Leading up to the holiday season, I've been contemplating the way we celebrate and, particularly, about the way we buy. Since gift-giving is a traditional, and often unavoidable, part of the festivities, I thought it might be helpful to start thinking sustainably. Here is the first of a five-part series adapted from an article I wrote for the Nov.-Dec. '09 issue of NW Palate magazine.
When I was a kid growing up, my brothers and I would spend weeks before the holidays combing the toy section of the giant mail-order catalogs, reading descriptions of the latest baby dolls and racing cars, making and prioritizing lists of the gifts we absolutely must have or we'd die. At least that's what we'd tell our parents.
The thought that the ability of the household, much less the planet, to sustain that level of consumption never occurred to us.
Now that I’m older and wiser (let’s hope), I search out gifts that are self-liquidating, that is, they can be consumed completely—well, aside from some recyclable packaging—soon after being given.
This year I’m thinking baskets packed with goodies from my local farmers' market, like polenta made from farm-ground heirloom corn, pepper jellies, organically grown heirloom dried beans and locally made wine. For gifts that will last longer, I’m eschewing anything that would need to be dusted and instead heading for the practical: garden tools, kitchen knives and favorite vegetable or flower seeds fit the bill.
Thinking sustainably and supporting an eco-friendly lifestyle is a hallmark of the Northwest and a paragon for other regions. The key is acting locally, which not only means purchasing products that are produced locally, but also buying from neighborhood stores that are more likely to support the economy in your area.
With that in mind, I’ve asked few luminaries in the sustainable community to assemble their suggestions, and I’ve also put together a few ideas of my own. They might just make the holiday joy last for years to come.
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Matthew Dillon, Director of Advocacy for the Organic Seed Alliance in Port Townsend, Washington, believes that seeds embody both our common cultural heritage and a living natural resource fundamental to the future sustainability of food production.
As you might expect, Dillon’s all about getting people out in the garden, and suggests giving a Northwest gardener the gift of season extension with floating row covers or fleece tunnels. Seed saving kits also rank high on his list, including cleaning screens, desiccants, and containers. He said to be sure to get sizes appropriate to the recipient’s needs. (Kits are available through local nurseries or online at Territorial Seed Company in Cottage Grove, Oregon)
For garden tools, he has two favorites. Of soil thermometers, he said, “If you're like me you feel a burning desire to start planting green beans and summer squash on those rare early warm spring days. Planting seeds in cold soil is a sure way to get poor germination and/or unhealthy plants, and a good soil thermometer will help you get the timing right.” Then there’s the classic Felco pruner. “I recommend the No. 2. It’s the tool for any gardener to have, from pruning to clipping seed heads.”
And he’s got a unique idea for donating to the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA). “You can support healthy seed systems by having a winter garden catalog party. OSA staff will come to your home or garden club and give a short presentation of heirlooms and organic seeds. Afterwards we'll thumb through catalogs and share what we look for in a seed company, what questions you should be asking, our approach to trying new varieties, as well as a few recommendations on our favorite varieties.” For more information, visit the OSA website.
All Seasons Indoor Composting Kit consists of bucket with spigot and 1 gallon of bokashi—an anaerobic composting system that is practically odorless. Check your local nursery or Amazon.com—$75
Gift Of Pollination Starter Kit is the way to ensure that area apple, cherry or other fruit trees produce plentiful fruit. The kit includes a cedar nester box, a set of pre-packaged nesting tubes, the book The Orchard Mason Bee and a coupon for a set of 20 Orchard Mason bees—and don't worry, these bees don't sting! Check your local nursery or apiary supply store or KnoxCellars.com—$63.95
Earthbox Ready to Grow Kit is for friends or family member who don’t have gardens but do have patios or outdoor space. The kit includes a planter box, watering tube, covers, potting mix, fertilizer and dolomite. Check your local nursery or Earthbox.com—$59.95
Read Part Two: Farm to Table, Part Three: Good for the Environment, Part Four: Helping Others and Part Five: DIY Food & Drink.