Sarasota, Florida, can elicit many different images: sunny beaches, lush golf courses, groves of orange trees. The possibilities are endless – it’s a veritable paradise for outsiders looking to escape the year-round doldrums.
There is, however, another segment of the population that makes an annual pilgrimage to the greater Sarasota area, away from frigid winters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and other northern states, in search of fun in the sun. And they make their trek to one sleepy community in particular.
By all accounts, Pinecraft is a typical area of southern Florida. But that’s not the only reason it plays host to a massive congregation of Amish and Mennonite vacationers. To these revelers, it is a haven of relaxation that simultaneously caters to more modest and traditional creature comforts – like simple home-cooking, as well as handmade wares and gifts.
If you manage to find yourself in Pinecraft during this active period (the Amish community of Sarasota is more liberal than their northern counterparts and are receptive to visitors of all kinds), the first thing you’ll likely notice is the adult-sized tricycles. You see, these snowbirds will use their trip south as an excuse to temporarily eschew certain traditions (like their reliance upon horse-and-buggy) for something a little more daring. Still, the area features everything you could ask for in a winter getaway: shopping, outdoor activities in Pinecraft Park (horseshoes and volleyball are particularly popular), and, of course, the food!
How did this pilgrimage become a tradition? In the 1920s, Amish and Mennonite farmers headed south with the idea of farming and agriculture, practices by which they are renowned. However, upon discovering the land unsuitable for harvesting, they dismissed the idea – but, wisely, stayed for the fantastic weather. Now, Pinecraft, a small plot of urban land featuring about 500 track houses, is a charming and all-welcoming mainstay. And why not? Everybody needs some time to unwind.