November 16-22, 2005

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Sure, You Could Make This Yourself: But why not let Eco-Express do it and save the bleeding and swearing that holiday crafts inevitably prompt?

Presents of Mind

This holiday season, why not buy presents that scream green?

By Michael Shapiro

Typewriter keys transformed into earrings, bike chains that become bracelets, journals bound between the covers of old books and decorative bowls made from old LP records. These are just some of the recycled goodies for sale at Renga Arts (3605 Main St., Occidental, 707.874.9407), a relatively new Occidental store that turns one person's trash into another's treasure.

Wander the aisles and you'll find a birdhouse constructed of discarded redwood and shoulder bags made from the vinyl advertising sheets that once covered billboards. And then there are green drinking glasses cut from old Perrier bottles and bracelets made from salvaged bicycle chains.

"It's tactile jewelry; you can come in and feel it," says co-owner Sherry Huss. She and husband Joe Szuecs left their high-tech careers to turn junk into gems. "We're creating an online network of people who have salvaged materials," Huss says. "The idea is to save things that would otherwise go to the dump."

The store is just one of a number of green holiday options in the North Bay. In downtown Santa Rosa, a store called Kindred (605 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707.579.1459) sells imported crafts from fair-trade collectives around the world. Many of the goods come from developing countries where items that we'd chuck into the dumpster are salvaged for crafts.

In the Philippines, craftspeople recycle newspaper into durable placemats and coasters; Heineken cans from Vietnam are smoothed into surprisingly supple handbags.

You may experience a Warholian glee seeing these familiar brands turned into art, and by buying at such stores as Kindred and Renga Arts, you're supporting a more ecological approach to holiday gift-giving.

Kindred owner Lien Cibulka opened the store some three years ago, and most of the crafts for sale and the collectives that produce them are certified by the Fair Trade Federation. The FTF determines a sustainable wage for craftspeople and monitors production to ensure that it's environmentally sustainable, says Kindred staffer Noah Aschauer.

For more fair-trade shopping, join the Sustainability Tour ( on Saturday, Dec. 3, when it takes off on its annual Fair Trade Shopping Day. The tour begins at Taylor Maid Farms (7190 Keating Ave., Sebastopol, 707.824.9110), where Taylor Maid's Mark Inman will discuss how the company ensures that its coffee comes from fair-trade producers and how the purchasing choices of North Americans can help farmers and artisans around the world. The tour continues to Kindred and ends the day at Indigenous Designs (, a Santa Rosa–based clothing manufacturer open to the public only twice a year.

A family-run operation, Indigenous was founded in 1994 with the primary goal of providing training and sustainable employment primarily to the mountain people of Peru and Ecuador. Specializing in fiber arts mostly made from organic alpaca, Indigenous currently works with some 275 knitting and hand-looming collectives in South America. Everything about its commerce and manufacturing is done with an eye to sustainability and health. The resulting pure wool and cotton is anything but dreary. The day's tour also heartily promises chocolate.

Speaking of treats, here's a healthy edible stocking stuffer: Penngrove resident Mel Lefer, who ran restaurants in San Francisco until he had a massive heart attack, has come out with the Figamajig ( What's a Figamajig? A chocolate-covered fig bar with very little fat and lots of fiber. Add a dash of bioflavinoids and a pinch of antioxidants, and you get a candy bar that even a cardiologist could love.

A final note: Based in Corte Madera but without a physical presence in the brick-and-mortar world, the online Green Museum ( features artists, art and writing that aims to improve our relationship with the natural world. The Green Museum particularly focuses on environmental art and community. When considering a donation as a gift this year, think about gifting a membership to the Green Museum.

Buying Power

More green gifts to love

Method Home Products
That fuzz-covered pile of dishes in your friend's sink is headed toward biohazard, and her gym socks are contemplating suicide. Intervene with a friendly nudge in the, er, cleaner direction with the Method Starter Kit, cleaning products that make housework drudgery into an afternoon of aromatherapy. Galley-worthy bottles come in scents like ylang-ylang, mandarin, cucumber, green tea and mint. Plus, they're friendly to both you and the environment--unlike the mysterious liquid vegetables in your refrigerator. Ack.
Available at: Target,
Favorites: Method Starter Kit ($24.99), Mandarin Dish Soap ($5).
Get it for: Smelly brothers, your roommate, your bleach-clutching mother.

Tamar Raphael and her Novato-based staff hand-pick hundreds of gift items--many of them local to Northern California--that are environmentally and socially responsible. All items meet Rapahel's rigorous quality, design and packaging standards, making for a gift that, if nothing else, contributes to the betterment of the planet.
Available at:
Favorites: EcoExpress' Natural Baby Gift Basket ($59.99 and up), Lavender Spa Box ($40), Organic Chili Bay Wreath ($29.99-$39.99), Vegan Organic Chocolate ($14.99).
Get it for: New moms, office mates, your favorite barista, hairdresser, neighbor.

Solar Backpacks
Suddenly you're a roving energy source. Voltaic solar-energy bags are miniature mobile power generators that harness the power of the sun to charge up small electronic devices like cell phones, MP3 players and digital cameras. Lightweight, waterproof solar panels on the outside snatch up sunlight and store it inside until you're ready to use it. They're a bit pricey, but have you looked at your AA-battery bill lately?
Available at:
Favorite: Voltaic Messenger Bag ($239).
Get it for: Yourself, your gadget-happy boyfriend.

Thinking Gifts
Books and DVDs are a great way to gently say "Wake up! You're killing yourself with toxins!" to just about anyone on your list. Recommendations range from uplifting, entry-level books like 'The Organic Guide to Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino Counties' (Community Action Publications; $14.95, available at Whole Foods), to 'Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods' by Gary Paul Nabhan (Norton; $15.95) to Slow Food cookbooks like 'The Pleasures of Slow Food' (Chronicle Books; $40), a favorite by food-writer Corby Kummer. Sometimes, the more alarmist measures make thoughtful gifts, and documentaries such as 'The Future of Food' ($22.95) and 'The Corporation' ($44) are guaranteed to push even the most apathetic into action.
Get it for: Politically interested kids, aspiring cooks, your best friend.

The Gift of Glug
Progressive thinkers enjoy drinking, too. North Bay vintners are at the forefront of organic and biodynamic wine practices, making wines that are safer and more sustainable for the environment and healthier for us to drink.
Favorites: Benzinger, Bonterra, Niebaum-Coppola, Topolos Vineyards.
Get it for: Thoughtful drinkers, mom and dad, your boss.

--Heather Irwin

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