Hydroponics—growing produce using water and diluted nutrients without soil—won’t make headlines as a new technology but its practical use emerging in hotels sure did. Orlando World Center Marriott in Florida recently set up an on-property hydroponic facility, HyCube by Eco Convergence Group, which delivers fresh produce for numerous F&B concepts.
hT posed some FAQs and beyond to Executive Chef Eric Martinez of Orlando World Center Marriott to find out all about it.
Tell me about the hydroponic facility in brief.
The 4,000 cubic feet facility will produce over 110,000 heads of lettuce and over 13,000 lbs. of other leafy greens, herbs and microgreens annually, which will be used to support the 9 restaurants and lounges on-property, as well as the hotel’s banquet needs. At any given time we could have as many as 40–50 varieties of produce growing to be harvested and incorporated into our restaurant menus— pick-to-plate within hours for maximum freshness.
Is the facility accessible to guest visitors?
There are food safety guidelines that we have to adhere to in order to ensure no produce is contaminated. Furthermore, ECG’s HyCubes are run as cleanrooms. Guests are allowed in for guided tours, but must wear gloves, lab coats, shoe covers, and cannot be showing signs of illness. HyCube has been built with a private chefs table, which offers a unique dining experience available to groups. It has a large viewing window into the grow room, allowing g uests to experience the hydroponic system. Additionally, the vertical garden sits on our Harvest terrace that can accommodate group events for up to 200 and offers an incredible experience and backdrop.
Apart from growing produce, does HyCube offer any additional perks?
HyCube’s advanced water filtration system has additional capacity that can be used by the hotel for its bars and restaurants, including bottling the purified water and using it for group functions. The system has multiple levels of filtration and a biological decontamination system using UV light.
What resources has the property employed?
The property has employed water, electricity, sewage, internet access for remote system monitoring, and lease-free space. ECG operates the hydroponic facility, so the operation is hands-free from the hotel’s perspective.
What is Reframe? How is it related to the hydroponic facility?
Reframe is Eco Convergence Group’s family of wellness products that will be sold exclusively in select resorts and hotels. The product line’s name refers to “reframing” consumer expectations of products for the body: what goes on and in the body should benefit health using only natural, clean ingredients. Each product includes ingredients that are grown hydroponically. Currently, Reframe includes three lines of products:
- Reframe Fizz: low-sugar contents, sparkling, fruity, fermented beverages, providing a naturally flavorful alternative to sugary soft drinks
- Reframe Travel: herbal supplements helping support traveler’s wellbeing
- Reframe Beauty: spa products formulated with only the highest quality natural ingredients
If you’ve read thus far, chances are, hydroponics has piqued your interest. To further feed your curiosity, Cristian Toma—one of the founders of Eco Convergence Group—deciphers the technology.
What is HyCube?
The HyCube is an innovative, patent-pending, vertical controlled-environment equipped with a hydroponic growing system deployed in a modern structure that’s as beautiful as it is functional. The HyCube structure and system was designed, engineered, and built by Eco Convergence Group, Inc. (ECG), a privately-held corporation headquartered in Orlando, Florida.
Which type of crops can be grown using hydroponics?
Hydroponics can be used to grow pretty much any and all vegetable crops, although some crops need to use different hydroponic setups than the one used in the HyCube. ECG’s HyCube vertically stacked vegetable production system is optimized for all leafy greens, lettuces, herbs, microgreens, and edible flowers. ECG also supplies vegetables grown in other types of hydroponic systems installed at its off-site, yet local greenhouses, including tomatoes, strawberries, etc.
What are the types of hydroponic systems and which of them are best suited for hospitality application?
There are many types of hydroponic setups, including Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), ebb-and-flow, float systems, Dutch buckets, among others. In the hospitality market, given the high value of real-estate, vertically stacked systems like ECG’s patent pending HyCube make most sense because they use the available space more efficiently.
What resources does a hotel need in order to set up a hydroponic plant?
Access to electricity, water and sewage, as well as access to the internet for remote hydroponic system supervision.
What’s the significance of the pink-violet light in HyCube facility?
Leafy greens do not use the green spectrum of sunlight for photosynthesis, leaves appear green to the human eye because they bounce the green light off. Therefore, the grow lights need to emit only blue and red wavelengths for the plants, which lead to energy savings.
Can you talk about approximate ROI and other benefits?
HyCube’s economic benefits are very attractive due to a number of innovations implemented in the system:
- Data-driven for precise control, provides plants with perfect grow conditions and nutrients resulting in accelerated grow cycles and high yields
- Utilizes semiconductor cleanroom-inspired technology that uses multiple levels of filtration to decontaminate air and water
- HyCube produce is highly nutritious, cleaner-than-organic, virtually flawless in appearance and delectable in taste
- Growing methods are vegan, non-GMO, pesticide-free, insecticide-free, fungicide-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free
- Can grow multiple culture layers to mix and match crops according to demand
- HyCube is energy-efficient, uses 90 percent less water than traditional farming, and the very small amounts of waste that it discharges is compostable
- Modular energy-efficient outer shell design/shape is customizable according to space and environment
What are some of your upcoming hospitality projects?
ECG has a pipeline of HyCube projects in the hospitality market in various stages of development. We will make announcements together with our customers at the appropriate time.
ABOUT ERIC MARTINEZ
Chef Martinez began his career with Marriott in 2000 at the Desert Springs Marriott Resort and has demonstrated his culinary talents through a variety of roles with Marriott International including executive sous chef, director of food & beverage/executive chef and most recently executive sous chef/ director of restaurant operations at Orlando World Center Marriott. Originally from New Orleans, Louisiana and a graduate of Delgado College in New Orleans, he believes that cooking is a language that expresses harmony, creativity, happiness, beauty, poetry, complexity, magic, humor, and provocation. Chef Martinez would “much rather be a chef who remembers I am a cook, than a cook that thinks I am a chef.” He leads the resort culinary team in crafting customized and memorable experiences for each group, focusing on the guiding principle that “Food in its simplest form is meant to bring people together, this and this alone is why people enjoy eating.”
ABOUT ECO CONVERGENCE GROUP
Cristian Toma is one of the founders of Eco Convergence Group, Inc. In 2008-2009, Cristian and his founding partner, of what would become Eco Convergence Group, consulted for a sustainable city project which aimed at converting a conventional city-planning project into a fully sustainable eco-city on the model of Masdar City in the UAE. Local sustainable food production was one of the requirements of the project, and the ECG founders proposed a vertical hydroponic solution to meet these requirements. At that time, the first concepts of vertical farming in urban areas were proposed in the academic world by researchers such as Dickson Despommier of Columbia University. Using their backgrounds from the semiconductor and biomedical industries, ECG’s founders started working out the details of implementing the urban vertical farming concept by using hydroponics in controlled environments (i.e. clean rooms), and realized that this approach was feasible. When the eco-city project collapsed due to a legal dispute between the developers, the founders created ECG and spent another five years perfecting their vertical hydroponics technology to the point where it became commercially viable.
Images courtesy of Orlando World Center Marriott.
By Najook Pandya