You love the people in your life. You love your planet. You want your holiday giving to benefit both. Possible? Very much so.
The right book is a gift that can last decades and change lives. In no particular order, I recommend Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Warning: this book may send the recipient off to a tiny house in the woods for forty years, to enjoy an outrageous amount of free time. Farming While Black by Leah Penniman is for farmers of any color, and those who want to be good allies to them. Regeneration by Paul Hawken tells us what we need to do to restore our planet to health and the temperatures we evolved to thrive in. Naturally Curious by Mary Holland reveals that our part of the world is absolutely amazing! And once you know that, you’ll be even more inspired by Our Better Nature by Lindberg and Hagen, a joint project of the Vermont Alliance for Half-Earth and the Northeast Trust, among others. Rewild half the planet, for it’s health and ours? It’s an ambitious, hopeful idea.
All these books are available from independent booksellers like Northshire, Village Square Books, Norwich Bookstore, and Toadstool Bookshop. Many are published locally, by companies like Storey, Trafalgar Square, and Chelsea Green. Chelsea Green prints their books on recycled paper, and bears a certification from the Forest Stewardship Council. Browse their online catalog for dozens of fascinating titles, many written by local authors. Then buy them at a local bookstore.
For kids, look for ways to give the gift of nature. That’s how to grow future environmentalists. Cross-country skis and lessons; a trip to a local nature museum; or an invitation to participate in the Christmas Bird Count. If a family you love is having a hard time affording summer camp, contribute to their camp fund or offer to drive the child to camp (ideally in an EV or plug-in hybrid). Or consider giving or contributing to horseback riding lessons or a dog training class.
For the person who has everything (except a thriving planet), give trees in their name through One Tree Planted. This Vermont company makes it easy to give any number of trees, from one to a hundred, in locations around the globe. May I suggest mangroves? They account for 50 percent of all carbon sequestered in marine sediments, provide critical habitat for many species encluding tigers, act as a nursery for an incredible variety of marine life, provide food and materials to human neighbors, shield populations from hurricanes and tsunamis, and buffer the impact of sea-level rise. We’ve lost nearly 50 percent of them since 1980. Restoring mangroves could remove or avoid three billion tons of greenhous gas emissions by 2030, and you can tuck a few of these magnificent trees into someone’s stocking for one dollar apiece. There’s almost nothing you can do with a dollar that will have greater impact.
A festive gift for an impassioned gardener might be a basket of seed catalogs—the exotic ones like Baker’s Heirloom Seeds, SeedSavers’ Exchange, Turtle Tree Seeds, Kitazawa, or Southern Exposure. Some of these catalogs cost a few dollars, but most are free. The winter holidays may not be the time for gardening, but they’re certainly the time to dream about gardening. Another good choice for garden dreamers would be a gift card to Elmore Roots Nursery.
This winter a lot of people are going to be turning the thermostat down to save money on fuel.Yes, this might be better for the environment — but avoid saying that. Instead give warmth; sweaters, socks, base layers. Choose wool, not polyester, which is made from fossil fuels. Merino wool base layers are buttery-soft, nonscratchy, and make an outsized difference in how comfortable the wearer feels. Wool sequesters carbon, can be composted at the end of its usefulness, and is much warmer than other fibers. Sheep live long comfortable lives eating most of the time; many of them these days graze under solar arrays, performing a valuable service as they grow wool. Much wool is locally produced, and you can take that even farther by knitting the garment yourself. Or give yarn, to a knitter, providing entertainment as well as coziness. Visit solar-powered Farm-Way in Bradford, VT to purchase your cozy garments.
If your loved one is deeply atttached to polyester, how about a Guppyfriend Washing Bag? You zip your fleece garments into it before putting them in the washing machine. The bag traps the microplastic fibers shed by the fleece, and keeps them out of waterways. Afterward you simply clean that lint out with your fingers and put it in the trash. Not the toilet! That would defeat the whole purpose.
Speaking of washing things, some of the best soap on the planet is made by the Vermont Soap Company. You can clean anything in the house with their Liquid Sunshine, including laundry, and their castile soap, scented or unscented, is strong, gentle, and doesn’t leave a residue. It’s also organic and made with renewable energy.
Finally, for all the festivals of lights, consider soy or beeswax candles to fill a home with cheer. For outdoors (or power outages) how about a rechargable headlamp, or shop flashlight? Every car should have a flashlight that can be plugged into the cigarette lighter or phone charger, and in this season when we turn toward the dark and deep, a simple string of LED lights in a corner, draped over a plant, or even coiled in a large canning jar, can bring that twinkle of light, cheer, and hope we all crave.
Wishing you joy.
Jessie Haas lives in a 450-square-foot off-grid cabin with husband Michael J. Daley. She is the author of over 40 books, including The Hungry Place.