The Sprouting Project at Amelia Island
What was once just a seedling of an idea in the head of Omni Amelia Island Plantation’s Executive Chef, Daven Wardynski, has now blossomed into the resort’s newest offering. “The Sprouting Project” consists of a state-of-the-art aquaponic greenhouse, an expansive organic garden, a large collection of beehives and a soon-to-be completed smokehouse. Chef Wardynski heralds the conception of the greenhouse as his “legacy to Omni Amelia Island Plantation.” In his desire to bring the freshest products possible to guests he has managed to create a “chef’s playground” while remaining true to his “Michigan farm boy roots.” Unveiled in May 2014 with the completion of the aquaponic greenhouse, The Sprouting Project is still in its infancy but is quickly becoming a guest favorite.
Far from typical, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation greenhouse features a cutting edge aquaponic system fed by two 500-gallon tanks filled with the same species of fish (Bream, Sunfish and Bluegill) Chef Wardynski used to catch as a child. The fish provide nutrients to a diverse collection of fresh produce including heirloom tomatoes, herbs and multiple varieties of organic lettuce. In total, the greenhouse cultivates a plethora of edible greens, including an average of $2,000 worth of lettuce a month. This has allowed the resort to completely offset its initial investment in The Sprouting Project.
Able to seat between 130 and 140 guests, the organic garden is a lush, intimate setting with a practical purpose. Spotted with strawberry vines, blackberry bushes and pineapple guava trees, the garden provides fresh produce to Omni Amelia Island Plantation’s nine diverse dining experiences. A nod to Daven’s grandmother, the air is perfumed with sage, rosemary and basil and includes handwritten garden markers adorning the herb beds.
A hand-built bridge leads guests from the garden to an apiary that houses more than 70,000 native bees. The culinary team incorporates honey harvested from the bees into seasonal dishes such as plantation honey ice cream, honey caramel and honey vinaigrette, while showcasing the unique offering every morning at the Art of Breakfast buffet in the Sunrise Café. Cultivated with the help of expert beekeeper, Jean Vasicek, the bees are helping to sustain the area’s native population, which has been dramatically dwindling in recent years.
With a projected completion date of four to six months, the on-site smokehouse will provide an opportunity to create hand cured, uniquely seasoned meats for the entire resort using livestock sourced from local, sustainable farms. “In the culinary world you’re always thinking, what’s the next big thing,” says Wardynski. “The smokehouse is ‘what’s next’ for The Sprouting Project—it will add immense value to our overall goal of bringing locally sourced and noteworthy flavors to our guests.”