Editor note. This post is part one in a two-part series about buying local for the holidays. Part II will focus on local buys specific to the Bay Area.
Follow up: Please view Part II here.
For the past couple of years, I have made a concentrated effort to buy as much local product as possible for Christmas gifts. Rather than run to the mall, the big box stores, or major online stores, I have tried to frequent local owners with unique products.
Why work so hard at buying local? Many reasons are well outlined in this article by Michael H. Shuman. For me, it is a decision to keep my money in the hands of small proprietors who are working hard on a daily basis to bring something unique to their community. Also, I often get more personal attention at a local store than a corporate one. I work very hard the rest of the year to buy as much local product as possible, and it seems right that Christmas buying fall into place with that plan.
If you're not used to the idea, buying local may seem a little daunting at first. But consider these tips, and you may find yourself purchasing more local items this Christmas than ever before.
Consider memberships to museums, CSA's or other organizations. Your community has tons of local memberships that may be of interest to your loved one: A year's membership to a non-profit organization, membership in a local community group, theater, or museum, or a few month's worth of produce from a local Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA).
Frequent your local bookstore. Check out Book Sense for locations of independent bookstores. These stores often have interesting recommendations, and are able to get books that you need within just a few days. Not ready to make that leap? If you are considering purchasing online, at least try Powell's which is Portland's local bookstore. (If you are looking for ideas, you can check out my Powell's reading list.)
Check in with your farmer's market. If you are lucky enough to have a year-round farmer's market near you, chances are it will be a great place for gifts. The farmers often offer gift items near the holidays. You will be supporting a local farmer, and you will have something interesting to give to loved ones.
If not local to you, then local to somewhere. Committing to buying local doesn't necessarily have to mean only buying items within your 20-mile radius. There are quite a few organizations that point you in the direction of local, artisan items that are available via mail order or online. Here are a couple to check out: Local Harvest, Viva Terra, Cowgirl Creamery, and Enstrom's Toffee. For food-specific items, I would suggest cruising Chowhound for some suggestions. They are a little difficult to navigate but with some patience, you can find some interesting ideas. To get you started, here are some opinions on gift baskets, homemade gifts, and mail order gifts.
So, try buying a local gift or two this year and see how you like it. You will be able to give interesting gifts that tell a story -- gifts that many will appreciate.