For individuals, as opposed to policymakers, the journey to sustainability often comes not in big leaps but in small steps. With these 13 gift ideas, turn your back on our rampant throw-away culture, but still welcome beauty and functionality into the lives of friends and family. Transformation can begin with something as simple as a set of sewing scissors or ladies’ gardening gloves. Leave commercialism behind this holiday season and embrace a more sustainable way of life with easy baby steps, otherwise known as green gifts.

1117543_books.jpgTHE PERFECT (OLD) BOOK

On a recent Saturday we climbed an old set of stairs in a brick building in Hallowell to get to Merrill’s Bookshop, looking for a very specific Maine classic. It took proprietor John Merrill less than a minute to locate Elizabeth Etnier’s 1937 memoir of trying to restore an old Maine house that overlooks Fort Popham, “On Gilbert Head: Maine Days.” It’s a hard one to find, and there it was, in good condition at a reasonable price. Then we started browsing the rest of the shelf. There was Robert P. T. Coffin’s poetry collection “Saltwater Farm,” also from 1937, and a copy of “Pie for Breakfast” (with the dust jacket no less), Lawrence and Marion Averill’s 1953 story of making a life in Maine. Here’s what we love about John Merrill: He doesn’t sell online, he keeps his shop in exquisite order, and his collection has depth and breadth. We snagged the Etnier and a fine hardback of “Watership Down,” both at 20 percent off that day, resisted an Arthur Ransome we’d never before seen except in paperback, and vowed to come back to browse this unique and special bookstore again. Why shop online booksellers from far away to find what might be close to home? And honestly, we want to sustain the old-fashioned business. Grab a book for someone you love (cash or check only), or give them a gift certificate so they can browse this beautifully curated store.

FIND IT: Merrill’s Bookstore, 134 Water St., Hallowell. 623-2055;

HOW MUCH: Depends on the title



Stopping by Cosmic Stone and Garden Supply in Topsham to pick up a holiday wreath, we were struck by a collection of very simple and very beautiful birdbaths. When we asked about them, manager Howard Truesdell told us that the rocks came from Bailey Island, where Cosmic Stone had been hired to do a reclamation project that required jagged rocks. They had to pull out some older, wave-softened rocks and decided to turn them into birdbaths. The gentle indentations were carefully ground into the rocks with tools, but at first glance they look like something nature created. Why buy something manufactured to give your songbird friends a place to bathe when you can use something repurposed from nature? — MP

FIND IT: Cosmic Stone and Garden Supply, 255 Augusta Road, Topsham. 725-1438

HOW MUCH: Prices start at $140 for a small bath.

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Every gardener needs a good pair of gloves, but it’s hard to find ones that last more than a season or two. It’s also very hard to find American-made gloves. Womanswork gloves are both, made from leather, sized appropriately for women and sold in two lengths, to the wrist and in extra-long length for chores like tending your roses or picking raspberries (next summer, we are determined to avoid that rash from whatever else is growing in our raspberry patch). — MP

FIND IT: Cosmic Stone in Topsham and online


HOW MUCH: Prices direct from the manufacturer,, start at $30 for regular length, but you can also spring for the $46 gauntlet length.

Wooden lids make Weck jars even more functional.

Wooden lids make Weck jars even more functional.


We like Mason jars as much as the next farm-to-table loving person, but frankly, Weck jars from Germany have always struck us as a little sexier, what with those nice glass lids. But they’re not particularly secure (yeah, they come with safety clips… when is the last time you saw yours?). Weck sells “keep fresh” covers (, but they’re plastic. Now someone ingenious (not Weck) is making wooden lids with a rubber ring for a tight seal so that you can get more use out of these pretty jars, like storing dried herbs from the garden or that bag of wheat berries from Fairwinds Farm. Lids come in three sizes that fit all shapes and sizes of Weck. — MP

FIND IT: Online at Mountain Feed and Farm supply, or at Local Market, 148 Maine St., Brunswick. 729-1328

HOW MUCH: Prices start at about $3.50 and typically stay under $10 per piece.

A hand-printed Morris + Essex scarf made of sustainable bamboo-cotton jersey fabric.

A hand-printed Morris + Essex scarf made of sustainable bamboo-cotton jersey fabric.



Eliza Jane Curtis’s whimsical printed Morris + Essex scarves are made on sustainable bamboo-cotton jersey fabric (bamboo being a more eco-friendly fiber because it can be grown without pesticides). She also uses nontoxic, water-based textile inks. Oh, and she hand-prints them all in a farmhouse in Limington. The story is a good one, but the truth is, we were drawn to these scarves purely for aesthetic reasons the first time we spotted them this summer at the North Haven Gift Shop. Then we saw them at Local. The designs are fanciful and densely packed (we guessed the name might be a nod to famed 19th century British textile designer William Morris, but Curtis says though she is a great admirer, she was inspired by an old railway map) and the drape is perfection. Curtis also makes tea towels, bags, greeting cards and T-shirts. She might be the next Angela Adams. — MP

FIND IT: Also at Wyler Gallery in Brunswick, Archipelago in Rockport and The Merchant Co. in Portland.

HOW MUCH: Prices start at $36 at


Foraging is all the rage, with seemingly half the transplants from Brooklyn signing on to “wild harvest” Maine edibles. But as easy a target as it is to mock, the skill can net you dinner, help you out on a hike and give you something to talk about over cocktails at Vinland. Consider giving your loved one a class at the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy, or at the Maine Primitive Skills School in Augusta (they’ve got a two-day class scheduled for January. We wondered, what can you forage in January in Maine? Bark, which they’ll teach you how to make sunscreen from. Seriously. Also rose hips and a few other things). — MP

FIND IT: Also Maine Adult Education, Merrymeeting Adult Education and other adult education programs throughout the state.


HOW MUCH: A mushroom foraging walk at the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy might cost you $15, and a typical three-hour adult education course might cost about $45. The Maine Primitive Skills School’s two-day class in January costs $210.


We’re on an endless quest to pack a sustainable lunch and haven’t gotten the whole thing right yet. At least with stainless steel containers, we don’t have to worry about leaching plastics, but what about the microwaving? Glass containers work for that, but what about the weight and crack factor? But one thing that makes us very, very happy is our stainless steel Onyx ice pack. It chills lunch without taking up a lot of space (it’s about the size of a smartphone) and there’s no fear that it will rupture or melt into your lunch. Also, if you bonk your head, reach for this; it will chill you right out. We know steel production isn’t exactly dreamy for the environment, but at least it lasts, so we’ve got our eye on a stainless steel ice cube tray too, which is insanely expensive ($30) but would liberate us from the cursed plastic trays. — MP

FIND IT: OnFood52, where the very particular Amanda Hesser and her co-founder Merrill Stubbs are busy figuring out the best gizmos for your kitchen and home.

HOW MUCH: Priced from $16 to $30.

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Never too early for a New Year’s resolution, and ours is to darn more and stretch out the lives of socks and holey jeans. We want to make what we’ve already got last longer. We thought about suggesting a sewing kit, but the truth is you don’t need much more than a needle, thread and a scissors, and our serious sewing friends tend to scoff at pre-fabbed kits. Maybe a motivator would be the world’s prettiest scissors? These would be they, in the image of a crane shaped with a gentle swoop and the blades as beak. The best little touch? The note on the blades. “Oh, Hello Friend.” Indeed. — MP

FIND IT: Home Remedies, 83 Commercial St., Portland. 899-0135


1117543_348159 20161129_pillowcut.jpgSOFT SPOT

Erin Flett’s cute red-dot covered lumbar pillow had us feeling festive just based on its looks. But then we poked around and discovered that Flett is making all her pillows (and bags, aprons and such) in the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook, a former cotton mill, out of American-made materials – even the zippers. She prints by hand in Maine and uses mills in North Carolina to weave her custom bark cloth and canvas (which is what this one is made from), while sourcing linens and velvets domestically. The insert is hypo-allergenic “faux” down. — MP

FIND IT: Online through Flett’s Etsy shop or at retailers like Wyler Gallery, 150 Maine St., Brunswick; Blanche & Mimi, 184 Middle St. in Portland; and Brahms Mount, 115 Main St., Freeport. Oh, and L.L. Bean.




Winter is just getting started when Christmas rolls around, but that’s all the more reason to throw something signifying hope for warm weather into the stocking. Plus, maybe your loved ones will be inspired to start seedlings indoors in March instead of being garden slatterns like we are and only getting outside to plant come early June. In Maine we’ve got some great seed companies to choose from – Fedco and Johnny’s Selected Seeds, although word of caution, not everything is available pre-Christmas or Hanukkah, since they’re still making the seed packets. — MP


HOW MUCH: Something new (and red) like Johnny’s organic Sakura cherry tomatoes (disease resistant, prolific and early) costs $5.35 a packet. For some green, the Tuscany basil offers hints of licorice and big, ruffly leaves at $3.95 a packet.

Erik Desjarlais holds one of his handmade knife rolls at Weft & Warp in this photo from 2015. Desjarlais is offering leatherworking classes this winter.

Erik Desjarlais holds one of his handmade knife rolls at Weft & Warp in this photo from 2015. Desjarlais is offering leatherworking classes this winter.



The ideal gift for that DIY someone in your life who is into leather – er, we mean he or she likes the quality and durability of leather goods. Anyhow, a leatherworking class. This winter, the Intervale School of Leatherwork in Freeport – connected to the Intervale Mercantile Co., where former Portland chef Erik Desjarlais sells handcrafted chef gear such as aprons and knife rolls, is offering four-hour Saturday classes. Students can learn to craft their own wallet (Jan. 7), sunglass case (Jan, 14) or clutch (Jan. 21). If they’re ambitious, give them the more intensive three-class series (Jan. 28, Feb. 4 and 11), where they’ll fabricate a leather tote bag. — MEREDITH GOAD

FIND IT: Sign up at

HOW MUCH: Individual classes cost $115; the three-class course is $250, including tools. Students also get a 10 percent discount in Desjarlais’ store.


Feeling generous? Send that special someone to “Take A Bite Out of Appledore,” an eco-culinary retreat held every September. They’ll be whisked away to Appledore Island, six miles off the coast of New Hampshire near the state’s border with Maine, where they’ll comb the seashore with scientists and chefs, foraging for edible plants, seaweed and shellfish. Next, they’ll head out to sea to explore ocean life, accompanied by ecologists from Portland’s Gulf of Maine Research Institute and Appledore Island’s Shoals Marine Lab. Then it’s into the kitchen where chef Sam Hayward, of Fore Street and Scales in Portland, and chef Evan Mallet, of Black Trumpet in Portsmouth, N.H., will help guests transform the wild edibles they’ve gathered into a delicious alfresco dinner.
— MG



HOW MUCH: The weekend retreat costs $650, including room, board, activities and boat fare.

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Bring out the natural beauty of a friend or family member by giving them all-natural bath products for scrub-a-dub-dubbing and warding off bugs. A gift basket from Frenchies’ Natural Products, based in Portland, contains Balsam Forest Foaming Hand Soap, Cedar Grove Bar Soap, Maine Woods Bug Dope, and a balsam fir air freshener. All are made with, smell of, actual Maine trees. The company touts its products as a “natural alternative that translate to a healthier lifestyle for our customers and a greener planet.” — MG

FIND IT: Order online at, or buy the products at Portland Food Co-op, Pineland Farms Market in New Gloucester, the Center for Maine Craft in West Gardiner and Royal River Natural Foods in Freeport.

HOW MUCH: $34.99

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