Disney Food for Families Columnist Erin Foster takes us backstage on on the Behind the Seeds Tour in Epcot’s The Land pavilion.
Back in the day, we pulled our girls out of school a few times to go to Disney World (shhh, don’t tell). To assuage my guilt, I tried to work some educational content into these trips. One of my attempts at intellectual betterment resulted in signing the family up for the Behind the Seeds tour at the Land pavilion at Epcot. Learning! About food!
As it turns out, we really did have such a great time learning about, and trying, the foods in the Land, we’ve been back on the tour twice more.
Behind the Seeds is an hour-long walk through much of the growing areas seen during the Living with the Land boat ride. If you’ve ever been on the boat and wondered who those rock star folks were walking around in the gardens, well, those are the Behind the Seeds people. Don’t forget to wave.
Tours are lead by members of the botanical team at the Land. These are often graduate students in the agricultural sciences. Personally, I’m not a gardener, but if you did have a technical question, the guides would be equipped with answers.
The first stop on the tour is the laboratory where you watch a very short film; the guide describes the natural methods of pest control employed both at the Land and in eco-farming. There are tanks and cages with creepy-crawlies like big spiders. If you’re an arachnophobe, you might want to avert your eyes, but most will be fascinated. From my kids’ perspective, by far the best part of the lab visit was the temporary gift of a vial of live ladybugs. (More on them in a moment.)
After the lab, the tour moves quickly into the greenhouse area. The guide explains innovative farming methods such as nutrient film technique plant feeding and hydroponics — that’s the method of growing you see on the Living with the Land ride where the plants are hanging in the air, growing with no soil. Guests are given instructions on how to grow their own plants hydroponically. Actually doing this myself seemed a little past my black-thumb gardening skills, but the information was thoroughly engaging.
Then we were given descriptions of many of the crops grown at the land, including the World Record tomato tree and the nine-pound lemons.
Once the basic science and general exploration are out of the way, then comes some really important stuff: info on how they make those cooler-than-cool Mickey-shaped veggies. Guests are allowed to hold the molds that contain those special crops and, if one is in the proper growth phase, you can even hold a Mickey-shaped Cinderella pumpkin. My girls like to wonder what would happen if the Fairy Godmother waved her wand at one of those!
In addition to simply holding a Mickey crop, guests are given the opportunity to actually eat some of the bounty of the Land. Sometimes this is just a regular cucumber, but if you’re having a pixie-dusted day, you’ll be given a chance to try a Mickey-shaped cucumber grown right there at Epcot.
After the snack, and a quick squirt of hand sanitizer, the children on the tour are instructed to open their containers of ladybugs. These insects are friendly to humans, but are predators of many creatures that are harmful to plants. They are used as a natural, non-toxic from of pest management. My kids ADORE this part of the tour. They have a wonderful time exploring the plants and deciding which are most in need of ladybug attention.
Moving on from the greenhouses, the next stop is the aquaculture center of the Land. Again, the guide introduces the area with basic descriptions of safe and sustainable farming, but this time they’re taking about fish farming. And yes, some of the fish raised here are served in Walt Disney World restaurants.
The interactive element of the aquaculture area involves feeding the animals. Guests, including children, are given a handful of nutrition-filled pellets. The first time we took the tour, the pellets were for feeding the alligators. Even though they are little alligators, housed behind a nice glass wall, I found myself to be more than a little jumpy around them. On more recent tours, guests have been instructed to feed their pellets to the fish. This is somewhat like feeding fish in a tank at home, only much, much bigger.
Back to the Greenhouse
The tour wraps up back in the greenhouse area with some hands-on exploration of some of familiar spices, as well as the seeds and pods of some more unusual plants. You can smell the rosemary and ginger, feel the newly harvested cotton balls, and handle the heft of a cassabanana.
A final bit of fun I should note is that the Behind the Seeds tour includes many Hidden Mickeys along the way, some of which are not visible during the regular Living with the Land ride. Challenge your kids to see if they can find them.
At just an hour long, the Behind the Seeds tour packs in a lot of information and a lot of fun. There are no age restrictions for this experience. While all are welcome, my girls first experienced Behind the Seeds when the youngest were about six years old. Depending on the temperament of your children, my feeling is this is about the lowest age that will truly enjoy the tour. On the upper end, we’ve been on the tour with my 60+ year old parents and they were even more fascinated than the kids.
The Behind the Seeds tour can be booked in advance by calling 407-WDW-TOUR. Or if you’re looking to get worked in at the last minute you can stop by the tour registration desk which is located near the entrance to Soarin’. Behind the Seeds is one of the most reasonably-priced in-park add-on experiences around. Currently the cost is just $12 for children ages 3 to 9 and $16 for ages 10 and up. Kids under the age of three are free. There are often price discounts available for Disney annual pass holders, DVC members, and Disney Visa card holders. Be sure to ask about this when you book your tour.
One final note, cameras and video equipment are allowed on the tour, a real rarity for a Disney behind-the-scenes experience. This is a great opportunity to capture some unique shots for your vacation scrapbook.
Have you been on the Behind The Seeds Tour, or are you planning a visit on your next trip? Let us know in the comments section below!