Author's Note: The radio version (scroll down) of this story focuses exclusively on farmers markets and everything that they're about: food, unique seasonal recipes and often-unique musicians wiling to brave the elements on a winter's day. For the gifting season we think there's no place finer.
The first stop for any of us with ideas of holiday gifting with an environmental, inconspicuous touch can be at a farmers market. The range of value-added products and fresh bounty will warm the heart and fuel seasonal culinary expression. There are 160 farmers markets in the state, with over 90 alone in the Puget Sound region. So get on down. Bundle up, treat yourself to homemade soup, piping hot quesadillas or salmon treats sizzling on the grill as you stroll the market stalls.
This is what you'll find: caramels and pies in boxes and bows, fancy nuts and preserves, honey and beeswax candles, hard ciders and craft brews, black trumpets and hedgehogs (we're talking foraged mushrooms now), farmstead artisan cheeses and pasture-raised meats. “Rain or shine, freezing winds or snow. We'll be here,” says Chris Curtis, director of Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets. Three of the seven markets are open year-round, U-District, West Seattle and Capitol Hill.
You can check out the Washington State Farmers Market Association site for an interactive statewide map of its 113 member markets. Karen Kinney, executive director of the association, notes that the member markets strive to adhere to guidelines that prioritize farmers selling their products versus flea markets or craft fairs with only a few farm stands.
Upcoming holiday make-your-own stuff events at local markets include those at the West Seattle Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the next two Sundays. First, it's a "make-your-own holiday cards" event, using potato stamps with designs cut into the ends of potatoes and dipped in colorful tempera next Sunday. Then on Dec. 21, it's a solstice day event where you can make your own paper snowflakes. Both events include a visit from Santa and free mule-drawn carriage rides throughout the Junction.
The carbon footprint of food and value-added products from farmers markets is often four times less than food and non-food purchases from chain, grocery and department stores, says Judy Kildruff, with the Ballard Farmers Market. Not to mention less plastic and packaging and foods that are vastly superior in nutritional value. “People know when something is fresh. When they taste it they want more.”
With so many local and fresh ingredients on display, we couldn't resist products with a few things you might consider unusual for the holiday season: fresh and fermented carrots, kraut and kimchi. They're perfect antidotes for seasonal gluttony and can be made into smoothies, quick bites and even sweets. Firefly Kitchens, which sells year-round at the Ballard Farmers Market as well as a number of groceries, has items like Classic Salt and Cabbage, Yin Yang Carrots, and a Cranberry Kraut for the holidays, a delectable mix of cranberry, oranges, apples and ginger.
Company co-founder Julie O'Brien says the old-world tradition has re-emerged in culinary culture. It's about maintaining balance in the digestive tract, she says. “Trust your gut” is the company motto. Fresh ferments are packed with probiotics and contain heaps of vitamin C and healthy enzymes to boost the immune system, says O'Brien. Holiday recipes include Spiced Roulade with Orange Cream Filling, Sauer Chocolate Pudding and Yin Yang Carrot Balls. All are in a recently published book by Firefly co-founders, Julie O'Brien and Richard Climenhage, "Fresh & Fermented," along with recipes for main meals and quick fermented holiday bites.
If for some peculiar reason krauts don't appeal to your gift giving or culinary fancy, “experiences” are another solid low carbon bet. Massages, spa treatments, tickets to the ballet, the aquarium, symphony or jazz club. Wrap them up in your own seasonal style packaging and they're sure to please many. Alternatively gifts for outdoor experiences may appeal, say a yearlong Discover Pass to Washington's state parks. One nearby park directly across from downtown Seattle, Blake Island Park, is accessible by Argosy Tours or your own boat. Those familiar with the park say it's a perfect gift for those seeking renewal and solace.
Yet another environmentally friendly gift option can be a direct year-end donation, or in a giftee's name to a non-profit of choice. There are numerous local environmental groups waging the good fight against fossil fuel interests, expanded refinery and port capacity, toxic contaminants and runoff in waterways, or on behalf of local farmers around the world. Some that come to mind include the Sierra Club, 350Seattle, Rising Tide, 21 Acres, Got Green and the Community Alliance for Global Justice, The Backbone Campaign, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, ClimateChangeforFamilies, which helps kids get the message out about the value of planting trees, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Environment Washington. All have their work cut out for them in the current political climate.
'Tis the season for Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and the return of light — the Winter Solstice. 'Till then, may all your days be merry and bright.