As Sweet as Syrup

Coombs Family Farms has spent seven generations producing maple syrup while maintaining a commitment to quality, environmental stewardship and sustainable forestry. Coombs products are free from artificial flavors, preservatives and dyes, and the company’s trees are free from pesticides. The family’s certified organic maple syrup is full-flavored, thick and perfect for a stack of hot pancakes. In fact, Coombs also offers pancake mixes, which come in three flavors. More than a breakfast staple, Coombs syrup is the base for other products such as outstanding pure maple candy and pure maple sugar. Products can be ordered directly through Coombs or found in natural product and health food stores.

CONTACT: Coombs Family Farms, (888)266-6271, www.coombsfamilyfarms.com.

—Katie Scaief

AN APPLE A DAY

Looking for a fresh, different gift this holiday season? Arizona-based Valley Farms will send you, and anyone else on your shopping list, a 10-pound box of delicious organic apples this season, and every season for the next 20 years. When you adopt an apple tree at the farm (a $200 to $250 one-time fee, depending on the apple type, plus $45 yearly costs), you become entitled to its yearly yield of fruit for as long as it lives (typically 25 years). Valley Farms will pick, package and send this fruit to whomever you like ($11.50 plus shipping charges). Even if you don’t buy your own tree, Valley Farms will ship individual gift boxes ($39.95). Your purchase not only supports quality organic produce, but five percent of it is donated to The Great American Bake Sale to end child hunger in the U.S.

CONTACT: Valley Farms, (815)432-1719, www.desertsweetorganic.com.

—Aaron Midler

GREAT GIFTS

California-based EcoExpress offers great gifts for the eco-conscious. The company boasts a wide range of delightful items, from stationery and toys to gourmet foods and wine, for a wide range of occasions, from birthdays to anniversaries. The signature gift sets bring together products from environmentally friendly and health-conscious companies and are packaged in recyclable, re-usable (and attractive) material. Proceeds from the purchase of the Rainforest collections go toward rainforest conservation. Check out the exquisite Belgian chocolate candy bars that support endangered species conservation, or the organic, dried mango slices.

CONTACT: EcoExpress, (800) 733-3495, www.ecoexpress.com.

—A.M.

BETTER GIFT WRAP

Lagniappe Gift Wrap sells reusable gift bags made completely from natural fibers. These striking bags come in several design lines, including fun patterns for kids, the holidays, and a separate line of bags made of organically grown cotton. New designs are added regularly. The bags come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from CD-sized to large enough to hold pots and pans. Lagniappe also provides a valuable recycling service: Just send in any type or brand of cloth bag, and the company will wash, repair and re-sell it in its Redux line—and give you 10 percent off your next purchase. Lagniappe clearly provides a worthwhile alternative to wasteful paper wrapping.

CONTACT: Lagniappe Gift Wrap, (617)281-8236, www.lagniappegiftwrap.com.

—A.M.

LUNCHTIME LEARNING

The New York State Department of Conservation estimates that one student taking a disposable lunch to school every day will create as much as 90 pounds of garbage per year. Two moms from California, Amy Hemmert and Tammy Pelstring, created Laptop Lunches to address this problem. It’s a lunchbox, only this new take on the old idea is shaped like a miniature laptop computer. It cuts out the need for zip-lock bags and plastic wrap—not to mention prepackaged, preservative-laden fare—with colorful containers that fit together like a puzzle, and it’s accompanied with a "User’s Guide" that is chock-full of information about everything from childhood obesity to strategies for dealing with a picky eater. When asked why the box is made of virgin plastic, Hemmert replied, "We would love to make them out of recycled plastic, but we have not been able to find one that’s FDA-approved for food. We cannot make them out of glass or ceramics because they have to be kid-friendly, and metal is cost prohibitive."

CONTACT: Obentec, (831)457-0301, www.laptoplunches.com.

—Rebecca Bowe

TAKE TIME FOR TEA

I drink several cups of herbal tea a day, so I make sure that my tea supports both my health and the health of the Earth; it’s also integral that the tea is picked and processed by people who are treated fairly. Zhena’s Gypsy Tea deliciously fulfills that need. The organic, fair-trade certified tea comes in many delicious varieties like Chamomile Blessings, Fireside Chai, Passionate Peach and Uplifting Earl Grey. The teas are available in beautiful gift sets ($29.95 and up), boxes of tea bags ($6.99 and up), in tins as loose leaf ($7.64 to $10) and in bulk. Zhena estimates the tea in one tin has been touched by 200 women workers, "whose lives are happy with healthcare, maternity leave and education." She says happy hands make happy tea.

CONTACT: Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, (805)646-1996, www.gypsytea.com.

—Starre Vartan

Books

WISE USE IN THE SADDLE

The War Against the Greens (Johnson Books, $19) first appeared in 1994, when Bill Clinton and Al Gore were in the White House and the environmental movement was seemingly in the ascendancy. But author David Helvarg was perceptive enough to feel the heat of a growing sagebrush rebellion, a western-based "Wise Use" movement that was trying to upset the public consensus on protecting the environment. This loose coalition of ranchers, lobbyists for the oil industry, loggers and far-right politicians wanted the world to know that property and grazing rights came first, and land preservation and endangered species a distant second. As this new edition goes to press, Wise Use has a hammer lock on the White House and on the House of Representatives (where the chairperson of the Resources Committee, Richard Pombo, fights to open public land to resource exploitation). A new chapter, "Wise Use in the White House," shows clearly how these property rights radicals helped shape the Bush administration.

—Jim Motavalli

COLORFUL CUISINE

The new book Vegan World Fusion Cuisine (Thousand Petals Publishing), by Mark Reinfeld and Bo Rinaldi, is more than just an incre

dibly colorful and innovative guide to vegan food preparation. The book contains a handy glossary of vegetarian and vegan terminology and a resource guide covering vegan education, organic farming, permaculture, environmental and animal rights groups, peace organizations and mindful living. The collection of recipes features tantalizing dishes from the chefs of Hawaii’s renowned Blossoming Lotus vegan restaurant. These chefs present their dishes as brightly hued pieces of artwork for the pallete. From the Joire de Vivre Lavender Infused Carrot Ginger Soup to the That’s Amore Tofu Cacciatore to the Conquering Lion Cashew "Cheez," these dishes are rich in delectable treats for anyone looking to spice up their diet with yummy flavors from around the world. Not only for the kitchen, this book is a delightful read anytime or anywhere.

—Kimberly Jordan Allen

ECO-LIVING 101

Trash Talk (Publish America) by Dave and Lillian Brummet starts off with this alarming fact: "North Americans account for only eight percent of the world’s population, yet we produce 50 percent of the world’s garbage, and consume more than 33 percent of it’s resources." The Brummets believe it is possible to reduce our levels of consumption and waste production, and to this end have composed a guidebook for the home on how to do just that. Want to start composting but don’t know how? Ever consider vermiculture (worm cultivation) to reduce your organic wastes? Neatly organized into specific sections (Bags, Metals, Water Use, etc.), this book provides detailed tips on how to renovate, reuse and re-furbish common items in order to create an eco-friendly home.

—A.M.

BECOMING WORLD CITIZENS

Planetary Citizenship (Middleway Press, $23.95) is a written dialogue between acclaimed thinkers Hazel Henderson and Daisaku Ikeda. Their discussion charts the events, choices and people that led each of them to envision, and advocate for, a sustainable, more peaceful world. At the same time, they argue the urgent need for others to take interest in the current state of affairs. This book serves as a fine introduction to progressive ideas, especially on global development. Most striking is Henderson’s assertion that modern economic theory is flawed, and that individuals working together can evoke change.

—A.M.

BETTER BUILDINGS

When it comes to building design, the ancients had it right. They constructed their habitats using materials that were locally available—earth, wood, sand and straw—so their buildings blended with the landscape. Today, building technology is designed to insulate us from the elements rather than connect us to them. But solutions are at hand if we just look to the past for inspiration. The new coffee table book Living Homes: Sustainable Architecture and Design (Chronicle Books, $45) by Suzi Moore McGregor and Nora Burba Trulsson, with photographs by Terrence Moore, shows how ancient building technologies are being revitalized and updated for the modern aesthetic.

—Jennifer Vogel

FROM THE SAHARA TO THE GOBI

Though the landscape may be barren, deserts harbor some of the most extraordinary flora and fauna on the planet. Introducing fish equipped with lungs for survival when the water dries out, plants whose strip-like leaves can continue to grow for 2,000 years, and herds of Arabian Oryx that were re-introduced after being hunted to near-extinction, Sara Oldfield‘s captivating new book provides a detailed tour of life in the world’s most inhospitable regions. Deserts: The Living Drylands (MIT Press, $29.95) is an inventory of the rare, quickly shrinking species of ancient landscapes set beside stunning, vibrantly colored images. In addition to descriptions of desert species on every continent, the book features sections on traditional lifestyles of desert people, threats facing unique ecosystems, and a discussion of international conservation efforts geared toward future protection of these breathtaking regions.

—R.B.