Birthdays and holidays can be tough if you’re not familiar with self-sustaining living. What delights you may just be a sweet thought to someone who can make the same thing you just gave her. Or the item may sit on a shelf because she doesn’t have the time or inclination to use something that redefines your own daily life.
If you know a homesteader or you are one, you’ve probably already looked at kitschy perfumes and costume jewelry and thought, “What in the world would I do with that?” Standard holiday baubles just don’t work for homesteaders and a self-sustaining living. We’re a different breed.
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But don’t fret. What we want most isn’t too complicated.
While I prepared to write this article, I asked my farming/gardening/homesteading friends what they would want for gifts. Their answers had the same tone: something you made or something we can use.
Something You Made
Melissa: “Homemade jelly…I’m a sucker for it.”
Suzanne: “We give preserves to a lot of folks, farmers or not.”
Brittany: “I’m a much more avid quilter than gardener and I would be so thrilled to get a quilt. I think getting something that you are passionate about would make anyone happy!”
Nobody appreciates the value of homemade or homegrown gifts more than a homesteader. After all, self-sustaining living is what we do. We know how much work you probably put into the gift, and we will cherish it as we enjoy it.
From intricate woodworking to a crocheted potholder, a handmade gift reflects your love for the recipient. But you don’t have to be a master craftsman. Learn how to make homemade vanilla extract and purchase tiny amber bottles online, printing attractive labels. Meet up with a friend who makes his own jams and jellies, offering help and supplies in trade for a few jars to give as gifts.
Gift baskets look beautiful and delicious filled with jams and jellies, extracts, homemade garlic salts, and handmade dish towels.
Brad: “Wool socks. Nice wool socks.”
Amy: “Some handspun yarn would be an awesome gift as well! It would make such a nice blanket.”
Nancy: “Vegetable boxes for food to grow.”
A good supply of provisions keeps us doing what we love. Homesteading and self-sustaining living isn’t a particularly lucrative endeavor, and many of us do it to cut costs or provide items we normally couldn’t afford. Provisions lift that burden and allow us to revel in producing or growing the good stuff.
If your friend puts up food storage, he is probably in constant need of the best canning jars. A new box may not look glamorous but your friend will sigh with excitement as he imagines next year’s garden and just what he will put in those jars. Some canning jars, such as the new green, purple, and blue ones recently produced by Ball, are a home canner’s envy but too expensive to purchase for ourselves. We snap pictures, boasting on Facebook, when we receive the beautiful glass containers.
A gardener may need a new, sturdy shovel with a comfortable foot guard. Or a groundbreaking set of tree pruners which looks fabulous as seen on TV. Poultry owners tend to enjoy baskets or an egg skelter, which automatically brings the oldest eggs where the cook can use them.
The best way to know what your friend needs is to ask about his homestead and what challenges he faces. He may directly mention what he needs or you might be able to infer it yourself.
The Gift of Knowledge
Trinity: “Either the gardening books that are written for Western Montana or tuition for the Montana Master Gardener Program.”
If you have a local college or university with an agricultural extension, look into purchasing classes. Or search for local cooking classes, being sure to buy two tickets to the class so the friend can bring a partner.
No matter what topic you want to study, there has probably been a book written on it. For gardeners, look for location-specific guides. If your friend has just started keeping backyard chickens, she could use The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow or Lisa Steele’s Fresh Eggs Daily.
A magazine subscription gives six to twelve months of new and exciting knowledge. Backyard Poultry Magazine is excellent for those keeping small flocks. For friends who have branched out into gardening, other livestock, or homemade products (or friends who want to but don’t know where to start), Countryside & Small Stock Journal can get them going with new endeavors.
Jami: “Local raw honey in mason jars.”
Rakel: “What about buying ‘one on one’ time from an expert? As a gift for that first-timer or someone who would love to have advice from a person and not just a website?”
“Buy local” has become a valuable mantra. By supporting local businesses and endeavors, you are keeping the money within your community and are supporting your friends’ jobs. Plus, locally produced products have a small carbon footprint compared to products shipped across the country or overseas.
Buying local can also mean asking a stay-at-home parent to crochet hats and scarves for your friends, offering her a fair price for her goods. It can mean purchasing a gift certificate from a local massage therapist so your homesteading friend can relax his sore muscles after a weekend of digging potatoes.
Something to Share with Loved Ones
Jonathan: “Salt dough ornaments that we can paint!”
Caidyn: “Raised beds.”
Homesteading today and self-sustaining living, whether large or small-scale, is about sharing. We raise food to feed our families and to spend more hours at home. Perhaps your friend wants to grow vegetables for his children but he doesn’t live on fertile land. Maybe he wants to enjoy a night of crafting with a partner.
Items can be shared directly with loved ones or used to produce food to share. Show tickets or hands-on classes allow couples or families to enjoy your gift together, in memorable ways. Kits can teach a new skill such as melt-and-pour soap or cheesemaking.
Theresa: “Interesting heirloom seeds.”
Kenny: “I would love a rabbit fur hat.”
Perhaps the item isn’t so rare to you but it’ll be priceless to a friend who lives in a remote area. Or you have an uncommon skill to make something that would be expensive to purchase.
Rare seeds are available through several online retailers, and a packet of Polish melon seeds that’ll grow in Montana can cost less than five dollars. Dwarf banana plants ship in warm, protected containers and can thrive in a bay window. Or, if you know how to sew or have a friend that does, search Pinterest for interesting items of clothing that beckon to your friend’s favorite genres and recreate them on your sewing machine.
A New Skill
Amy: “I’d love a pressure cooker. There are so many canning projects/recipes I want to try that need the pressure.”
Perhaps your friend has wanted to learn home fermenting but hasn’t been able to invest in the necessary equipment. Order a basic starter kit from a company that specializes in fermenting.
Consider something which will bring your friend’s existing self-sustaining living skills to a higher level, such as the sausage attachment to your hunter friend’s Kitchenaid blender or a pasta machine for the loved one who makes his own cheese and sauce. A gardener who has a cool basement might want to try cultivating mushrooms.
Perhaps the most memorable gift would be a time when you can take a class with a friend, learning permaculture or painting together. Or dedicate some time to teach a skill to her.
Jennifer: “Two whole days off from farm chores!”
We all have needs, and gift cards/certificates help us fulfill those. Sometimes you have no idea what to give your friend but you know she always needs supplies for a self-sustaining living. Most stores, brick-and-mortar or online, offer gift cards. Purchase item-specific certificates, such as to seed companies or hardware stores. If your friend has many needs and you hate to prioritize which is more important, consider a gift card to a larger retailer that will carry almost everything he needs.
Gift certificates don’t have to cost money. An exhausted and harried mother may love a handmade card redeemable for five nights of babysitting. Or older children might squeal with delight when they receive a note saying they don’t have to wash dishes for a week. Write on a piece of attractive paper or card stock, decorate the edges, and place in a colored envelope.
If your friend has a heart of gold and wants to share his passion for farming with the world, he would be touched if you made a donation to a reputable charity in his name. Mothers Without Borders, which works out of Zambia and other countries, takes volunteers into Africa to dig wells, build houses, and plant gardens for orphans displaced by AIDS and famine. Use Kiva to send money to individual farmers and entrepreneurs in third world countries, allowing them to start life-changing businesses, and give your friend a card saying you did it in his name. Or send a cow to Rwanda through The Big Cow Project.
Humanitarianism can be local as well. If your friend volunteers at homeless shelters, write a note saying you wish to start accompanying her. Or donate food to your city’s food bank in your friend’s name.
Those of us favoring self-sustaining living aren’t difficult to please. Just help us keep doing what we love doing, or help someone else follow what we’re passionate about.
Add your gift-giving ideas in the comments below!