Epcot Flower & Garden Festival :: Festival Center Walkaround

May 10th, 2017
by Mealtrip |
EPCOT
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Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival, the park's "Festival Center" is open and filled with presentations, displays and festival merchandise. The large air-conditioned space also happens to be a great place to escape the Florida sun, if you are on that side of the park.

While many of the presentations are flower and nature themed, I managed to find a weekend where everything was a bit more geared to gardens and food! I spent a couple of hours strolling around Festival Center, talking to participants and sitting in on a few demonstrations. While this article isn't really about eating stuff, I thought it would be nice to share some snapshots from my walkabout!

The Greenhouse Stage in Epcot's Festival Center.
The Greenhouse Stage in Epcot's Festival Center.


My first stop was at the Greenhouse Stage where Florida Farmer Jerry Dakin from the Dakin Dairy Farms was set to give a presentation about his family farm.

The cast members in the Festival Center get to wear these really cool purple shirts!
The cast members in the Festival Center get to wear these really cool purple shirts!


The Greenhouse Stage presentations are very popular because every audience member gets a cool bag and small plant! The presentation is free, but you must pick up the free ticket at the information desk located near the entrance of the Festival Center building (it's inside... after you make your way down the ramp and onto the main floor).

Every audience member that attends the Greenhouse Stage presentation received a small plant and a cool Flower and Garden Festival bag!
Every audience member that attends the Greenhouse Stage presentation received a small plant and a cool Flower and Garden Festival bag!


The plants change a bit from day to day and I had a lot of fun just trying to figure out what the little green guy was! There is also some paper on the tables for wrapping the plant up and placing it in your bag, just in case you won't be going right home to plant it in your garden.

It's so much fun trying to figure out what that little plant is! I read the orange plastic tab that was in the planter, and I still don't know! I guess we'll see what it is, when it grows up!
It's so much fun trying to figure out what that little plant is! I read the orange plastic tab that was in the planter, and I still don't know! I guess we'll see what it is, when it grows up!


Before you knew it, Central Florida authors Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand and Heather McPherson took the stage to talk about their book "Field to Feast" which includes recipes that celebrate Florida's Farmers… many of whom the team met personally at various locations throughout Florida as they were writing the book.

Central Florida authors Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand and Heather McPherson take the stage to introduce the day's guest speaker.
Central Florida authors Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand and Heather McPherson take the stage to introduce the day's guest speaker.

The Brandon, Farmand and McPherson team have penned quite a few books over the years!
The Brandon, Farmand and McPherson team have penned quite a few books over the years!


The day's guest farmer, Jerry Dakin was introduced and guests were able to hear a bit about his family dairy farm, and even ask a few questions!

Florida farmer Jerry Dakin from the Dakin Dairy Farms takes the stage to talk about his family farm, and to take a few questions.
Florida farmer Jerry Dakin from the Dakin Dairy Farms takes the stage to talk about his family farm, and to take a few questions.

Heather McPherson mingles with the audience to help field questions.
Heather McPherson mingles with the audience to help field questions.


After the presentation wrapped up, the four speakers moved over to the "book signing and autograph" area where they continued to field questions and talk to guests one-on-one. The Brandon, Farmand and McPherson team have penned quite a few books over the years, two of which are available for purchasing at the festival "Field to Feast" (which was featured today) and "Good Catch - Recipes & Stories Celebrating the Best of Florida's Waters".

Jerry Dakin from the Dakin Dairy Farms talks to guests in the "book autograph" area.
Jerry Dakin from the Dakin Dairy Farms talks to guests in the "book autograph" area.

From left to right... Jerry Dakin from the Dakin Dairy Farms, Heather McPherson, Pam Brandon, and Katie Farmand.
From left to right... Jerry Dakin from the Dakin Dairy Farms, Heather McPherson, Pam Brandon, and Katie Farmand.


I had a little bit of time before the next presentation began and decided to walk around and visit a few of the vendors and guest presenters that have small booths and displays set up around the building.

There are booths and presentations set up around the Festival Center where you can chat with various gardeners and farmers.
There are booths and presentations set up around the Festival Center where you can chat with various gardeners and farmers.

It's so much fun getting to talk to the various growers. They really know their stuff. You don't have to be an expert to talk to them though. A simple question like "so what do you guys do?" is enough to get a conversation going.
It's so much fun getting to talk to the various growers. They really know their stuff. You don't have to be an expert to talk to them though. A simple question like "so what do you guys do?" is enough to get a conversation going.

The plants in here are amazing. Did I mention it's air conditioned?
The plants in here are amazing. Did I mention it's air conditioned?


One of the more enlightening takeaways here, is getting to make that connection… where you begin to realize that these amazing people are... day-in, day-out growing the food that we enjoy. You do have to work a bit for that… they already know what they're doing… it's me the "taker" that forgets from time to time. While strolling around and meeting these vendors isn't as sexy as riding a fast car around Test Track, it can be more meaningful… if you let it.

Case in point, Strawberry Sue (Harrell) and Tiffany Dale (Director of Marketing and Director of Member Services and Community Relations respectively) for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

From left to right - Tiffany Dale, Director of Member Services and Community Relations and Strawberry Sue Harrell, the Director of Marketing for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.
From left to right - Tiffany Dale, Director of Member Services and Community Relations and Strawberry Sue Harrell, the Director of Marketing for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.


Representing and promoting a group of Plant City, Florida (and surrounding area) Strawberry growers, totaling over 11,000 acres of Florida Fresh Strawberries... these two incredible women play a huge roll in Hillsborough County's $700 million dollar annual crop. Seriously people, stop walking up to the booth if you're only looking for a free sticker… take some time to really talk to these folks, and you'll be amazed at the level of dedication they have to producing and promoting strawberries and the economic sustainability of the people growing those red berries we love so much.

Did you know Strawberries are actually members of the rose family of plants and that Strawberries aren't even really berries? They're the only fruit that has their seeds on the outside and technically, a berry must have it's seeds on the inside? Cool.

These well dressed gardeners are proudly showing off their "Florida Grown!" Strawberry fans they picked up at the FSGA booth.
These well dressed gardeners are proudly showing off their "Florida Grown!" Strawberry fans they picked up at the FSGA booth.


The Festival Center is also where you'll find just about all the Epcot Flower and Garden merchandise in one location, along with some really cool stuff from garden themed artisans.

It's ShellieMay (Duffy's Girlfriend) dressed in her garden outfit.
It's ShellieMay (Duffy's Girlfriend) dressed in her garden outfit.

Awe... tiny fairy houses!!!
Awe... tiny fairy houses!!!

There's even a live band! These ladies were from D&A Nursery, and they were pretty darn good! How cool is that!
There's even a live band! These ladies were from D&A Nursery, and they were pretty darn good! How cool is that!


The final presentation for my visit was at the Festival Center's Fresh Epcot Stage and featured Jenks Farmer a nationally known author, speaker, garden designer and nursery owner who's love for Crinums has grown into a thriving multifaceted company, dedicated to organically managed gardening solutions.

The "Fresh Epcot Stage" is where Epcot's Food & Wine Festival Culinary Demos are held.
The "Fresh Epcot Stage" is where Epcot's Food & Wine Festival Culinary Demos are held.

The presenter was Jenks Farmer a nationally known author, speaker, garden designer and nursery owner.
The presenter was Jenks Farmer a nationally known author, speaker, garden designer and nursery owner.


If the stage area is looking kind of familiar, it's because Epcot's Food & Wine Festival's Culinary Demos are held at this very same location!

Jenks talked a little bit about vegetables and Crinums, both of which were being displayed on the stage.
Jenks talked a little bit about vegetables and Crinums, both of which were being displayed on the stage.

Jenks took a couple of questions from the audience. You can tell he's comfortable giving presentations and talking in front of people.
Jenks took a couple of questions from the audience. You can tell he's comfortable giving presentations and talking in front of people.


Jenks' presentation was very polished and informative, you can tell he's comfortable with public speaking. For me, discovering that mustard plants can substantially reduce your soil's nematode population was a huge takeaway! I'm totally planting some mustard in-between my tomato growing (here in Florida, nematodes seem to be a constant issue).

After the presentation audience members could pick up a small packet of Sunhemp Crotalaria Juncea seeds… and thank you for going the extra mile and bringing those Jenks, it's fun growing a new little plant that I (at least) have never seen before!

Guests of the presentation received a small packet of Sunhemp Crotalaria Juncea seeds, and could ask additional questions if they didn't feel comfortable doing so during the presentation.
Guests of the presentation received a small packet of Sunhemp Crotalaria Juncea seeds, and could ask additional questions if they didn't feel comfortable doing so during the presentation.

These have yellow flowers! That's all I know about Sunhemp, so I can't wait until they start growing and I can see what they are!
These have yellow flowers! That's all I know about Sunhemp, so I can't wait until they start growing and I can see what they are!


I thoroughly enjoyed my walk-around in the Festival Center this year! It's one of those experiences that you'll enjoy more if you take the time to talk to the various vendors and guest speakers. No, there's no characters to pose with or fast cars to ride around in, but if you… even for just one second… make the "plants take care of people, and people take care of plants" connection… I think it's a huge win for everyone!
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