|By Josh Poltilove, Tampa Tribune,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 03, 2012--TAMPA -- A couple of years ago a small room next to the Marriott Tampa Waterside's swimming pool was a vacant bar/kitchen, and the hotel's roof largely was empty.
Now the spots together are called Waterside Farms.
The Marriott grows everything from hydroponic lettuce to organic tomatoes -- providing fresh, local produce and herbs to its restaurant customers.
"Customers really want to know where their food is coming from nowadays," said Scott Fink, the hotel's director of food and beverage.
Waterside Farms produces 75 to 100 heads of lettuce a week, supplementing the lettuce it serves at its restaurants.
"The lettuce alone is saving us over $1,000 a month in food cost," Fink said.
It cost a few thousand dollars to set up the urban farm, but Waterside Farms already has more than paid for itself, Fink said.
In late 2010 the hotel's culinary team decided to turn the former pool-side kitchen into a place to grow produce. It began as an indoor organic garden, producing everything from tomatoes to jalapenos.
But as that area began experimenting with producing hydroponic lettuce, it grew so fast that it needed to expand.
In spring 2011 the hotel moved the organic area onto a roughly 20-by-30 foot rooftop space.
"We just stole the roof," Fink joked. "Told the engineer to leave us alone."
To provide the rooftop tomato plants with water the hotel designed and built a rain harvesting irrigation system from mostly recycled material.
The rooftop has 32 tomato plants. The hope is that the current crop produces at least 160 to 320 pounds of tomatoes for the Marriott's restaurants, said Aaron Berger, the hotel's culinary supervisor.
"We're not real sure exactly what it will produce but we're pretty optimistic," Fink said.
Inside the Marriott's former pool kitchen, meanwhile, the hotel has built a fully hydroponic garden that has roughly 360 heads of lettuce growing at any given time.
Among the other vegetables, herbs and flowers the hotel grows: basil, chives, mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, marigolds and sunflowers.
Tomatoes and lettuce used by the Marriott's hotels that don't come from Waterside Farms come from Tampa-area vendors, Fink said.
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