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Green as Pine

It doesn’t take long to realize Pine Avenue, the heart and soul of Anna Maria Island, is a special place. The pastel colors of the quaint wooden shops that line the street, palm trees swaying overhead in the warm ocean breeze in the air and crushed seashells underfoot. It’s picture-perfect and filled with seaside charm.

But look below the surface and you find a place filled with purpose. Those buildings? They’re LEED-Certified (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and filled with green tech for energy savings. Inside, shops and boutiques sell recycled, refashioned or vintage goods produced by local artists and craftspeople. Above, solar panels capture and convert the near-constant sunlight into energy.

Even all those crushed seashells underfoot offer environmental benefits; they eliminate concrete “hardscapes,” (a major cause of warming through radiated heat) and prevent water run-off — allowing the town to retain rainfall and recharge its water supply.

All of these environmental enhancements, which have been ongoing for more than 15 years now, have provided another unexpected benefit to Pine Avenue: a sense of pride and identity among its 1,600 or so full-time residents, who have begun referring to their home as “The Greenest Little Main Street in America.”

It may be little (Pine Avenue is only about a half-mile in length), but its efforts continue to grab the attention of the world’s leading experts in sustainability and sustainable tourism. In the process, it’s provided the blueprint for other cities across the nation and continues to set the bar with new innovations.

But Pine Avenue isn’t the only green spot in the Bradenton Area. Other spots on the island and across the mainland feature environmentally friendly destinations for eco-conscious travelers to explore and enjoy.

Merchants Edible Community Gardens

Situated not far from the shops and storefronts of Pine Avenue is another truly green initiative — as in eat-your-greens green. The Edible Community Gardens takes the idea of locally grown fresh produce ripe for the picking and plants it right in the heart of Anna Maria.

The Gardens utilize a one-of-a-kind sheet mulch system, which consists of layers of materials that make year-round open-air growing possible — even in the bright summer sun. Local business owners tend to the boxes, and the bounty within is free for the taking.

Some of the more exotic offerings include Okinawa spinach, hibiscus and moringa. To help you understand exactly what you’re getting and, more importantly, what to do with it, each box has an information card and a scannable QR code with information.

Bon appétit!

Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery

Just about an hour’s drive to the east from Pine Avenue is the Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, also known as “The Greenest Winery in America.” The family-run operation is no newcomer to the green game. Almost 20 years ago, before even planting their first vines, they designed an irrigation system that waters the grapes without removing any moisture from the ground, which can degrade the soil. Instead, all water is captured in a cistern and transported to the vines via solar-powered pumps.

The grapes themselves are native to the area, reducing any carbon footprint caused by shipping in fruit from elsewhere. And 100% of the sediments created in the winemaking process are composted back into the land, which has been designated a mini refuge to protect the habitat and provide refuge for local wildlife, which has been affected by large development projects in nearby urban areas.

After the wine has been made, it’s bottled. But not in shiny, new bottles to be discarded in the landfill once emptied. Every single bottle of Bunker Hill Wine has been recycled from an old bottle. In fact, the winery receives more than 26,000 used bottles from customers each year to be used again and again.

All of this, and the implementation of many other environmental issues, has earned Bunker Hill the first-ever Green Business Certification Master Level from the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce.

Sustainable seafood

Perhaps no one takes sustainability more seriously than the people of old Cortez, one of the last active commercial fishing villages on the Florida Gulf. As carriers of a fishing tradition that spans generations, they understand the need for sustainable fishing practices to keep our famous grouper, cobia and other fresh favorites protected from harm and overfishing.

When it comes to seafood, the term “sustainable” means that a species has been wild-caught or farmed with both the long-term future of the fishery and the health of the oceans as top priorities. Another concern is pollution, which can harm populations with high amounts of mercury, PCB’s and other bio-containments.

Sustainable farms

Agriculture has always been a big part of the Bradenton Area. And numerous farms are sowing more sustainable practices into their operations. Family-owned Dakin Dairy Farm, for example, combines grass-fed cows and sustainable farming to produce sweeter-tasting, whiter milk. They use solar energy to sanitize sand for cow bedding and compost manure, which is then used as fertilizer for the family’s 600 acres of nutrient-rich feed grass — creating an endless cycle of sustainability.

At Mixon's Fruit Farms, which specializes in Florida oranges, nothing goes to waste. Everything, including the orange peels, is recycled. Oranges not sold in gift baskets are juiced and used to make their famous homemade orange ice-cream. And just this year, Mixon's became the first farm in the nation to begin growing edible, organic bamboo, which is high in antioxidants and offers many other health benefits.

Nearby hydroponic farms, such as Gamble Creek Farms and O'Brien Family Farms, grow strawberries and other organic produce that goes on to be served in many area restaurants. The restaurants, in turn, provide waste, which the farms can compost and return to land as fertilizer. Composting is also important at two organic farms: Gamble Creek Farm and 3 Boys Farm. Fresh produce from the farms is featured on local restaurant’s menus. Then the composted material is returned to the farms to make fertilizer.

Vacation worry-free

Travel can negatively impact our environment in ways we may not even realize or have considered. But when you vacation to the Bradenton Area, you can feel confident you're your carbon footprint is as light as a sandal on a crushed seashell sidewalk.