A once small gardening project in Manatee County is growing.

The Anna Maria Island Community Edible Gardens was started in 2012 to promote sustainability, local produce and healthy eating.

“Our goal is to heighten awareness about the food we eat and how healthy it is, and how important it is to know where your food comes from,” said Michael Coleman, with Pine Avenue Restoration.

Coleman said when they first wanted to start the project, they were worried about how successful they’d be. They wanted to grow vegetables in the summer down Pine Avenue.

“Land being the price it is in Anna Maria, there wasn’t a place to put a farm someplace," said Coleman. "So we started thinking about planter boxes.”

Coleman said they reached out to Mike Miller, a designer and native plant expert on the island for help.

Miller partnered up with ECHO, Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization, a global organization based in Ft. Myers, that helps third world countries become self-sustainable by providing them with the seeds of these very vegetables.

Miller chose seven perennial plants that grow in tropical conditions that need minimal maintenance.

The program started with eight boxes placed near Pine Avenue businesses but has grown to nearly 30.

Customers, visitors and residents are encouraged to harvest enough from the plants for a tasting to get to know them.

The boxes can be found at private homes, businesses and there is even interest from institutions such as the USF College of Technology Hospitality Leadership Sarasota-Manatee Culinary Innovation Lab in Lakewood Ranch.

Miller said this is something anyone can do.

“This is without a doubt the easiest, most absolute successful way to garden with vegetables,” he said.

Patrick Coleman, who owns Poppo’s Taqueria on Pine Avenue, said he loves the gardens.

He has one outside his business and plans to add more soon.

“Having the food just right here as you’re looking at it, as you walk in the door, you know where it came from,” said Patrick.  “I think people like that.”

The boxes also offer extra information about the growing produce.  Each box has a QR code and websites on the box.

This allows residents and visitors to get recipes, learn more about the project and learn about the individual vegetables.

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.

The cost for the box and system ranges from $400 to $800.

Examples of the gardens can be found along the deck at The Historic Green Village, now in various stages of regenerating their abundance for the next season.

To arrange a consultation or to purchase a box, contact Mike Miller at 941-779-6097 or mcm@perfectisland.us.