Feb. 22– Feb. 22–Nestled between the fifth and sixth holes of Orlando's Ritz-Carlton Golf Club sits a hidden garden and farm.

The Whisper Creek Farm supplies the 13 restaurants of the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes with fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices from of its 7,000-square-foot garden.

It also feeds guests at the neighboring JW Marriott, Grande Lakes, which serves eggs retrieved from the dozens of chickens, ducks and quail that call the farm home.

"Our guests want the ability to maintain their personal routine when traveling, including sustaining a healthy diet," said John Janucik, executive chef for the hotel. "Having our own farm along with partnerships with local vendors enables us to source fresh ingredients, [so] we can confidently say what's in a dish and where it came from."

The Ritz is among some Florida hotels that grow their own food, playing off the local-farm-to-table movement that's flourishing among many restaurants across the state and the rest of the nation.

The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort near Fernandina Beach, for example, maintains its own garden, complete with fruits, vegetables, herbs, a citrus orchard and pepper patch. The Orlando World Center Marriott has a hydroponic system that grows herbs and vegetables.

Scenes from the unique farm-to-table experience at Whisper Creek Farm, on location at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando at Grande Lakes resort, photographed Wednesday, February 20, 2019. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel

(Joe Burbank)

"As far as a majority of hotels doing this, we are not there yet, but it is moving that way," said Robb Seltzer, a chef who teaches at UCF's Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

On-site gardens serve as one way for hotels to set themselves apart in the crowded Orlando market of more than 127,000 rooms.

"It's a competitive market, and it's an attraction for their client base," said Seltzer, an advocate of farm-to-table restaurants. "It's a great movement and the more we can make it work, the better. It's better for customers, business and the world overall if we can move products from the farm right into the restaurants."

Seltzer, who has managed food service operations at restaurants, stadiums and other venues for more than 30 years, said he also has seen more hotel chefs getting involved directly with buying ingredients, often opting for local vegetables, meats and spices.

The six Universal Orlando Resort hotels, for instance, do not grow produce but they do buy it from local vendors.

"More chefs are getting involved in paying a lot more attention to the sourcing and they want to get more hands-on," he said. "A lot of the hotels still have their chefs but some went from working the kitchens to managing beehives."

The garden and farm have been an experiment for Janucik, a 40-year-old alum of the Culinary Institute of America, the famed school that has counted famous food traveler Anthony Bourdain and frequent Food Network guest Amanda Freitag as graduates.

The hotel partnered with local farmer Gus Ramage, who curates and tends to several rows of kale, mint, lettuce and other vegetables in the garden.

Three times a week, Ramage visits Whisper Creek Farm to gather eggs from the ducks, quail and chickens that call it home.

As they harvest their crops, they make sure they don't miss the banana and papaya trees on the edge of the property.

They also gather honey from a series of beehives containing more than 30,000 bees.

"It really started as a small garden but has been evolving into what it is today," Janucik said.

Whisper Creek could soon grow to include cows and other animals, Janucik said, laying out his vision for where he wants to take it.

"People think you just plant stuff and grow it," said Janucik, who started in the industry as a 16-year-old collecting $150 in tips as a busboy on New Year's Eve about 24 years ago. "But it's basically a playground for us when we look at seasonal crops. The possibilities of what you want to grow or do are really endless."

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Got a news tip? [email protected] or 407-420-5256; Twitter, @marcosantana