Jane Says: Give Green Food Gifts This Holiday Season

From farmers market finds to heirloom vegetable seeds, there are plenty of sustainable presents out there.

Sustainable and Green Holiday Food Gifts for the Holiday Season

For your kale-loving, dog-loving, gardening friends. (Photo: Hudson Valley Seed Library)

Jane Lear was on staff at 'Gourmet' for almost 20 years.

“I’m on the look-out for some green gift ideas for friends and family. Help!”

—Leon James

For this year’s gift guide, it’s time to think outside of the (recycled) box. That’s why I’m including a few suggestions—for example, a cast-iron skillet, some books—that are distinguished by their longtime usefulness.

I also encourage you to consider any local products—such as honey, jam, or cheese from the farmers market—that you know and love. It may not seem especially exotic to you, but for someone in another part of the country, it will be a rare treat. On a recent trip to New York City’s Union Square Greenmarket, for instance, in addition to my usual haul, I toted home a dedicated holiday gift bag filled with jars of Andrew’s Honey (from hives on rooftops, balconies, and community gardens in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens), heirloom dried beans and polenta from Cayuga Pure Organics, and sheep's-milk cheeses and skeins of undyed yarn from 3-Corner Field Farm. What I want for Christmas this year is a pack mule.

15 Green Gift Ideas

Kitchen

BN Ranch porterhouse steaks: I’ve long been a fan of Bill Niman, pioneer in the humanely raised “good meat” business, for he knows that good breeding, animal-friendly husbandry, and land stewardship add up to superb flavor. All his cuts of beef are delicious, but there’s no denying the inherent wow factor of a porterhouse or two. (BN Ranch; from $48.98)

Nudo olive oil from an “adopted” tree: Lots of hard work and dedication go into making a good olive oil, and producer Nudo sees its tree adoption program in eastern Italy and Sicily as a way to connect people to the source of their food. (Nudo Italia; from $69 a year)

Capay organic satsumas: These sweet, seedless mandarins are from an orchard planted at the north end of the Great Central Valley, in California, more than 40 years ago. (Capay Satsuma Mandarins; from $21)

Bearded Brothers energy bars: These organic energy bars are vegan, soy-free, gluten-free, mostly raw, and flavorful and come in a compostable wrapper. What’s not to love? (Bearded Brothers; from $12)

In Pursuit of Tea pu-erh tea: Tea importer Sebastian Beckworth’s artisanal sheng (green) pu-erh, pressed into the traditional moon-cake shape (you flake off pieces to brew) is exotic to behold and lovely to drink. (In Pursuit of Tea; $29)

Cast-iron skillet: All Lodge cast-iron pans are pre-seasoned these days, which makes them less intimidating—although my inclination would be to cook a pound of bacon in one before attempting anything tricky, like fried eggs. A 10-inch skillet will run you about $25 at a cookware or hardware store. Or look for pricier vintage or antique cast-iron pans (available online at Pan Man, The Pan Handler, or eBay) from renowned manufacturers such as Griswold and Wagner; they’ll have up to a century’s worth of seasoning on them. (Lodge; from $12)

Home-carbonation device: This is a great present for people who are fond of fizzy drinks but hate the thought of generating yet more plastic or metal waste. I like the SodaStream, which doesn’t hog counter space and works like a dream. Whimsy has its price—$199.95—but there’s no denying the charm of the Penguin model, exclusive to Williams-Sonoma, which comes with two glass carafes and handy fizz-preserving stoppers. (SodaStream; from $79.95)

Garden

Organic seed collections: A Bee’s Garden, Container Garden, Kid’s Garden, Kitchen Garden, and Easy Salad Greens are among the choices you’ll find at High Mowing Organic Seeds. For heirloom gardeners, check out the offerings at the Hudson Valley Seed Library in Hudson, New York, or Native Seeds in Tucson, Ariz. (High Mowing Organic Seeds; from $13.75)

Wildflower seedbomb slingshot: Any guerrilla gardener will love this tube of 10 hand-rolled bombs of native or region-specific wildflowers and the time-honored (not to mention really, really fun) way to lob them into difficult-to-reach areas. (Greenaid; $14.99)

Six-drawer orchard rack: This is a practical way to store local seasonal fruits and vegetables, and if I had good access to a dark cool shed or basement, I’d put it on my holiday wish list in a heartbeat. The drawers are slatted to ensure good air circulation, and they slide out for easy access. (Gardener’s Supply; $149)

Temporary farm tattoos: Whitney Marsden’s Etsy store carries a spring produce series (cabbage, plum, strawberry, artichoke) and a spring farm animal series (pig, bull, rooster, chick) taken from antique encyclopedia lithographs. The highly detailed images last for about a week but can be removed at any time. (Etsy.com/shop/whitneyjane; $12)

Library

Note: I’m giving online prices below, but why not show your local independent bookseller some love? You can find one close to you at indiebound.org.

Eat Drink Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics, by Marion Nestle: In this humorous but far from light summary, America’s foremost public health nutritionist joins forces with the Cartoonist Group to illuminate issues from dietary advice to GMOs because “it ought to be possible to enjoy the pleasures of food and eat healthfully at the same time.” I’ll raise a glass to that. (About $14)

Storey’s Guide to Growing Organic Vegetables & Herbs for Market, by Keith Stewart: This must-read for anyone who cherishes a farm fantasy or simply wants to grow food sustainably is from a Hudson Valley producer of stellar vegetables, including rocambole garlic, lettuces, tomatoes, potatoes, squashes, and a rich variety of pot greens. (About $17)

Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening With Twelve Families From the Edible Plant Kingdom, With Over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes, by Deborah Madison: This comprehensive survey of the world of edible plant products in their scientific groupings allows you to see the kinships among them and sparks imagination in the kitchen. It will surprise and delight any vegetarian or vegan cook—or anyone who simply wants to put produce in the center of the plate more often. (About $27 online)

Enough Stuff?

So what do you give foodies who have it all? I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be thrilled at a (tax-deductible) donation in their honor to a charity specializing in hunger, nutrition, environmental, or agricultural issues. Below are a few that come to mind, but check out Charity Navigator for more information.

American Farmland Trust 

Environmental Working Group

Farm Aid

Feeding America

Freedom From Hunger

Heifer International

MercyCorps

Oxfam

Sustainable Harvest International

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