Best holiday gifts for the eco-friendly (and all under $40)
Clockwise from top left: solar food dryer by Outback WoodWorks, license plate cuff by MakeShift Accessories, beeswax candles by Scent from Nature, canjo by Resist Instrument Works, coasters by Vinyl Afterlife.
On Saturday, Do It Green! Minnesota took over the back hallways of the Midtown Global Market to throw its seventh annual Green Gifts Fair. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., more than 70 vendors set up shop, all hawking goods that fit, in some way, under the "eco" umbrella.
Some of these embraced extreme green, like worm compost bins. Others, like scrap metal jewelers, were more in the "reuse, recycle" camp. But wherever the crafts were on the spectrum, their collective presence offered an antidote to the midnight-on-Thanksgiving, Black Friday big box madness, and a reminder that November and December don't necessarily have to include heaps of plastic packaging.
We combed the green goods to pick out our top 10, a list of gifts that will work for a range of earth-friendly friends this season. Shopping for a chef? A cyclist? Here are your best bets.
For the coffee-drinker
The Velasquez family handles every part of its coffee's production: Two brothers, a brother-in-law, and father Velasquez manage the coffee farm in Honduras (the Comayagua National Cloud Forest, to be exact), and then the other Velasquez brother, Guillermo, and his wife, Cathy, have the coffee roasted here in Minnesota. Their regular roasts sell for $9 per 12-ounce bag, and they also offer flavors like Amaretto to Dutch Chocolate for $6.50 per 8-ounce bag. The best pick for your coffee-loving loved one, though, might be the gift subscription: $27 for three months, $54 for six months, or $108 for a whole year. Calculate the savings over a daily latte out, and consider yourself a financial Santa. Plus: Free home delivery within Minneapolis and St. Paul. [www.VFamilyCoffee.com]
For the cyclist
One of the many handy properties of street signs is that they're reflective. And even after the signs have outlived their usefulness as navigational tools, they still have that ability to reflect car lights. Enter Eric and Devin Johnson, the guys behind MakeShift Accessories, who rescue these signs from the scrap-metal pile and turn them into, among other things, wrist cuffs. Give the street sign cuff ($16) or license plate cuff (slightly less reflective, $12) to your favorite cyclists to help keep them stylishly visible on icy streets this winter. [www.MakeShiftAccessories.com]
For the musician (including the five-year-old kind)
In the same vein as a tin-can telephone, but way more genius: The Canjo. You could put this one together at home, but when Matte Resist sells well-made ones for $20, they're hard to, well, resist. Supplies: One can, one piece salvaged wood, a single string and a few small metal pieces for frets. Result: A beautiful little instrument that will charm three-year-old and 30-year-old musicians alike. Resist also sells more substantial banjos, ukeleles, cigar-box guitars, and more. [www.ResistInstrumentWorks.com]
For the book worm
Local house Milkweed Editions is a certified green press, meaning it prints its books on mostly recycled paper in a sustainable way. In addition to the rest of the works in its stable, Milkweed publishes titles that directly engage with environmental issues. Three top picks: Hope, Human and Wild by Bill McKibben ($15), Being Caribou by Kartsen Heuer ($15), and Shopping for Porcupine by Seth Kantner ($19.95). [www.Milkweed.org]
For the locavore
Twin Cities Local Food is a newly-launched (in April), year-round online farmers' market. Customers can order from their computers, then pick up the delicious goods -- from seasonal produce and grass-fed meats to grains and oils -- at a nearby location. Husband-and-wife team Josh and Natalie Kelly work with a dozen sustainably-minded farms within 100 miles of the cities, and in addition to the edible stuff, offer e-gift certificates and gift baskets like the Organic Minnesota Breakfast (Sapsucker Farms maple syrup, Peace Coffee, Loosey Goosey pancake mix, $35) and the Pampered Minnesotan (massage oils, lip balms, skin creams, $37). [www.TwinCitiesLocalFood.com]
For the chef
When Libby Macdougall retired, she had to find a way to stay busy. Her solution: Outback WoodWorks. Macdougall makes chickadee and blue bird nesting boxes for the casual nature
aficionado ($20 - $25) or worm composting bins for the die-hard ($12). But our top pick is her solar food dryer, which comes in small ($25) and large ($40). Instead of shelling out for costly dried goods like fruits and sundried tomatoes, or using an energy-intensive electric dehydrator, with Macdougall's box, you can harness the drying capabilities of the sun. Unfortunately, the box isn't quite powerful enough for dried meats like jerky -- its peak temperature is about 140 degrees, and meat demands 165. But are you eco-warriors really eating jerky anyway? (Doubly friendly: Macdougall donates all her profits to local food shelves and animal rescue groups). [www.OutbackWoodWorks.biz
For the zen
Linda Newman swears by beeswax candles: They drip less, smoke less, emit a faint honey scent, and purify the air. And, of course, beeswax candles are as natural as they get as they're a product of flower nectar that goes straight "from the hive to the candle." Newman's candles are "a passion," and made in her Watertown, Minnesota studio. Her candle production will soon be solar-powered, and she packages with sustainable material. Prices vary from $2 for 10 ounces of raw beeswax to $40.50 for an 18-pack of votives. [www.ScentFromNature.com]
For the flu-stricken or lunchbox-packing
Ann Kreider is bringing back the handkerchief, and she's doing one better than cotton: flannel (one for $2.50, four for $9). You know those tissue commercials that talk about how gentle their tissue brand is? Flannel is like the best of those, times 10. "Some people think they're gross, but it's like wearing underwear again," she says. Kreider's hankies come in cute prints, and she also makes mini lunchbox napkins out of equally charming patterns (four for $6). Throw them in the wash, and save a few rolls of paper towels -- and trees. [www.threadstar.com]
For the music-lover
When Hymie's Records has vinyl that's broken, warped, scratched, or generally unplayable, instead of immediately tossing them, the store calls Paul Burnham, who then repurposes the album art. Burnham's creations range from coasters ($2) to notebooks and sketchbooks in different sizes ($15). Most in-demand artists or albums? "Who you'd expect," he says. "Everyone always wants The Beatles." [www.VinylAfterlife.com]
For the designer
In June, Ann Larkin and Pamela Mayer officially launched their business, Tesoro Mio (Italian for "My treasure!"). Since then, they've been churning out lovely soy wax candles blended with essential oils like lavender or basil, and poured into Pellegrino bottles and mason jars. They also do custom containers, like a special wine bottle, and will refill the beautiful jars with another candle for just $1 an ounce. [www.TesoroMio.org]
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