With over 560 food and beverage locations serving up nearly 37,000 different recipes to Walt Disney World Resort guests, there's always going to be food at the Central Florida tourist destination that doesn't get served. But what happens to extra food at Walt Disney World (WDW)?
Extra Disney food, from lettuce and cucumbers grown at Epcot's Living with the Land attraction to unserved dairy products from WDW kitchens, rides a different kind of attraction: It's loaded into delivery trucks for a drive to Second Harvest Food Bank, an Orlando-based food bank that serves food-insecure families in six Central Florida counties.
"It's been a great partnership over so many years," Greg Higgerson, the chief development officer at Second Harvest, tells Yahoo Life. "I can count on a number of fingers all of the corporate partners who really cover all the bases a food bank needs in order to operate: volunteers, funds and food. Disney provides that and then some."
Higgerson says in 2021, Second Harvest distributed more than one million meals, averaging between 250,000 and 300,000 meals per day provided for people who depend on resources like soup kitchens, emergency food pantries and shelters to survive. Donations come from large Florida-based corporations like WDW, as well as from growers, manufacturers, state government and individual donations.
"At the end of the day it's really not about food," he says. "It's about people."
And WDW, one of the largest employers in Central Florida, has plenty of people ready to help.
Ali Manion, an ambassador at WDW, says the program, called Disney Harvest, has been an ongoing partnership between Second Harvest and WDW for more than 30 years.
"In 2021, we had over 550 pounds of food donated to Second Harvest that went out into the community," says Manion. "It's a wonderful partnership. We provided nearly 3,000 volunteer hours in 2021 as well."
Manion says in addition to donating prepared and nonperishable foods that were not served at WDW, the resort also supplies donations of pre-packaged foods and canned goods in addition to financial contributions. And, employees who volunteer to sort and package donated food items for at least 50 hours in 2022, as part of WDW's 50th-anniversary celebration, will receive a special iridescent name badge acknowledging their service.
But the Disney Harvest program and the more than 800,000 pounds of food donated to local food banks to date is just one of the ways WDW strives to keep its food practices sustainable. Heather Sylvester, a sous chef at WDW's Golden Oak residential community, says sustainable cooking practices start before Disney food hits the table.
"For us, sustainability comes in a lot of forms, especially in the kitchen," says Sylvester, who maintains a garden of produce and herbs at Golden Oak. "It isn't just food. We're really trying to push toward zero waste. Yes, food is the start — it's our whole life — so how are using our food? How are we ordering our food? Is it the right amount? Are we smart when we order? Are we thinking things through?"
"It's everything from LED lights in the kitchen to using less power," she explains. "Are we turning on the equipment at the right time so we're not wasting energy? Are we wasting fryer oil by turning our fryers on before we need them? It's a lot of little smart decisions that greatly impact our day and how we are driving ourselves toward extended sustainability."
Sylvester, who uses herbs from the Golden Oak garden for cooking and cocktails and is currently working on a two-year asparagus-growing project in the garden raised beds, says bees are another important part of horticulture at WDW: At Golden Oak and throughout WDW property, honey bee hives are maintained behind the scenes to help keep gardens fertilized and draw bees away from theme parks, resorts and other public areas.
And then, there's Epcot's Living with the Land, an attraction-meets-farm where vegetables are grown and fish like tilapia are raised.
"The Land Pavilion is 80% run by students studying horticulture, agriculture, lawn care maintenance and other plant-based studies," says Sylvester. "They come from very diverse backgrounds and they run this entire building that produces thousands and thousands of pounds of food. They get a huge harvest and they send it out to all the restaurants on property which is outstanding because everyone can use their cucumbers or their lettuce or other things that grow relatively quickly."
WDW plans to highlight these and more sustainable practices throughout the month of April for Earth Month, as part of their Planet Possible series.
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