Contact: Caryn Hodge
Anna Maria Island Community Edible Gardens Expands Across the Island and Beyond
The creators of the Anna Maria Island Community Edible Gardens Project are inviting local business owners and private homeowners to participate in the exciting growing trend of owning your own community garden. On the heels of the most successful summer and winter seasons of prolific vegetable production from the 27 Anna Maria Island Community Edible Garden boxes on the island, the creators of the program are excited to expand the program to other Anna Maria Island locations and beyond.
The Edible Community Gardens project started in late 2012 conceived by Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar, Beachhouse and Mar Vista and Pine Avenue Restoration to grow vegetables in the summer down Pine Avenue, “The Greenest Little Mainstreet in America”. Even to seasoned gardeners, the idea of growing anything in the summer seemed impossible at the time. But the impossible is what Ed Chiles and his team love to do. He posed the challenge to Mike Miller, designer and native plant expert. Miller took up the challenge and found a way to make it happen by partnering with ECHO, Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, a global organization based in Ft. Myers, Florida that is helping third world countries become self-sustainable by providing them with the seeds of these very vegetables. Miller choose 7 perennial plants that not only grow in tropical conditions but have actually thrived to Jack-in-the-beanstalk proportions with only minimal maintenance, mostly when the two growing seasons change over.
According to Mike Coleman, Chiles’ partner in the Pine Avenue Restoration project, “These plants can take the heat and they are delicious and super nutritious.” The program started with eight boxes placed near to and sponsored by Pine Avenue businesses. Their customers, visitors and residents are encouraged to harvest enough from the plants for a tasting to get to know them. Coleman states, “Another unique aspect of this project is the accessibility of information at the consumer’s fingertips. Each box has a QR code and information placard on the box. Folks can scan the QR code or go to the website, where they can learn about the project, the individual vegetables in that particular garden and even view recipes they can make using those vegetables.
Miller made a statement when the project started, “These unusual organic vegetables with their uniquely high nutritional value are just the start of something we think is really going to take off.” And boy, was he right.
The number of boxes has grown from the original 8 planted one year ago to 27, a third of them in the yards of private homes, and there is even interest from institutions such as the USF College of Technology Hospitality Leadership Sarasota-Manatee Culinary Innovation Lab in Lakewood Ranch. Ed Chiles states, “Anyone who supports sustainability, local produce and healthy eating should get a box.”
Boxes purchased by businesses will display the business logo on the placard showing who is sponsoring the box. The boxes are typically 4 ft. wide x 10-12 ft. long and 11 inches deep. The soil is a layered sheet mulch system that includes, among other things, microbe enriched chemical free compost and manure mix, potting soil, peat, pine fines and a starter population of the right kind of worms to till and process it all. A base of 7 ECHO Farms perennial vegetables selected from the tropics around the world for their extraordinary nutritional value are provided along with conventional vegetables and herbs around them.
The cost for the box and system ranges from $400-$800 depending on the irrigation system used, how much work the business or home owner wants to do themselves and the size of the box. Smaller boxes are available or the plants can be planted without the box.
Stellar examples of these gardens are the 5 boxes along the deck at The Historic Green Village, now in various stages of regenerating their abundance for the next season.