Students tour edible gardens
TOM VAUGHT | SUN
Island landscape expert Mike Miller explains the plants in
the edible gardens on Pine Avenue to a group of hospitality
students from Taiwan..
ANNA MARIA – Natural landscape expert Mike Miller took nine students from Taiwan on a tour of the edible gardens along Pine Avenue where he showed exotic vegetables being grown, some of them better known to the students than the residents of Anna Maria.
It was a hot day as Miller explained how they rebuilt Pine Avenue, purchasing contiguous plots of land to keep the same theme.
Pine Avenue’s unique design allows for more stormwater recycling and it is evolving into what shop owners and some residents hope will be a pedestrian-friendly area for everyone.
Miller also talked about his history on the Island where he turned the grounds of Anna Maria City Hall into a showcase of native trees and foliage.
The tour began in front of The Studio at Gulf and Pine, owned by Rhea and Ed Chiles. Chiles spoke with the students before the tour began. The group would end up at his Sandbar restaurant to sample some of the plants.
Each planted area is sponsored by a shop adjacent to it, and shop owners are free to sample them. There are seven plants in each box.
Miller said these plants were chosen for their heat and salt-air tolerance. A group known as ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (www.echo.org) helped choose the plants, which included edible hibiscus, pumpkin, okra, moringa and Chinese hibiscus. At one point, one of the students said some of those plants are already household names in his native Taiwan.
The students and their chaperones were impressed with Pine Avenue’s reputation for being “The Greenest Little Main Street in America.”
The Merchants' Community Gardens Project began as an initiative of the Pine Avenue Merchants Association. Members felt it would further enhance the community aspect of their efforts. However, with land at a premium, a non-traditional solution was needed. This is when Ed Chiles suggested they grow food along Pine Avenue.
Chiles told the students he likes to cultivate some of the greens to use in his smoothies in the morning.
The students will work with Chef Mil Burak, an award winning chef and visiting professor from Turkey who also took the tour, to create a selection of recipes that will feature each of the vegetables growing in the Pine Avenue Merchant Gardens. Additionally, the students will develop recipes, prepare and serve tastings and interact with the public to explain the vegetables and their nutritional value. This public tasting part of their study will take place on Pine Avenue sometime in October.
The lunch menu included bottarga, salmon tartare topped with caviar, a salad of organic greens from 3 Boys Farm, as well as greens from the community gardens picked that morning, grilled eggplant, fish balls, fried Cortez mullet with Bradley Store grits and Key lime pie. As an added treat, Miller made bread from the moringa plant that is growing in the community gardens.