If you’re well organized, you’ve already finished your holiday shopping. But if, like me, you’re just starting to scramble for presents, ideally those of the non-corporate variety, read on for ideas. (That is, If you can’t get away with a Buy Nothing Christmas which might be worth pitching to your friends and family.)
Heifer International holiday gifts of livestock for impoverished families is a venerable progressive holiday tradition. Heifer virtually pioneered the idea of alternative gift-giving in the early 1990s with its The Most Important Catalog In The World and has become a popular way for parents to impart some of the giving spirit to children awash in too many presents. The Heifer gift catalog allows you to purchase a farm animal for needy families around the world, which can help them achieve a degree of sustainability. A pig can be bought for $120 (or chip in $10 to help share the cost of one), three rabbits are a bargain at $60 total, a flock of chicks costs only $20, and, if you can afford to change a family’s life, a $1,500 donation provides two sheep, four goats, a heifer and two llamas. I think of outfits like Heifer as offering the opportunity for the world’s comparatively well-off to voluntarily redistribute a bit of their incomes to those that need the money much more than we do.
The Sustainable Gifts Catalog is a project of Outreach International, a humanitarian organization currently working in thirteen impoverished countries around the world, assisting hundreds of thousands of children, women and men to overcome the effects of poverty each year. All gifts in the catalog grew out of the group's on-the-ground-projects and all proceeds go right back into funding the organization’s poverty-eradication efforts.
Back to the Roots was founded by Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora in 2009 during their last semester at UC Berkeley. Two months away from graduation, and heading into the world of investment banking, they came across the idea of growing gourmet mushrooms with recycled coffee grounds. Inspired by the idea of turning waste into fresh food, they experimented in Velez’s fraternity kitchen, ultimately growing one test bucket of very tasty oyster mushrooms. With that single bucket, some initial interest from Whole Foods and Chez Panisse and a $5,000 grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor for social innovation, they decided to forgo their corporate futures and instead become full-time urban mushroom farmers. They soon created the Grow-Your-Own Mushroom Garden which lets anyone, anywhere, grow their own exotic mushrooms. (Order by December 17 to receive the kit before Christmas.)
Stark Thrist is a wine with a mission. A small company with one core product, each Stark Thrist purchase you make supports the nonprofit WaterAid’s vital mission to bring clean drinking water to those without. And there’s no compromise on the quality of the vino. Stark Thirst sources the best-quality grapes from vineyards that are committed to sustainable and organic practices. The wine is bottled in recycled glass bottles remade in the US, the aluminum screw caps are recyclable and the wine, a crisp, dry Sonoma County Chardonnay, is first-rate.
Kate’s Caring Gifts has a welcome emphasis on food, featuring things like organic fruit baskets from family owned Jerzy Boyz Farms; fair-trade Kosher treats for Hannukah; the very merry vegan basket, the ultimate Organic Chocolate Fantasy Gift Set and the “We’re all Organic Fruits and Nuts Gift Set,” a cornucopia of exotic and organic nuts, preserves, butters and dried fruit.
The Green America Gift Guide offers links to small companies and collectives offering discounts to a wide range of products, services and opportunities. You can find calendars, cards, fair-trade food and wine, wooden toys, baby blankets, organic children’s products and much more. Check out cosmetic cases created by the Lisu Tribe of Northern China and Burma, hand-stitched quilts from India, teddy bears from Sri Lanka, rugs from the Philippines, gift bags flush with fair-trade chocolate, and awesome coffee from Grounds for Change. (I’ve tried it!)
TreeHugger’s extensive Green Gift Guide redefines luxury by delineating ten categories featuring more than 100 low-impact, thoughtfully curated gifts, each paying careful attention to quality, durability and respect for the environment.
For the musically inclined, the Citizens Band’s recent release, Grab A Root and Growl, is a musical call to action featuring sixteen tracks of classic interpretations and original songs in which the band declares war on apathy, and seeks to remind the country why democracy matters. The Citizens Band is donating a healthy portion of the profits to the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, a nonprofit association of community-based, free medical clinics in the US that serve Americans with little or no health insurance, while also performing public policy advocacy. (Click here to donate directly to NAFC.)
Finally, my boss might be mad if I don’t plug The Nation’s own online store, Nation Mart, run in partnership with a quirky group called the Unemployed Philosophers Guild. There are shirts with quotes from legendary Nation contributors like Kurt Vonnegut, James Baldwin and Molly Ivins, Nation logo merchandise, a mug featuring poems by the inimitable Calvin Trillin and subversive buttons and shirts designed by Milton Glaser. The popular “Thank a Teacher” pencil sets are an appropriate gift for educators or anyone else fighting to preserve public education. There’s also, of course, always a good old-fashioned Nation gift subscription — the gift that keeps on giving week after week!