It's getting to be that time of year when we're encouraged to buy, buy, buy. But when you're thinking about gifts this year, why not shop local? We've got a round-up of local gift suggestions in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota from our writers. There's something for everyone on your list, from hand-crafted goods like pottery and baskets to experiences like a night at a B&B to some real adventure in the form of python meat. And a couple of our writers/farmers -- Debbie at Sapsucker Farms and Elizabeth at Bossy Acres -- have products from their own farms available this holiday season. You can also check out last year's local gift guide for some perennial suggestions, and also some recipes if you want to do DIY gifts straight from your kitchen.
As always, thank you for reading and sharing our work. Please take just a second to thank one of our writers who work tirelessly to bring you in-depth, interesting, and important information. Happy Holidays from all of us at Simple, Good, and Tasty!
This summer I discovered Martha’s Joy pickles, and I’m obsessed. They’re fantastic! One night after a long bike ride a friend of mine opened up a jar in his kitchen, and we ate the whole jar of mixed veggies in one sitting. After that I was hooked. From okra to spicy green beans to cucumbers … hers are the best. During the summer, you can find her at various farmer’s markets around Minneapolis, and we just bought several jars at the Kingfield Farmer’s Market holiday sale. Her contact info is printed on each jar, and you can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out where to purchase her pickles out of regular farmer’s market season.
Even though it was a tough year for making maple syrup with such a wild and wacky warm spring, here at Sapsucker Farms, we saved a few cases just for holiday gifts. Our Minnesota wildflower honey is also popular as a hostess gift, added to a gift basket or just as is.
For the adventurous eaters and cooks on your lists, how about a gift certificate to Specialty Meats and Gourmet in Hudson WI? Maybe you need a 7-pound tub of duck fat or you’re looking for kangaroo steaks; SMG will have it. They can get most anything from yak roasts to elk testicles to python meat. If they can’t get it, you probably shouldn’t want to eat it.
Farmers Markets are the only setting in which I actually enjoy shopping. I love visiting the booths, chatting with the farmers and business owners, and getting a story to share with the gift. Mill City Farmer’s Market is hosting an indoor farmer’s market at the Mill City Musuem throughout the winter, which will be my go-to for holiday gifts and ingredients. Some of my favorite items include Very Prairie crackers; Singing Hills Goat Dairy's chevre and feta; wild rice and maple syrup from Northern Lakes Wild Rice; French Nugget's lavender nougat; handmade, organic soaps and skin care products from Olsen Naturals; Bliss Granola; Lucille's Kitchen Garden's raspberry pepper jam and Minnesota Mead jelly; and any pottery made my Tom Abel at Cracked Clay.
It wasn’t at all difficult to come up with gift ideas from local sources, given all the time I spend around the incredibly talented vendors and artists at the Mill City Farmer’s Market during the summer. There are so many things I could suggest, but I do have some favorites—the few I find the most unique and beautiful of all.
First, Tom Abel’s pottery is gorgeous, and unlike any you’ve ever seen. He owns Cracked Clay Pottery, named for the unique use of crushed glass in his creations. When Tom fires his pottery, he incorporates colored shards of recycled glass into his pottery, and the result is incredible—the colors melt and spread and bleed together to form a beautiful and distinctive combination of color and texture. Each platter, glass, and vase is truly one-of-a-kind. Tom has said that one of the most interesting and exciting things about the work he does is the lack of control he actually has over the final outcome of his crafts. He has no idea how the final product will look—which colors will blend together, how the glass will incorporate itself into the pottery. I can assure you, however, the result is stunning. Check him out and look at pictures on his website.
Secondly, Annika Kaplan’s jewelry is some of the most exquisite I have seen. Ever. Annika hand-makes her jewelry in a small Minneapolis studio using materials such as blackened sterling silver, brass, 14kt gold, and semiprecious gems. She draws influence from folk traditions and nature, and her designs, while simple, are striking. My personal favorites are her necklaces, and her rings aren’t far behind. So pretty.
Following on the idea that “the best things in life aren’t always things” I’d recommend some good times and unique experiences that can be found in Southeastern Minnesota. Officially named “The Bed & Breakfast Capital of Minnesota,” Lanesboro is a unique source for gifts of lodging. And to make the choosing easy, look for one of the options from the Lanesboro B&B tour. Other distinctive local experiences worthy of Gift-Giving Certificates include Amish Tours, tickets and perhaps a backstage pass to a Commonweal Theatre performance, or a gift certificate to an outdoor outfitter offering fishing, canoeing, biking, birding and other outdoor experiences. Or give the gift of locally grown produce in the form of bidding bucks to spend at the Country Fresh Amish produce auction (May to mid-October near St. Charles, (507) 261-7078). For more tangible goods by area artists and producers, consider a Barbara Benson Keith glass mosaic on exhibit now at at Lanesboro Arts Center, or a beautifully handmade kaleidoscope, or jewelry featuring keepsake elements from the past (or a custom item that reuses your own family jewelry elements) by the Arts Center’s curator; at Lanesboro Local Marketplace, consider locally sourced honeycomb, pastured meats, handmade linens, aprons and more; or check out an apothecary of fresh-made pure, natural soaps and lotions at the Essence of Lanesboro (507-467-2800).
Although I'm biased, I think a Bossy Acres CSA share would definitely be the gift that keeps on giving. Luscious vegetables and herbs from springtime to autumn, with a focus on heirloom varieties and diversity — share membership not only assists a small, sustainable farm, but also includes community events and get-your-hands-dirty opportunities.
I typically put my money where my mouth is. In fact, I don't often buy things I can't eat. Since we moved to Fargo, ND, my husband and I have enjoyed exploring our new home state through food. One of our favorite restaurants in Fargo, The Green Market, serves the most magnificent cheese plates garnished with Dr. Bop's Flaxseed crackers. We finally brought them home as they are sold in many stores around Fargo. These crackers are perfectly salted. Their texture pops with flax seeds, and they're subtly rich. I was going to take a photo of the crackers after dinner, but we accidentally ate the entire bag. They would make a special North Dakota-made gift or a perfect partner for your holiday dips and cheese plates.
During a recent stay in Litchfield, Minnesota, my hosts pointed out a new storefront downtown; ArtSpace 237, home to the Litchfield Community Artists Cooperative (LCAC) and “a space where artists & alternative health practitioners can work, teach, collaborate, showcase, and market their talents.” While we visited, I found several gift ideas I hadn’t anticipated.
Most notable were Christopher Boedigheimer’s zen tea house inspired earthenware sets, a great present for someone who loves to host. I also found Jennifer Moody’s “Just a Little Moody” hand and lip salve made with local beeswax, a perfect gift to protect loved ones from the chapped lips and dry hands of Minnesota winters.
My favorite find were the hand woven baskets peppered throughout the store, displaying products with a true Western Minnesota touch. When I asked if the baskets were for sale after noticing they had no price tags, a call was placed to owner Theresa Gubrud, whose 80-year-old mother had woven them. A price was settled over the phone, and I bought two! (pictured at top)
ArtSpace is an organization whose mission is to create, foster, and preserve affordable space for artists and arts organizations. Visit your local ArtSpace to find an eclectic assortment of gift ideas from local artists. You might be inspired by what you find.
The first thing that comes to mind for me is of course the local clothiers, Sassy Knitwear. Owners Sarah and Molly (who also happens to be my wife) just opened their first store this fall and it is amazing to see clothing made in a retail space. I really hope that you can go out and support them in their craft and give a great big thanks for bringing back the idea that clothing can be made here.
Next, I love supporting the local music scene. This means not only local bands, but local "brick and mortar" stores. The best resource that I can find lives, of course, at the Electric Fetus. They have a fantastic local section in store and one you can check out here.
As for record stores, Roadrunner Records and Hymies both have some local music and are just downright great local shops with plenty of vinyl for everyone. Roadrunner also has CDs for those of you who are not quite in the stone age, yet are still lingering in the 90's.
For food, I love giving folks fancy treats that they will actually use. To me this means beer, wine, cheese, and meat. My favorite local brewery right now has to be Olvalde Farm and Brewing Company based in Rollingstone, MN. Their Auroch's Horn is delicious and comes in a fancy looking 25 oz bottle. I have found it at a number of local liquor stores. For more great gifts of drink, check out these excellent purveyors of beer and wine: Four Firkins, The Ale Jail and Wine Thief, Zipps, and France 44.
On to cheese. We live in a great age. Good cheese is everywhere. Our local co-ops might just do the best job of supporting the local farms, so I would begin my gift giving hunt there. You will also find some good local meat options at many of these co-ops. I know at the Wedge, I just picked up some amazing salame, including options with truffles, wine, and spice. Of course, if you know me, I also stop into Clancey's Meat and Fish often to check out the artisan meats and cheeses that fill their coolers.
Finally, don't forget about our friends at Lucia's (who are also a sponsor of this site). Their to-go side of the business is packed full of jams, jellies, preserves, granola, grains, treats, cookbooks, and other locally focused goodies.
Thanks for supporting our local folks. It certainly improves our quality of life.