Rich Stevick checks in from Pinecraft, where he and wife Pauline are reloading on vitamins C and D courtesy of the Florida sun and citrus.

Today Rich shares excerpts from chapter 6 of Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years, giving us a glimpse of life in the “Plain People’s Paradise”.

The Sarasota-area neighborhood is a popular destination for older folks, Amish youth, and vacationing families. But not all Amish approve of Pinecraft, as Rich explains below.

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Pinecraft, a one-square mile enclave in Sarasota, Florida, has been the traditional destination of choice for generations of Amish youth, not only those in the big settlements, but for many Youngie elsewhere.

This Plain People’s Paradise, as my wife has dubbed it, literally bursts with residents, visitors, and activity for most of the winter months. From just around Christmas through March, four bus companies serving Amish and Mennonite clientele fill weekly buses with mostly Plain-garbed passengers seeking refuge from the ravages of northern winters. The two drivers on each bus spell each other, so that except for dinner and breakfast stops, they can drive straight through to Pinecraft from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The majority of bus travelers are older adults. However, most youthful Amish who come to Florida are likely to come in their own vehicles or catch a ride with friends who drive. In January through March, the peak vacation months, local residents estimate that as many as 2,000 visitors per week squeeze into all available apartments and rooms in Pinecraft’s one square mile.

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Not all Amish or church leaders approve of such a destination and experience. One stumbling block has been that many Old Order communities have viewed Pinecraft as part of the technologically progressive New Order Amish. Because of the overflow crowds in the winter, the local Amish church gathers in a meetinghouse instead of members’ homes, a departure from normal Amish practice.

More significantly, the resident Amish have electricity and telephones in their Florida homes, and most have air conditioning and microwaves. Adding to the skepticism on the part of some Old Order people back home is that the majority of men, single and married, routinely stroll or bicycle hatless around Pinecraft, an omission that in many communities would raise eyebrows, at the least, if not provoke severe criticism. One conservative winter resident, however, declared, “I’d rather go barefoot than hatless.”

Bishops fear that exposure to such luxuries, conveniences, and examples may cause not only the youth, but also baptized members, to return home dissatisfied with gas or kerosene lamps and the absence of power-line electricity. Finally, the bishops ask, how will young people ever learn to develop a respect for hard work, simplicity, and self-denial when they daily observe Amish elders wasting time at shuffleboard, checkers, and even golf? They wonder what kind of example is that?

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When the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe ran front-page articles on Pinecraft as the ultimate Amish vacation destination, they focused on the shuffleboard generation. An eighty-year-old who has been wintering in Pinecraft for years, however, complained that “too many young people are coming down here and spoiling it for everyone. In the past, people came for health reasons.”

Whether his assessment is accurate or not, everyone agrees that many youth, especially from the large settlements, make their way to Florida each winter. A mother from Pennsylvania reported that fourteen teenagers (ten boys and four girls) from their settlement went to Pinecraft for two weeks but spent most of their time on Siesta Key, playing beach volleyball every day. Nowadays, Siesta Key is the destination of choice for the pleasure-seeking Youngie.

According to one longtime resident, a possible reason for this shift from Pinecraft–with its small rental cottages, increased prices, and inquisitive neighbors from home–is that the youth can instead share condos or vacation cottages on Siesta Key, less than ten miles from the village.

In Pinecraft proper, not only would loud music or open drinking raise Amish adults’ eyebrows, but it most likely would bring a quick response from the Sarasota police and a citation for disturbing the peace. On the other hand, security officers on Siesta Key reputedly turn a blind eye to discreet drinking on the beach, and also to discreet partying in the rented condos and cottages, unless things get too loud. “What happens in the condos and cottages stays in the condos and cottages” may be the new mantra.

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If youthful Facebook postings, pictures, and “Likes” are valid indicators, most of the Youngie from the big three settlements, plus assorted youth from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and elsewhere, rate their Siesta Key experience highly for the action and the atmosphere. With its endless beach-volleyball games, Florida sunshine, white sand, ocean views, easy access to alcohol, like-minded peers, and lack of accountability, it is the popular choice for youth who prefer the party crowd to the decidedly adult or family-centered focus of Pinecraft.

Youngie from Indiana constitute the majority of Amish youth visiting Siesta Key during the two or three weeks around Christmas. This coincides with the winter vacation break in the trailer and RV factories where many of them work. Some teenage Indiana males estimated that between 100 and 200 youth from their state come for the sun and fun at that time, and they admitted that this group constituted the majority of the volleyball players occupying the dozen or so permanent nets set up by the park.

As the winter season progresses and the tanned Indiana youth have to return home and work, they are replaced by pale but equally animated youth from Ohio and Pennsylvania. By planning ahead, several youth in 2013 could go together to rent a cabana behind the high-rise condos for about $165 per week each, an easily affordable price for Youngie who work full time. And even for those who have to “cook” with a microwave or live on Domino’s Pizza and wash their own clothes at a local coin-operated laundry, they consider these “hardships” well worth the costs.

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Besides the lure of the climate, the beach, deep-sea or bay fishing, sports, and the company of other young people, many parents worry that some youth might seek freedom from the demands of the church and accountability at home.

A young Amish man from Pennsylvania who came to visit soon found Florida to his liking and decided to stay there permanently. He confessed: “My parents aren’t real happy that I’m down here. And I admit that this can be a dangerous place for young people, without supervision and all.” Nevertheless, many youth apparently consider it a small price to pay for this exciting time away from their bosses at work, their parents at home, or the preachers at church.

Most long-term winter residents, however, believe that youngie behavior in Florida is much better now than it once was. Back home, a Lancaster County mother expressed relief that her seventeen-year-old was going to Pinecraft with a “good bunch of youth, not like some of them who come from other settlements. It’s too easy for the youth to get out of control down there.” Many youth and their parents would undoubtedly agree with her assessment.

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Despite the various articles on Pinecraft over the years, few outsiders actually wandered around Graber, Kauffman, and Yoder Streets, named for early Anabaptist residents.

Today, visitors frequent Yoder’s Restaurant and Der Dutchman, with their home-style, Pennsylvania German cooking, but tourists usually confine their meandering to Bahia Vista Street, the main east-west thoroughfare cutting through the center of Pinecraft.

Meanwhile, most beach-goers at Siesta Key would likely be surprised to learn that the majority of the youthful volleyball players and onlookers, many clad in tankinis or board shorts, will soon be returning to their Amish families, plain clothing, and full time employment.