By Ian Haupt As holiday decorations begin to appear, it’s the time of year people start thinking about getting gifts for their loved ones. To encourage shopping local this holiday season, Sustainable Connections has created a new online gift guide. Sustainable Connections is a local nonprofit organization that works to establish and support a sustainable economy, community and environment by connecting local businesses with each other. Diana Meeks, media and communications specialist at Sustainable Connections, said businesses pay a fee to be a part of their member organization. From items priced at a couple dollars to some at $200 or more, the new local gift guide allows shoppers to filter their searches by price range, gift category and local business. Some of the categories include gifts for “Wilderness Worshippers,” “Cute Critters,” or “Green Thumbs.” According to Meeks, the new online gift guide is a part of their “Think Local,” campaign to help promote local businesses. “Every year around the holidays, we really try to highlight shopping local,” Meeks said. “It’s a campaign that we have year-round, but you know this is a really good time of year to highlight it for folks.” In the past, Meeks said Sustainable Connections promoted local holiday gift shopping through a pamphlet, but this year they decided to go online for easier access and less waste. She said community members who shop local this holiday season are giving back to the community. “We say that it’s one of the best ways to support your community,” Meeks said. “Local businesses will invest up to three times more than a chain would.” According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, independent and locally-owned businesses fuel job creation, improve environmental sustainability, generate more tax revenue at lower public cost and are linked to higher incomes. Meeks said the promotion businesses get from customers seeing their products online is one of the benefits that comes with a Sustainable Connections membership. She said the online guide includes more than 100 local businesses. Included on the gift guide is Advanced Medical Massage, a massage therapy center located in downtown Fairhaven that focuses on specific recovery treatment for accidents, injuries and chronic pain. Outreach Coordinator Jody Vogumil said they have been members of Sustainable Connections for four years. Vogumil said the center’s main reason for joining was to support other organizations that do work in the community. “I feel like they’re just doing such great things,” she said. “It’s all based on sustainability.” According to Vogumil, Advanced Medical Massage is using the website to list gift certificates for a one-hour massage that comes in a gift box with holidays treats inside. For those in search of a seasonal beverage for that special someone, look out for Lost Giants Cider Company’s new spruce tip-infused cider coming out this month. Lost Giants Cider recently opened in June and joined Sustainable Connections shortly after. Lost Giants Cider President Chris Nofkoff said so far, the company has had a positive experience in their newly-formed relationship with Sustainable Connections. Nofkoff said the company joined to get more involved in the community and to network. He said he’s hoping to build relationships with other members, like local farmers, who would be interested in having their specialty fruits and vegetables used in Lost Giants Cider products. According to Nofkoff, Lost Giants Cider recently released an elderberry cider that would make a good seasonal gift. Inside Lost Giants’ production facility at 1200 Meador Ave. is a taproom which serves cider Wednesday through Sunday. Along with the local gift guide, Meeks said Sustainable Connections has a guide to help people eat local over the holidays and beyond as part of their Think Local campaign. Eat Local First is a website they created with a food atlas dedicated to helping community members purchase in-season, locally-sourced ingredients from regional farmers. Fourth-year student Liz Hansen is a environmental studies major and the food and farming intern at Sustainable Connections. She said the Pacific Northwest has some of the best, most fertile soil due to its geographical history, which helps make produce in the area flavorful and nutritious. Hansen said eating locally-produced food is beneficial for your health and palate because ingredients are fresher, and those purchases also strengthen the community by helping local farmers take better care of their products. The Eat Local First site offers a printable shopping list to build meals for the holidays based on local winter abundance. On the organization’s website, more information on this is located under “Eat local for the holidays,” and gives browsers the opportunity to choose what they’re looking for - whether it’s fresh produce or locally-sourced meat. When selected, the user is shown where to find the ingredients at local grocery stores. Places to find holiday bouquets, wreaths and trees can also be found on Sustainable Connections’ website. If you’re in search of a Christmas tree this holiday season, eatlocalfirst.org says to check out BelleWood Acres, Kelly Road Christmas Trees, Fullner Christmas Tree Farm or Manthee’s Christmas Trees. The “Eat local for the holidays” page also suggests visiting their food atlas to explore the variety of farms, fishers and food producers in the area. When users open the website, a map of the area appears and displays locations where farms, fish markets, restaurants and locally-made products can be found in Whatcom County and neighboring counties. By shopping for food and gifts from local businesses, Hansen said the community has the ability to support the local economy and keep the producer in check. She said the consumer holds the producer accountable by purchasing products that fit their standards. It’s an unspoken agreement, she said. “I like to think of it as a closed-loop system,” Hansen said. “You’re keeping everything in one place.” Hansen said she has never felt good shopping at large corporate stores. Buying local makes her feel like she is doing her part to support the community. “I really want to buy products and spend my money on products knowing that whoever put the time and energy into that thing is living the same life as I am,” Hansen said.