Eating Local column: Buying locally crafted gifts builds wealth in our communities |

Eating Local column: Buying locally crafted gifts builds wealth in our communities

Laura Kolecki grows and sells Blazin' K pickles and relishes.
Marilyn Gleason |

I spent the weekend at Sunshine Farm hawking Ed’s Colby Farm honey at the Holiday Food & Craft Event. I was in good company next to beeswax and essential oil skin balm, goat milk soap from a Mamm Creek breeder, hand-sewn hotpads wrapped around black walnut spatulas, elegant ceramic knitting bowls and raku vases, cottage-made butter creams and organic dog biscuits, to name a few.

Laura Kolecki sold dill pickles, jalapeno jelly, hot Hungarian pepper relish and more, all grown in her garden plot near Silt. Pat Vigil baked her Sunshine Farm pears and plums and butternut squash into delightful little cakes. Her jams blend berries, peppers and orchard fruits in creative combinations: jalapeno blackberry, serrano pear, peach raspberry.

Vendors sold wares crafted with care locally. Food products were healthy, homegrown and free of chemistry experiments. Prices were low and value high. And no jobs were shipped to China or Mexico.

When the sun sweeps in a low arc over the southern horizon and the mercury dips on the thermometer outside the window, when the sky seems permanently whitewashed and the chickens quit laying, a favorite sweater comes out.

It’s a baby blue knit with zipper and hood, soft and warm as a kitten. I pull it on to take the chill off when I awaken before the sun rises and after the woodstove has collapsed in winking embers. It’s not a handmade treasure, but it has a story.

When my brother Gary throws a holiday party, he often includes a gift exchange. His reindeer games usually happen on cross-country ski trips to backcountry mountain huts. Gary asks everyone on the guest list to buy an inexpensive item with broad appeal, wrap it up and pack it in.

In a season of saccharin, Gary’s Kris Kringle game has a mean streak.

After a day of skiing in the high country, napping, reading or playing endless games of hearts, with the dinner dishes all put away, the presents come out, arranged in a tantalizing pile on the table. Everyone draws a number.

The holder of the highest number chooses a gift first and unwraps it for all to admire and ogle. The next in line has a choice: she either unwraps a new gift, or claims the first present for herself, demanding the previous owner hand it over. In that case, the first player opens a new present from the table. Player number three could steal either present or unwrap a new one. And so forth.

Emotions run high. Hilarity and anguish rule the day as treasures are pried away amid squeals of delight and cries of agony.

Usually, one gift proves more popular than the rest — Leatherman, a vest from Nepal — and it passes from hand to hand, tantalizing the many who own it briefly. Sometimes someone gets stuck with the gift that no one else seems to want, and he is sidelined, hoping some miracle will bring him back into the game.

Over time I learned to play the game ruthlessly. I preached Zen-like non-attachment, and watched myself and others bump into the sharp edges of greed and possessiveness.

The cozy blue sweater was a reject. A young man had opened the package. He touted it but found no takers. An expression of glum distraction came over his face. I sensed the sting of shame in my cousin who I knew had wrapped and packed the sweater up the mountain.

The next time someone unburdened me of whatever bauble I had been pursuing, I leapt to my feet, pointed at the soft folds of blue sweater, and strode over to the fellow with my hands extended. His face lit up. I nuzzled its warmth as I carried it off. I was happy with it, and I was pretty sure I was going to keep it.

Maybe that was the only time I ever played nice.

The radiance of a good deed done might give this sweater its particular warmth. Meanwhile, all those other stolen Kris Kringle gifts have disappeared or been forgotten.

A dear old college friend recently posted this on Facebook: “I’m buying all my xmas presents from street vendors. You know the ones selling their handmade items sitting behind a rickety table in the cold, or I’m making them myself. Oh and for some very special people, I’ll make a donation to [various] organizations who are fighting the good fight.” Then she said some bad words about corporations.

We don’t have street vendors like Anne does in NYC, but the Cooper Corner Gallery artists collective in downtown Glenwood Springs sells a stunning variety of art, both fine and functional, some quite cheap, all of it local. Ditto in Rifle at the Midland Arts Company. ‘Tis the season for holiday craft sales, too.

This Christmas, will you be naughty or nice? Locally crafted gifts are not just unique and personal. Giving them supports local entrepreneurs and builds wealth in our communities.

Marilyn Gleason writes Eating Local periodically for the PI’s Good Taste pages.

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