Agronomy at the Most Magical Place on Earth

March 29, 2018

Imagine working alongside Cinderella and Indiana Jones. Elizabeth Schnicker, sophomore in agronomy, has an internship at "The Most Magical Place On Earth."

As a plant science intern with Walt Disney World at Epcot in the Living With The Land greenhouses, Schnicker’s position is research focused and largely behind the scenes. While other interns are in charge of greenhouses for specific shows in the park, Schnicker is focused on the plants.

“I research new plants to grow, new ways to grow them, basically anything I can think of really,” says Schnicker. “I get to work with plants first, ensuring they’ll be the perfect asset to our show.”

All interns give tours, so almost every day Schnicker leads an hour long tour for guests at Walt Disney World. If guests particularly enjoyed the Living With The Land boat ride, they can take the “Behind the Seeds” tour and see more about what Walt Disney World agronomists are doing.

“On the tour I get to talk about all the incredible stuff we’re growing and how we’re using hydroponics to do it,” says Schnicker. “We also talk about how they can do hydroponics at home.”

Schnicker hoped the internship would expose her to more diverse plants and crops from around the world. Over the past couple of months, Schnicker has had an opportunity to eat jackfruit, passion fruit, fresh figs, begonias and cacao. In addition, she’s pollinated vanilla, passion fruit and dragon fruit.

She’s participated in crop pull or harvest of coconut palm and banana plants. Crops harvested from Disney greenhouses are used in restaurants throughout Epcot. What isn’t able to be used in restaurants is sent over for the animals in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  

She’s learned about different irrigation systems, hydroponics and food crops from around the world. Most of all, she’s learned how to interact with people from across the world.

“I get to help make Disney magic happen every day,” says Schnicker. “And one instance even included helping a prospective student look into the ISU Agronomy program.”

The perspective she’s gained will have a lasting impact on her career as an agronomist. Working with 80 different crops growing only in sand, as well as leveraging things like growing cool weather crops in a very warm area and being able to disrupt the length of day has been an eye-opening experience. In addition to new perspectives, Schnicker hopes to apply her knowledge on hydroponics to commodity cropping systems.

Personally, Schnicker’s interpersonal skills have improved, and she’s found a love for giving tours and sharing her passion for agronomy with others.

“This was such a unique opportunity, I didn’t know what to expect,” says Schnicker. “I know so much more about 150 food crops from around the world than I ever could have imagined. It’s taught me to look at things differently.”

Schnicker’s internship ends mid-June. We can’t wait to hear about the rest of her internship when she returns to campus in August.