlight.
    • Spray plants liberally. Soak the plants well.
    • Discard old spray. Do not save!
    • Clean sprayer well after each use.

Tim Blank
Founder and CEO, Future Growing® LLC