It’s that time of year. Throughout Calaveras County, people are pulling out their pocketbooks to buy thoughtful gifts for family and friends.
While Calaveras County may not have a Costco, Wal-Mart or Lowe’s, it does have an army of talented residents who are passionate about making things – many of which would make great gifts this holiday season.
Throughout the county, there are many talented people who make numerous unique products, but Calaveras County is perhaps best known for local food and drink.
“Buying locally strengthens regional economies, supports family farms, provides delicious, ‘fresh-from-the-field’ foods for consumers, preserves the local landscape and can help foster a sense of community,” according to foodroutes.org.
The site goes on to say purchasing food that was grown and harvested locally keeps money circulating within the community, which keeps wealth in the region.
While it’s commonly believed better prices are to be found at bigger stores down in the Valley, this isn’t always the case.
“By the time you spend all that time going out of the area and pay for gas, it’s worth it to buy local,” said LeAnn Evoniuk, who owns Roca Bella Olive Oil and Better Floors in Wallace with her husband, Ken.
“Even if it’s just a couple dollars more locally, what you’ve done for the community is way beyond what saving a few bucks will accomplish.”
Evoniuk said 60 cents out of every dollar stays in the community when people shop local as opposed to a mere 10 percent to 20 percent when dollars are spent elsewhere.
“It also creates jobs here,” she said. “Local businesses are creating jobs and putting money back into the community.”
Roca Bella Olive Oil is offering special gift packages for the holidays.
“We’re offering gift packs or individual bottles of olive oil,” Evoniuk said, adding every drop of oil they sell is pressed from thousands of trees growing on their Wallace property. “Our oils are as local as it gets.”
Included in some of the gift baskets will be jars of locally grown Sevillano olives cured in the traditional Sicilian style by Valley Springs resident Terry Beaudoin.
Other excellent olive oils pressed from trees grown in Calaveras County can be found in many other locations in the county, including Copperopolis Olive Oil in the Copper Town Square and at Marisolio Tasting Bar in Murphys.
Olive oil is a key ingredient in soaps, lotions and other products made by Harry Graham of Mountain Ranch, who owns Mountain Ranch Handmade Natural Products. He recently purchased a 55-gallon drum of olive oil and another of coconut oil.
“I sold my first soap to Sender’s Market in 2002,” Graham said.
Since then, he’s expanded his market across the county, with products on display in stores in Murphys, Angels Camp and Valley Springs.
“My intention when I started out making my products was liking the idea of a natural soap that was still commercial in the sense that people could buy it in a store,” he said, adding he’s not into frilly ribbons and fancy packaging.
Graham is committed to using natural products.
“Modern soaps contain a number of chemicals, some natural some not,” Graham wrote. “These chemicals harden the bar, give it a long shelf life and an almost permanent aroma. Many folks are sensitive to these chemicals. We make our soap as simple and pure as possible with the best possible ingredients.”
When it comes to buying local, Graham said people get a better quality product for the same price.
“It doesn’t require shipping or fancy advertising,” he said. “My supply chain is really short. I make the soap, and I drive up and put it in the racks.”
Sitting on the racks of Copper Proper in the Copperopolis Town Square are handmade cards, which are perfect for the Holidays, according to Fran Armstrong, who has owned the store for the past eight years.
“They are made by Sherry Bresch who is a local crafter,” Armstrong said, adding each card costs $3 – $2 go to Bresch and $1 goes to the food bank in Copperopolis. Bresch doesn’t get a cut from card sales because she wants to support her community.
“I encourage people to come by to pick up cards,” she said. “They are perfect for putting on gifts. A lot of work goes into them, and they are really cute.”
In the little town of Mokelumne Hill, Judy Brown’s store offers a wide variety of hand-crafted local products, along with a huge nut selection.
“We have 30 different vendors selling out of our shop,” said Judy Brown who owns Moke Hill Nuts with her husband Steve. “Between us and Petroglyphe, you can buy a gift for anyone.”
Petroglyphe Gallery, owned by Roger and Denise Ebbett, is also in downtown Mokelumne Hill and features the works of more than 20 artists. Mediums include paintings, collage, ceramics, sculpture, jewelry, carved wood flutes, artsy gifts and greeting cards.
“People who come into our shop have the mindset of buying local and supporting local business,” Brown said. “That’s how our shop has survived, because people want to have our shop there, so they have options and there is something in in our town.”
Throughout the county, with its epicenter in Murphys, the wine industry provides a huge selection of locally grown and produced gifts.
“Shopping locally keeps the money within the community,” said Murphys resident Skye Ruggieri, who works for Hovey Winery, “which in turn benefits all of us and makes it an even more lovely place to live.”