Farm Trails Holiday gift sets make giving local easy

Holiday shopping can suck the fun right out of this time of year, especially when you find yourself fighting for a parking space, dodging traffic snarls and waiting in long lines at big box stores. Even with thousands of people preferring to shop online - in comfy jammies with a hot beverage in hand - shopping at this time of year is, in a word, challenging.

Yet there are ways to transform a duty-driven experience into joyful excursions that enhance the giver, the receiver and the community. Craft fairs offer excellent options and locally owned boutiques, such as Made Local Marketplace in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol's Dressers, the oldest family-owned clothing store in Sonoma County, are filled with delights, though you can get even farther off the beaten track by shopping at our farms, farm stands, ranches and farmers markets.

Gifts from these locations express a unique charm. A jar of local organic honey, for example, tells a story, of bees that survived smoke and fire, of the beekeepers who helped them, of the flowers that gave them nectar. A dozen eggs - all different sizes and colors - makes a delightful gift, as does a bottle of the year's newest olive oil.

This year, Farm Trails has extended a helping hand, with two excellent options. Holiday Along the Farm Trails, which began on Nov. 14 and continues through Jan. 1, is a series of special occasions that offer gifts and experiences designed specifically for the holidays. To participate, go to and click on the Holiday link, which will take you to, where you can register for free. Once registered, you'll receive an interactive map via email that allows you to peruse the options and create your own itinerary.

Highlights include a wide range of farm and ranch visits, where you'll find seasonal produce, eggs, estate olive oils, vinegars, cookies, pies, flowers, plants, jams and jellies, lavender products, handcrafted spoons, bowls, charcuterie boards made of olive wood, honey, hand-blown wine glasses, handcrafted soaps and other skin care products, hot sauces, chile salts, locally grown polenta and popcorn and more.

In addition to things you can purchase, you'll also find special tastings, refreshments, workshops and other activities, including a chance to spend time with farm animals.

Holidays Along the Farm Trails is not simply business as usual at farms open for public visits. Rather, participants are offering special items and experiences for the holidays and some are opening specifically for this holidays. For example, McEvoy Ranch, located off D Street south of Petaluma, typically open by appointment only, is open for shopping from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23. (

Farm Trails also is participating in the Sonoma Love Gift Box, with its own box.

Sonoma Love Box, founded by Pam Bell, offers two boxes, its classic version, which is filled with Bella Rosa Coffee, Firefly chocolate, Gipson's Golden Honey, Kozlowski Farms jam, Goat Farm's season goat milk soap and tea from Traditional Medicinals and costs $49.95, when you pick up the box and one of the designated locations.

The Farm Trails edition includes McEvoy Ranch olive oil, Kozlowski Farms dipping sauce, Tierra Vegetable Aji Panca hot sauce, jam from Lala's Jam Bar, honey and a beeswax candle from Beekind, mint-scented milk soap from the Goat Farm, an herbal tea blend from Rainbow's End Farm, a dark chocolate bar from Firefly and lavender beeswax lip palm from Monte-Bellaria. Cost is $85.95.

On the one hand, buying one of these boxes won't get you out to farms and ranches but on the other hand, you can choose Dragonfly Floral in Healdsburg as your pick-up location and spend some time, shopping or simply soaking up the atmosphere while you are there.

Sonoma Love Boxes can be ordered at, where you choose a pick up location. Boxes can be shipped for $20. Please note that if you want to ship boxes, you must place your order for East Coast destinations by Dec. 19 and West Coast destinations by Dec. 21.

Don't overlook farmers markets as great places for gifts. Many markets will be featuring more craft vendors than usual during December but even produce vendors offer a bounty of options for your loved ones. You'll find eggs, dried beans, dried and ground chiles, hot sauces, local honey and candles, jams, jellies, chutneys and other preserves, apple cider vinegar, olive oils, and countless one-of-a-kind gifts.

When you head out to shop in this way, it is a good idea to keep insulated bags or a cooler or two in your car, along with a bucket of water for fresh flowers. And if you want to make your own gift baskets, stop at thrift stores, where you will typically find a good selection of baskets in a variety of sizes.

Here are some of our top picks for making the most of the season:

Bohemian Creamery: 7380 Occidental Road, Sebastopol,

This tiny cheese factory makes 17 different juices, using milk from local goats, sheep and cows. The store is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours, $20 per person, are offered on Sundays at 1 p.m; reservations via the factory's website are recommended.

Davero: 766 Westside Road, Healdsburg,

Although wine tasting is now by appointment only, Davero is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for retail gifts, including their ultra-premium olive oils, vinegars, jams and more, including their refillable jug wine.

GreenString Farm: 3571 Old Adobe Road, Petaluma, 707-778-7500,

Here you'll find produce best described as beyond organic, along with butter, cheese, olive oil, vinegar, preserves, dried beans, whole grain flour, organic honey, eggs, grass-fed pork and beef and more.

Heather's Custom Meats: 433 Sanford Road, Santa Rosa, 707-843-9936,

Several weeks ago, Heather's Custom Meats stopped attending farmers markets and is instead selling its extraordinary products via monthly and quarterly CSA subscriptions and occasional events on the farm. On Dec. 8 from 1 to 4 p.m., visitors are invited to help decorate horse stalls, entry gates and more and enjoy tastes of grass-fed burgers and hot beverages. The meat store will be open for purchases. It will also be open on Dec. 9 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for CSA pickups and drop-in purchases. Place your order in advance if you want to select specific cuts; each box, $200, contains a selection of ground meat, steaks and roasts and may also include bacon, sausage and pork chops.

Joe Matos Cheese Factory: 3669 Llano Road, Santa Rosa, 707-584-5283

Although Joe Matos cheese is now available at several local farmers markets for the same price as at the farm, the farm store remains open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Its rustic beauty evokes an era of Sonoma County that is, sadly, slowly vanishing.

The Red Barn Store at Oak Hill Farm: 15101 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen, 707-996-6643,

The Red Barn Store is delightful any time of year, with earthy and woody aromas emanating from the century old floor and walls. In December you'll find unique fresh and dried flowers, gorgeous wreaths, dried good and seasonal produce.

Salmon Creek Ranch: 1400 Bay Hill Road, Bodega, 707-876-1808,

If you'd like to visit the Mercantile, a tiny on-the-farm store, give a call to be certain the Brabyns are in. After a beautiful drive, you'll find organic duck eggs, grass-fed beef, duck meat, goat meat, honey, pet treats, note cards and leather goods made from goat hides. There are hiking trails, too, and picnic tables, should the weather inspire you to be outside.

Tara Firma Farm Store: 3796 I St. Extension, Petaluma 707-765-1202,

You'll find beautiful eggs and a selection of farm-raised meats, local cheeses, honey, pet food and more. Open daily to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free farm tours at 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date. Email her at

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