The Amish Cook from Oasis Newsfeatures

Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

Sarasota, Florida is like most other Sunshine State cities. The sunny haven features some beautiful beaches, tony shops on nearby Lido Key, and is home to many year-round retirees along with a large winter population of "snowbirds" escaping winter's wrath far to the north. Tucked away in a relatively quiet corner of sprawling Sarasota, however, near the busy intersection of Bahia Vista and Beneva Blvds, is a community known as "Pinecraft." Pinecraft serves as a winter haven for Amish "snowbirds" seeking a warm respite from the harsh midwestern climes. In January and February, Pinecraft is at its peak of activity and a recent day there showed shuffleboard courts full and sidewalks bustling. The post office, Big Olaf's ice cream, and Yoder's restaurant appear to be popular gathering spots for the Amish to catch up with friends and neighbors. Even the Amish newspaper The Budget is available for purchase. Troyer's restaurant also does a brisk business, adding a touristy touch to the area.


CAPTION: A mural near the middle of Pinecraft captures an Amish scene from a typical midwestern community and provides residents with an optical taste of home. But the warm air and swaying palm trees in the vicinity - and the occasional alligator - provide ample evidence that "we aren't in Kansas (or Ohio)" anymore.

It's Friday afternoon and an Amish woman in a white prayer cap and solid-colored dress grimaces as she begins pedaling across Beneva Blvd, finally gaining enough speed to sail across to the other side before the light changes. That may be the height of the hard life for the Amish who winter here. Gone - at least for awhile - are the tough mornings of milking, feeding the horses, and collecting eggs from the hen-house. No one knows exactly how many Amish come to Pinecraft during the winter. The streets, though, reflect their namesakes up north with names like Graber, Yoder, and Miller. Trees weighted down with heavy ripening grapefruit stand in yards. If one wonders how an occasional recipe for "grapefruit jam" or "grapefruit pie" ends up in the recipe box of an Amish woman in Wisconsin or Illinois, chances are it originated here.


Caption: Bikes crowd the yard of a small home hosting Old Order Amish church services on a Sunday morning

The Amish generally arrive by bus and there are even a few charter lines that cater almost exclusively to the Amish who keep Pinecraft bustling during the winter months. Click here to read about the "Amish bus."

In addition to becoming a winter haven for the Old Order Amish, Pinecraft has also become a way-station of sorts for Anabaptists who might be exploring other orders. Perhaps an Old Order Amish young person thinking of leaving the strict confines of the church will come to Pinecraft for awhile to explore. An Anabaptist of any age can come here and feel welcome and since newcomers and transients are the norm, few questions are asked. The young wayward teen, Faron, featured in the documentary Devil's Playground (a much-talked about, but slightly skewed look at Anabaptist youth) eventually found his way to Sarasota to try out a more liberal life. Either way, whether a person is a strict Swartzentruber or a more liberal Beachy Amish, Pinecraft offers a refuge from some of the rigid rules up north.

"It is much more relaxed here. The Amish have a chance to socialize with people from all orders," says Todd Emrich, who is president of the Pinecraft Neighborhood Association. Shuffleboard is an ardent pasttime among Amish visitors here. "We have eight courts, but we could easily have 16 and keep them full," Emrich says. Emrich's family also runs Yoder's Amish Restaurant.

No one knows exactly how many Amish come to Pinecraft each year, since no formal surveys are taken, but Emrich says about 500 homes make up the Pinecraft area. Since many Amish come for only a few weeks at a time, precise numbers of visitors are difficult to gauge. While the atmosphere is relaxed, Amish people still adhere to the main church rules. Three-wheeled bicycles provide the most popular mode of transportation here, since buggies aren't practical or permitted on the streets of Sarasota. On a recent Sunday morning, a tiny corner lot was packed with bicycles. Inside the house, an Old Order Amish church service was in full swing. Gentle hymns could be heard riding a gentle balmy breeze.

Most residences here are tiny, equipped with just the bare basics. Te occasional real estate auction attests to the stiff competition for obtaining some of the scarce lots.

A bit removed from the bustle of Pinecraft's main activity, tucked away on quiet Honore Street, there is even a school serving the area's Amish-Mennonite children. Following is a brief Q & A with the schoolmaster, Lester Gingerich:

QUESTION: Does Sunnyside enroll Anabaptist students from all orders?

Gingerich: Yes, our school does enroll Old Order Amish, Beachy Amish, a couple other conservative Anabaptist affiliations, and Apostolic Christian.

QUESTION: What is Sunnyside's current enrollment?

GINGERICH: Our enrollment presently is about 52 which is a couple more than last year. We provide for Kindergarten through 12th grade. We use conventional class room setting for the younger grades and ACE individualized offices for grades 4 through high school.

QUESTION: Do you have many "transient" students - Amish children who are down in Sarasota for maybe just a few weeks or a month or so while wintering with their families?

GINGERICH: It has been more common in past years that visitors or Amish tourists in the winter send their children to our school, but the last several years not so. It depends largely if we have the capacity to handle them or are too full as is.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little about Sunnyside's history, and any other information of interest about the Pinecraft community?

GINGERICH: Sunnyside began as a church in 1968 with another conservative affiliatiion and switched to the Beachy order in 1970. Our school was started in 1971 and has continued to this day. Besides our Beachy-Amish school there are two other Mennonite schools in our community. The one is by a church in the Rosedale Conservative Conference and the other is by the Mennonite Church USA.

We are a little over two miles east of Pinecraft just north of Bahia Vista and along Honore Avenue. We used to be pretty much in the country but the city has pretty well encompassed us.

While surrounding Sarasota continues to grow, Todd Emrich, doesn't think it'll ever get out of hand.

"Because of zoning it would be impossible for this to become a very touristy place, growth is so controlled here," Emrich says.

There is, by the way, a small enclave in Arizona, where Amish from Rexford, Montana, Kansas, and Colorado spend the winters...perhaps that place should be called "Pinecraft West"

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

Sounds like really a good and yummy food to experience. My in-laws love to buy meat and other dairy product from Amish store, in our area. They said it is really good.

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

It is very admirable not Amish community are closed netted family. They have very strong tolerance, in the middle of booming technology they chooses to remain and live the old way. Well, I guess the Amish, as what I heard before they are pretty well off people.

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

When I was in Florida, I had a nice fun over there, it is great. I really miss it, Thanks for recalling it to me, :) Umeer from Beach Vacation

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

Hey man, very cool to hear this, As you have stated here, Florida is also known as sunshine state, I was there in Florida sometimes back, It is a lovely place to be and there are many beautiful places to see too, I really love Florida beach...

Cheers, Karl from MLM leads.


Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

it is nice to hear about Amish here, the Q & A part makes me to get more understand on this, Great work man., Mahesh, Lasik Guide

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

Thanks for the add! Keep us in mind if you or anyone you know ever needs some welding work done! We are portable, available for on-site needs as well!

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

A great article about the amish community,

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

The Amish are united by a common Swiss-German ancestry, language, and culture, and they marry within the Amish community.

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

Hi Kevin,
Sorry I missed you when you toured Pinecraft this last winter. As a year-round resident and member of Sunnyside Beachy Amish Church, I would like to quote you on a line or two for my cookbook, book "A Taste of Pinecraft."
Thanks in advance for any help you can offer.

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

While you may know that the Amish are found in about 20 states, it may surprise you to learn that there are Amish in Florida. However, the existence of the Amish community there is unlike any other. As with many other Americans, some of the Amish have made Florida their temporary home during the winter months.

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

I would be interested to hear a history of Pinecraft. When did the Amish first come to the area? Who were the first to stay, and more about why?

John Hitchcock

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft


The first visitors to the area were in the early 1920s. There is a hard cover book available with the history and documentsof that early era in "The History of Pinecraft" available at Troyer's Dutch Heritage Restaurant on Bahia Vista Street.

Richard Lee Dawley
Author of Amish Snowbirds
Amish Insight
New Berlin, Wisconsin

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

John, thanks for stopping by! Play the video portion of the Pinecraft piece and I explain a little of the history!:) - Kevin

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

I have tried to donate several times; I think the site and the material are certainly worth it. Every time I click the link, though, it tells me "page not found". This is only an issue with the links in the Pinecraft article, not the one on the righthand side of the page. Should I use that one instead?

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft


Most of these are rentals....since people only stay a few weeks at a time.  And, among the Amish, there is almost always a family member who will gladly pitch in to take care of the home chores while someone is away.   In this way, there is always someone available to return the favor! - Kevin

Re: Amish Shangri-La: Pinecraft

"Time is free, but it's priceless. You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it, you can never get it back."


What interesting reading!  I love those three wheel bicycles.  Do most of the residents own their homes there, or do they rent or time-share??  And how do they get into the church-services cycle to host church? 

I wonder who takes care of their animals back home...