As the countdown of shopping days begins and many of us start to plan holiday meal menus, it’s easy to get caught up in the search for perfect gifts and just the right recipes.

I don’t do a lot of holiday gift giving or entertaining, but a column I read on Thanksgiving Day by Ruben Navarrette Jr. of the Washington Post Writers Group reminded me how I tend to take for granted the food I am fortunate enough to bring into my kitchen and the people who grow most of what I buy at my local co-op, other grocery stores, or a farmers market.

Navarrette, who grew up on his grandfather’s ranch, wrote, “If there’s one thing for which Americans should be grateful, it’s that we don’t have to depend on other countries for our food supply. If there are two things, it’s that there are still people who will do the hard and dirty job of picking crops—even if we have to import them.”

Recent hurricanes and associated recovery efforts provide further reason for me to feel grateful for American farmers and for my own good fortune even though there are plenty of problems that need addressing in our food system.

I do love giving and receiving food and cooking-related holiday gifts. I admire the effort that goes into homemade jams, pickles, chutneys, granola, dried fruit, and the like, even though I tend to be less of a DIY crafter than a curator of local products like roasted nuts, nut butters, jams, and craft-brew ciders.

Children learning about growing food at the Children’s Gardens at Zenger Farm, Portland, Oregon.

Supporting Farms and Healthful Eating

You can’t solve hunger or the impact of climate change on farming with a single gift to a food nonprofit whose mission you support, such as Slow Food, Wholesome Wave, or The Food Trust, but you can potentially support farmers and eaters almost anywhere you live with your dollars, time, and expertise at the holidays or any other time.

For instance, you can support a family farm—and healthful eating for someone on your gift list—with a seasonal community-supported agriculture (CSA) share or specialty share (cheese, meat, etc.). In Wisconsin, FairShare CSA Coalition, which works with 54 local farms, offers gift certificates in $100 increments. Like many farms across the country, FairShare also has a Partner Shares program that provides CSA-share financial assistance to low-income households. In Oregon, Zenger Farm’s donation options include support for a child’s field trip to the farm ($35) or family participation in a cooking and nutrition workshop ($50). Another way to support a farm: Sign up for a cheesemaking, bread baking, food preservation, or gardening class.

Buying from Businesses with a Mission

Want to give a gift that fights food waste? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 52 percent of all produce in the US goes uneaten. Awareness of such waste has inspired a number of companies to rescue visually blemished fruits and veggies that rank below the usual grocery store aesthetic standards. Purchase a gift certificate from one of them! Imperfect Produce delivers perfectly usable “ugly produce” to people from LA to the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as Portland and Seattle for 30 to 50 percent less than grocery store prices, with your choice or organic or conventional. Similar companies include Hungry Harvest and Perfectly Imperfect Produce.

Last year, I received a holiday gift box from Women’s Bean Project, a Colorado-based, nationally recognized social enterprise that has created transitional employment in gourmet food and jewelry manufacturing for chronically unemployed and impoverished women since 1989. Its food products include gourmet bean soups, chilis, cookie and brownie mixes, bread mixes, spice rubs, salsas, marinades, teas, organic fair-trade coffees, and sweets. Order through its website or through other online companies, including Amazon.

Giving a Special Cookbook

Cookbooks are a familiar gift choice, of course. If you want to become more familiar with the produce you buy through your CSA subscription or your local farmers market and how to prepare it, we naturally suggest our own Bounty From the Box: The CSA Farm Cookbook, an encyclopedic guide to enjoying more than 90 crops commonly grown by CSA farms.

A cookbook that might suit someone on a tight budget is Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day by Leanne Brown. The author’s 152 recipes were designed to fit the budgets of people living on SNAP, the federal program that used to be called food stamps. The rule of thumb is that the program provides $4 per person per day to spend on food. The book is now available in Spanish as Bueno y Barato! For every book sold, one is donated to someone in need, and the PDF is free! The $16.95 book is widely available online; organizations that support people in need can buy it by the box to sell for under $6.

Nourishing Differently

If you want to make a serious difference in people’s lives relating to food, abundant opportunities await, from modern-day versions of Depression-era soup kitchens (some of which partner with local farms) to school garden programs across the country.

In Portland, Oregon, a nonprofit called Growing Gardens teaches gardening skills and builds organic vegetable gardens at homes, schools, and correctional facilities. Its Home Gardens Program increases fresh food access by providing materials, education, and support for families to grow food for themselves, their friends, and neighbors. Volunteer mentors install backyard garden beds for families and individuals. Each household is enrolled in a three-year support program that includes seeds, plants, compost bins, tools, soil amendments, and education.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle recovers almost 6 million pounds of edible and nutritious food discarded by local restaurants and groceries that is then repurposed in a variety of innovative feeding programs serving kids to seniors. Beyond putting food on a plate, the Food Shuttle teaches skills for self-sufficiency, including cooking healthy on a budget, culinary job skills, and beginner gardening. They operate two teaching gardens in Raleigh and Durham, as well as a 10-acre farm that grows fresh produce for those in need. If you live in the area, Inter-Faith welcomes volunteers, or, if you don’t, donations of any amount.

It also runs a Culinary Job Training Program and manages teaching gardens in Raleigh and Durham, as well as a teaching farm that offers garden plots to refugee immigrants. If you live in the area, Inter-Faith welcomes volunteers, or, if you don’t, donations of any amount.

Inter-Faith Food Shuttle volunteers Carl and Emilie Sigel.

Wherever you live, a Google search will likely lead you to nonprofit organizations and churches that would be grateful for your checks and/or your skills and time to support programs that are feeding people, teaching them to garden and gain job skills, and helping them provide for their families. Some 200 food banks across the country rely on volunteers and donations for their programs, too, and many of them now have gardens where clients and volunteers grow food. You can find food banks in your area through Feeding America.

Have the suggestions above helped with your gift list? Are you inspired to consider what you might want to contribute to an organization where you live? If you have some suggestions of your own to share or a story about your personal connection with a program you admire, we would love to hear from you.

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About the author: Martha Wagner is a Portland, Oregon-based food and health writer, gardener, and passionate advocate for sustainable living, wellness, and organic agriculture.

Photos credits; top to bottom: Adobe Stock by hakase420; kids at Zenger Farm from OMSI; book covers from www.bountyfromthebox.com and www.leannebrown.com; and Inter-Faith Food Shuttle photo by Sara D. Davis.

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