Wading His Way In Agricultural Conservation… 

- April 13, 2022 -

WORDS: Merab Favorite
PICTURES: Whitney Patton

Just as the crest of the sun started to spill over the horizon, he placed his bicycle on the rack, hurled his bag of equipment over his shoulder, and headed down the familiar trail at Robinson Preserve. 

Once he arrived at the perfect spot, Mac Carraway assembled his camera. He waded into the shallow water looking to the mangroves for his most sought-after subject, the elusive reddish egret. This bird is different from the others he photographs as it uses a unique strategy to catch fish, raising its wings to create shade and dancing around the fish in a celebratory display. 

Here in the mangroves, camera in hand, he was most at peace. Bird photography wasn’t his day job, but he’d made a name for himself locally, publishing a book called “The Birds of Robinson Preserve,” with images he collected over the years. He even had an exhibit of his photography at a local art gallery. 

Sometimes he pictured himself as one of the wading birds at the preserve, navigating the delicate landscape and adjusting to the influx of the human population and the development that came along with it. It helped him make complicated management decisions while serving as the President of Carraway Consulting Group, a financial, agricultural, green industry, and water-policy firm he started in June of 2014. In between meetings and Zoom calls, Carraway would flip through his book of birds and ask himself, “What would they do?” 

Carraway’s guidance and decision-making recently earned him the 5th Annual Robert P. Bartz Award for Outstanding Leadership. In the nomination process, colleagues described Carraway as a “humble leader with a steadfast commitment to efforts that enhance Manatee County’s economy and quality of life.” 

In his acceptance speech, Carraway referenced his lifelong mantra to “always do the right thing, no matter what.” It’s an outlook he adapted from Bartz himself, who served as president for the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce for 35 years and encouraged Carraway to become an active member and serve on numerous committees. 

“Bob was an incredibly special person who inspired me with his friendship by his relentlessly hopeful outlook. Bob’s love for the Chamber and community was uplifting, and I try to honor his legacy and pass that on whenever I can.” 

Honesty and fairness were important lessons Carraway learned from his father growing up in Tallahassee and then imparted on his son, David. Even if he didn’t benefit from it, the idea of doing the right thing was something he and his wife Phyllis practiced in their daily lives. 

When he and his family came to the area in 1992, Carraway fell in love with the coastline but quickly understood that water issues would be important. As a lover of water and nature, he immersed himself in water policy, joining key committees and initiatives he hoped would preserve Manatee County’s unique landscape while still serving the influx of tourists and new residents that seemed to increase every year. 

“Water conservation can be a complicated and sometimes controversial subject,” said Carraway. “Over my career, I’ve developed a deeper understanding of the complex management issues our area faces while still working to conserve the things about Florida that make it a place people want to visit and live. The good news is we can do both.” 

Carraway became a statewide leader in water policy circles, serving on the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (SWFWMD) Agricultural and Green Industry Advisory Committee for over 15 years. His SWFWMD experience has supported numerous projects and funding, benefiting Manatee County and its water and environmental resources. 

One of the family-friendly campaigns Carraway likes to promote is the “Skip A Week” movement, directed at lawn irrigation during the winter, when grass doesn’t require a lot of water. 

“Giving the public more knowledge about Florida watering cycles is helping save half the water they could have been using,” he said. “It’s a beautiful message that has had a big impact on utility bills and the environment.” 

Carraway also endorses Florida-friendly landscaping and Florida-friendly fertilization as a way that families can make a positive impact on the environment. 

The initiatives he’s most proud of professionally and personally have directly impacted his favorite place, Robinson Preserve. Forward Manatee, a half-cent tax referendum benefitting roads, law enforcement, community safety, parks, and preserves, will bring in nearly half a billion dollars to the county over the life of its implementation.  

Carraway served as the Chair of the Manatee County Citizens Financial Structure Advisory Board in promoting the successful passage of the referendum working with Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, Bradenton City Clerk Carl Callahan, Chamber President Jacki Dezelski, prior Bartz Awardee Ron Allen, and the Chamber’s Select Task Force. 

“Getting to work with people who serve the community at that level was a privilege,” he said. “Being part of a strong coalition with folks that had the best interests of the community was something I enjoyed very much. Everyone’s heart was in the right place.” 

It’s not his fascination with flight that got him ascending to the top of his field. Instead, hard work and patience, collaboration, and humility are all attributes that advanced his profession and brought his photography to the next level. 

“Everybody wants to be a bald eagle, an apex bird on the top of the food chain, but my best experiences come if you don’t act like a predator,” he said. “Walking and wading amongst the birds, that’s when you get the best results.” 

It’s no surprise that Carraway is recognized for his community efforts as much as his professional ones. He is a current board member and past President of the Manatee County Agricultural Museum and has also worked with the Manatee County Clerk and the Friends of the Florida Maritime Museum. He currently serves as the Consulting Executive Director of the Environmental Research & Education Foundation, Inc., a non-profit statewide consortium focused on the environmental and human health benefits of urban greenspaces. 

Beyond water and agriculture, Carraway was involved in several Manatee County education initiatives, including as a past Chairman of the Manatee County Schools Foundation (the predecessor to the Manatee Education Foundation) and as a founding member of the former Manatee Education Alliance. Both focused on improving education outcomes for the county’s students, teachers, and schools. 

Well deserving of the Bartz Award for a lifetime of achievements that mimic his mantra, Carraway’s humble public acceptance was probably no surprise to those who know him. But behind closed doors, perhaps he embraced the essence of his photography subjects and raised his arms in a celebratory dance of achievement, much like his favorite egret does before it catches a fish. 

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