The Amish and Mennonites in Sarasota, Florida

“Oh, I’m from Lancaster, PA but I winter here (in sarasota)” said the Amish woman eating the food bar stuff in Whole Foods downtown. “I went to school up your way – in Northampton, MA – and I love Great Barrington – does the Boston Symphony still summer at Tanglewood?” – turns out she went to school less than 2 miles from our house in MA….
She proceeded to tell us how excited she was that a Whole Foods is going to open in Lancaster, PA in two years (I guess she’s patient) and that a bunch of townhomes were being built along with it – she’s very excited. Then she whips out the cellphone and calls a friend to brag “Yeah, I’ve got a big plate of food and it’s ALL organic!”

Many people are surprised to hear that Sarasota, Florida is the favored getaway for many of the “plain people” who live in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other midwestern and northern states. We “english” (the name for non-Amish) like to think the Amish are always hard at work milking the cows, working the land or creating furniture and other wooden items. Not so…the want and need to take a break and enjoy the sun is a universal one in modern times!

So…where are the horses, buggies, farms and cows?

Not in Sarasota! The preferred method of transportation is the bike – with the 3 wheeled variety being the most popular due to a larger payload and the ability of older folks to easily operate.
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Thousands of Amish and Mennonites live in the communities along Bahia Vista street – the center of the community is an area called Pinecraft, which has it’s own small post office. There is a park as well as a large produce business and restaurant which serve as somewhat of a center to the community. Pinecraft park has a very nice shuffleboard setup as well as picnic facilities for large community meals and concerts.
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Basketball and Volleyball are popular with the younger set – and it certainly seems as if the volleyball players are quite competitive.
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Want to read more about the Amish in Sarasota? Here are some links:
http://amishamerica.com/florida-amish/

What goes on in Pinecraft – stays in Pinecraft

Great NY Times article on the migration to Sarasota

The residents in Pinecraft are probably of three different groups:
1. Vacationers – folks of all ages, including young people, come down for some sun and fun.
2. Retirees – after a life of very hard work, they spend a number of months here just like some “english” snowbirds do.
3. Relocated – many of the businesses are year-round. Retail, service, builders, etc….have drawn some year-round residents from the ranks of the plain people. Many may be “former Amish” in that their parents or grandparents may have been, but they are not (officially).

Use of Technology

As you will read in the articles and the initial quote of this story, the Amish use varying amounts of technology…often depending on their exact sect and what their bishop says. Their ideal is to live simply…they don’t seem to mind using technology as a tool, but at the same time they don’t want to live a life where technology – rather than simplicity and nature – rule. Here’s a short vignette which may illustrate the point….and could also point to a potential problem going forward as the world becomes more knowledge based.

——–Flying My Drone at the Park———

I run a web site about consumer quadcopters and drones – droneflyers.com

I walked down to the park near sunset to fiddle around with one of my smaller flying machines and was doing some flying when one teen on a bike stopped and admired the machine. He was about 14 years old and we got in a short conversation about drones….turns out he has a cheapo one and also an R/C helicopter. As he is about to leave, he tells me “But what I am really into is IT and Computers”. Keep in mind this is a 14 year old on a bike! He then tells me how he buys and sells computers, runs about 20 internet servers (sells web site hosting) and is busy learning complex web technologies! As a “webmaster” myself, I told him he’ll have plenty of work his entire life if he continues on his path.

Soon after he left, another kid about the same age started talking to me..asking about the drone. He was extremely interested in getting one and asked how he would go about it. I told him Amazon had them. He lamented that he didn’t have a credit card and asked if maybe Wal-Mart sold them. I answered in the negative but said I thought there was a shop somewhere in Sarasota that sold them. He was very excited, but I didn’t know the name, etc. of the shop! I asked him for his email so I could send him the shop name….turns out he doesn’t have an email address! At this point, I realized he was probably Amish. I then commiserated with him…after he told me he was not allowed online at all. “Well, there’s good and there is bad in that” I said. “Nah, he said “It’s all bad”. I answered “Well, you’ll be online sooner or later”….and that was that.

I left thinking that one of these two kids is going to excel in just about everything…and the other may be limited to farming, woodworking or another “approved” trade. I won’t put a judgement on it….but it did seem as if potential was being wasted.

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