Hydroponics has become the sought-after method for farming on both a large and small scale. It is an easy, economical and convenient way to grow crops. Using only water, nutrients, and a growing medium, a system can be set up in the smallest of places.
Hyatt Regency TT is utilising this system and is bringing fresh produce to its kitchen and bar.
Last Thursday, the hotel unveiled its garden, called the Water Garden Retreat, on its waterfront at Wrightson Road, Port of Spain. In the small, vertical structure on its western end various types of greens, herbs and peppers are grown such as kale, arugula, lettuce, lemon-basil, thyme and scorpion peppers.
The hotel's hydroponics system was set up on May 2 in collaboration with Green Age Farms – an agricultural company that supplies packages for residential and commercial use.
Hyatt’s food and beverage director Ronan Doherty said the system has allowed the hotel to bring "food, thoughtfully sourced, carefully served" to customers.
“Our chefs can use fresh food products in their menus... We will be enforcing the use of fresh products in our meal preparations."
The system cost about $20,000 to set up and on just mint, for example, and it can save the hotel between $4,000 to $5,000 per month.
While there were teething problems at the beginning, the hotel found the best items to grow at this time were herbs.
"We tried tomatoes (but it didn't really work out). Hopefully we can start planting and harvesting vegetables soon. That addition would be ideal for our initiative."
Head chef Fernando Franco said the produce will be incorporated in the hotel's food and beverage menus regularly.
“It has also given us a space as chefs to create unique dishes on the spur-of- the-moment because we have a wider selection of fresh produce to choose from.”
So far, they have been able to use the produce in a newly designed menu that includes coconut curry soup with shrimp dumplings, jalapeno and roasted garlic hummus, tuna and cucumber with chilli.
Staff maintain the system daily. Apart from the structure set up, Green Age Farms has provided training, including harvesting techniques and monitoring support inclusive of chemicals, planting materials such as cocopeat and coarse perlite, and watering and potting systems.
Green Age Farms owner Kevin Singh said hydroponics allows farmers to use less space, water and time to grow their crops.
Land can be restored to its original form once harvested and there is no need to destroy land for farming space.
Additionally, the crops are organic as they do not use traditional aggressive chemicals.
Hydroponics has changed the way in which crops are harvested, he said, and it has increased the growth rate of most plants.
Hyatt has also opened its hydroponics system to agripreneurs – a group of young people involved in the local agricultural industry. Earlier this year, the hotel hosted an eight-week intensive training programme that presented different aspects of agricultural education to ensure successful farmers.
Doherty said the group will be able to visit and learn from their system.
The system has many benefits not just for the hotel but for their customers as well. There are plans to use the area as part of the recreational offerings.
"It is already in the working stages to expand and open the area for our customers as part of our sustainability initiative."
The area will be outfitted with chairs, a green bar and food station and lighting to enhance a "refreshing" ambience.
"It will be a place where customers can relax and unwind; it's a piece of nature in the middle of the city. Our patrons can also learn about the hydroponics system and see where we get our food from,” Doherty said. Hopefully, it will inspire people to eat healthier and make changes in their daily lives.
Food, thoughtfully sourced
The Hyatt group has a philosophy of environmental sustainability through several programmes, including growing its own food.
It says its food and beverage philosophy – Food. Thoughtfully Sourced. Carefully Served – guides its menu choices and ingredients so that it "can better serve our guests, our communities and our planet."
"Some of our hotels that have the appropriate space to take this a step further with onsite herb or vegetable gardens and bee hives," the group said on its website (https://about.hyatt.com/en/hyatt-thrive/responsible-sourcing.html).
One of the group's eco-centred hotels, the Grand Hyatt Singapore grows organic produce – sweet basil, Thai basil, mint, bananas and chillies – in an edible garden on its rooftop. The crops are free of pesticide and chemicals. And as the TT franchise plans to do, the Singapore hotel has incorporated the garden into its dining experience.
The Grand Hyatt Singapore website reported its executive chef said guests enjoyed stories about the origins of the vegetables they eat, which includes what the hotel orders from a farm in Cameron Highlands.
Another hotel, Hyatt Regency Ahmedabad in India also promotes vegetable gardening along with workshops for the public.
"We strive to offer healthy choices to our guests, work with local suppliers, incorporate animal welfare considerations, support options like organic or antibiotic-free, and identify options with a low environmental impact," the Hyatt group said of its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.