Saturday, March 12, 2011

EPCOT - "Living with the Land" my ass!

I preface this post by saying that I had a great vacation.  Tiring, but great.  Really enjoyed it.  And we are home safe and sound and surrounded by -20C snow once again (but it is supposed be warming up and I don't live in Japan, so I'm not complaining). 

I realized something about myself in the past 2 weeks that all of you likely already know - I enjoy it more if I deconstruct it and see all the pieces.  I'm not a "look at the surface and like the shiny-ness of it" type of person.  I like to look deep and see the truth - not just what "they" want me to see.  I'll write another post talking about all the fun we had, and I'll post pictures on Facebook - or Noel will - and you can see them there.  But this first post-vacation post is the one that I feel the need to write the most.  Probably because I really learned something about myself through this particular experience.

For those of you who have been living in a bubble (or maybe don't care about Disney, or don't live in North America), EPCOT is one of the parks at Disney World.  It was designed to be sort of a look at the future as well as a permanent world's fair - these are two very distinct parts to the park.  In the future section of the park is a pavillion labeled "The Land" - and within the pavillion are the rides "Soaring" and "Living With the Land".   "Soaring" is the same as California Adventure's "Soaring Over California" and is a very enjoyable ride that we make sure to see every time we're at the parks.  "Living with the Land" is a boat ride through different representations of environments, and then through experimental greenhouses.  "Greenhouses", I thought, "Perfect for me!".

So I departed from our party and went on Living with the Land.  Very excited to see what kinds of advances they were discovering in agriculture through their experimental greenhouses.  My dream, right?  Well, you'd think so, but it turned out to be a bit of a nightmare and very depressing to me ....  Let me explain.

The ride is a ride - the environments are showing how we live on a diverse planet (well, really more about how America is a diverse country, environmentally) and showing the challenges of growing in different climates.  Sort of.  At least I think that was the point.  But it was when we got into the greenhouses that I was paying more attention. 

On the surface, the greenhouses are cool.  They have lots of amazing plants, many of which are in planters and then grown up to a canopy where they grow and produce fruit and veg.  It's very cool to see a tree of tomatoes that is 16 months old.  And to see really huge pumpkins hanging in slings from the canopy of their leaves.  Pretty amazing, really.  I was hooked.  I wanted a closer look.  And for $18 anyone can take a guided tour of the greenhouses.  I was too late to sign up for a tour that day, but when we decided to re-visit Epcot on our last day, I took my opportunity and signed up for the hour-long tour.

Our first stop was a lab where they study insects - my first twinge of concern came when the tour guide told us that they sterilize everything - that struck me as odd.  Then she started to explain the hydroponic process of growing.  All of the growing medium is sterilized and nutrient-free.  They use coconut husks, sand, rock medium and other things - but none of it has any nutritional value, and it is all sterilized.  The nutrients for the plants come from a nutrient liquid (made, undoubtedly by Monsanto!) that has "all of the nutrients you find in soil".  My eyes glazed over at this comment.  Perhaps it has all of the nutrients we are aware of in soil, but if the last 50 years has taught us anything, it's that we don't know everything - we certainly don't know everything that goes on in soil - and therefore can't possibly know all micronutrients and chemical reactions that occur in the soil.  This all struck me as a very narrow way of dealing with plants.  So I asked whether any research had been done to compare the nutritive content of the food grown with organically grown foods.  And, as expected, her answer was "No.  But it tastes just the same."  Because taste tells us all, right.  Because if it tastes good it must be good. 

Just as a point of reference here, I've recently read that they are finding the reactions between certain microbes or insects and the plant roots are important for providing micronutrients to the plants.  Sorry, I can't find the reference to that right now, but it made sense to me.  You need to deal with an ecosystem, not just it's individual components.  So I highly doubt that you can create a liquid that has everything a plant needs to be its healthiest and to produce the best produce for the human body. 

Next problem (and this will come as no surprise) ... Everything that the plants were contained in - from the pipes carrying the liquid, the vats it was stored in, the planters the plants were in - everything - was plastic.  There is a saying out there:  "if your food is in plastic, the plastic is in you".  I still use some plastic for food storage, and I grow a few plants in plastic planters every summer.  But I'm really starting to question if this is a good idea.  And I certainly don't think that growing plants in sterile growth medium stored in plastic, fed through plastic tubes and surrounded by plastic can produce vegetables and fruit that don't contain some of the plastic components in their tissues.  Just like our bodies absorb the pesticides and residues that we are surrounded with, I think the plants must as well.  Now, I guess the question would be whether those plants would be less damaging to us than conventionally grown veg covered in pesticides and grown in depleted soils.  Probably not.  But in my opinion organic food is certainly the least objectionable option.

Another odd thing - the greenhouse had no smell.  When I walk into a greenhouse, the first thing I usually notice is the earthy, heady smell of the dirt and the plants and the oxygen.  It's intoxicating to me.  I love it.  This greenhouse had no smell.  All the organic activity that takes place in the soil - not there.  That was just wrong to me.

Now, it was an interesting tour.  But as I was reflecting on it, I realized that it is the height of scientific absurdity to think that we can do better with chemicals and plastic than with good healthy soil.  It is, to me, a continuation of the post-war, space-race attitude that has gotten us away from the earth and into some serious trouble.  But that's just me.  I'm sure lots of people see this type of technology as potentially solving world hunger.  I'd rather see us teach individuals how to grow their own food than to take it into highly sterile greenhouses that only specialists can run. 

I do see this application being an interesting solution for people on the space station or on longer space missions, though.  Although I doubt the latter will ever come to fruition.  And I'm sure that they do learn stuff through their research which can help us with other types of agriculture.  But I don't see this as the ideal way to produce food for the masses - or even to grow stuff on your own. 

So ... what I learned about myself?  I learned that I have come to trust in nature (God?) and the grand design that has developed over the past 5 or 6 billion years that provides us with what we need.  I believe that nature knows best, can provide everything we will ever need, and if we live in a way that recognizes our bond with the rest of the world, we will be healthier and happier.  That's what I learned.  That's where I'm happy.

So thanks, Disney, for showing me the exact opposite of what I am so that I could see myself more clearly.


  1. Ha ha ha! I did this tour last year and had the EXACT same reaction! And the other thing that got me, in addition to your list, was the enormous amounts of inputs required by this system. If their electricity goes out, that's it! They must suck up an enormous amout of power at that place. So yeah, it was an eye-opener for me, too!

  2. Marie - I hadn't even thought of that. Of course, they must suck up a huge amount of electricity. At least one room in the greenhouse has to be air conditioned, the others have to have fans going at all times. I was just amazed that other people on the tour DIDN'T have that reaction. They all seemed gung ho on it. Argh! Oh well, onwards!


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