True Highlands Blog
As Christmas approaches and our thoughts turn to buying gifts for loved ones and stocking up the larder, it’s worth spending a moment considering the benefits of choosing to shop local this year. It’s a unique situation because, not only does shopping locally benefit the community and the environment, it also benefits you, the consumer, in many different ways. Often the ethical choice can come at a cost, but shopping local can be a way of helping the community, as well as helping yourself.
Whilst a lot of the benefits of shopping local come down to “the feel good factor”, there has been a lot of research into the quantifiably advantages. What it boils down to is that money spent in the community is more likely to stay in the community. For example, if you buy your potatoes from a local farmer, he then uses the money to buy a Christmas present from a local artist, who then in turn uses the money to buy beer from the local brewery who then use the money to employ extra staff. The cycle goes on and on. This contrasts sharply with buying online from a multinational company, many of whom don’t even pay tax in this country.
German or continental Christmas markets have surged in popularity in city centres recently. They are fun and atmospheric and the novelty of something different is part of the attraction. I wonder if maybe Scottish people are a bit shy about what we do best, or maybe we take what we have here for granted. When I see people queuing up for a frankfurter and a glass of mulled wine, I wonder what would be the response in Germany if you had a stall selling Scottish venison and hot toddies.
One of the biggest expenses for families this year will be the Christmas dinner and all the associated trimmings. Some things are unlikely to be grown locally, but there are now many producers organically farming turkeys, where they are freshly dispatched and packaged instead of being factory reared, frozen then transported half-way round the world. As an alternative to turkey, you could also have a cut of Scottish venison or the best of freshly landed seafood. Organic produce has been a real hot topic in recent years, but far more pertinent is the issue of food miles. Produce that has been small scale farmed and bought direct from the farmer is quite simply more environmentally friendly, fresh and better tasting than something that has an organic logo but has been mass produced, wrapped in plastic and flown thousands of miles. The Skye Farm Shop is a great place to start your Christmas shopping with a huge selection of treats, essentials and hampers, sourced and made in the Highlands.
As well as eating local there are tremendous benefits to drinking local. If you are a whisky drinker then you are in luck, as some of the best whisky in the world is rarely more than a short journey away, but what many people don’t appreciate is that there is now a growing number of craft distillers producing top quality gins in small batches that easily better the mass produced and imported varieties we have grown up with. Gins reflect the character of the places they are distilled in, with many sourcing local botanicals for a truly local flavour. A hand distilled gin, organically made in small quantities with local water and seaweed from the beach – or a big brand alternative, made in vast quantities on an industrial estate with added chemicals. No contest surely.
The other thing to consider is that when things are made by hand, in small quantities by artisans, they are almost always done with a degree of skill and attention to detail you cannot get anywhere else. A’nead Knitwear is a great example of this. The hand knitted cobweb lace from hand-spun yarn is made with the minimum environmental impact and makes a truly unique gift.
Harris Tweed is another great example of a world class, locally made product. Not only is the material still made in the traditional way on the islands, but the fabric itself is used by countless artisans around the Highlands to create beautiful and distinctive gifts. Tighcruinn Designs and Jennifer Carr have both come up with some of the most innovative and striking uses for it. My favourite example is as cover for your laptop or Kindle. A brilliant example of age old tradition being adapted for the modern world and a great present for the stylish and tech savvy.
For many people, original works of art are somehow elitist or only for the upper crust. It is true that some artworks command a premium, but due to places such as Picture Bute and Resipole Studios original and unique pieces can be acquired at very affordable prices. These studios champion local and up and coming artists, people who live and breathe there, whose art is a reflection of their environment. What better gift for remembering a special holiday than to have a landscape as a permanent reminder.
Living in the Highlands can inspire people in many ways. For Coast Candle Co. the beauty of the landscape has been the starting point for their collections. Every candle is hand poured in Dornoch using only the finest quality oils and natural soy waxes and elegant packaging saves you the trouble of wrapping. In a similar vein the Highland Stoneware Company hand-make pottery in the north west of Scotland. Part of the appeal of their wide variety of mugs, pots and plates is the character they have. These are made traditionally, not in a factory, so no two sets are the same and every piece is signed by the artist. But these are not just pieces to collect, they are made to be used. Beautiful art that you can also eat your Christmas dinner off.
Traditional Celtic motifs and designs play a large part in the jewellery of both Duncan House and Love from Skye. Rings and pendants are very personal items, so can be custom made or specially commissioned. Instead of buying off the shelf from a high street retailer, you can have something unique and lasting, designed especially for you and hand-made in the islands. Who wouldn’t be happy with a Christmas present that included gold, silver or gemstones.
True Highlands have released a calendar for charity this year which has been designed, created and printed in Scotland. Local and for a good cause.
I don’t want to sound all holier-than-thou here, we all use the big supermarkets or online retailers occasionally. The point of this article is not to tell people what to do, but just to make people aware of the benefits of considering some of the alternatives out there. If it sounds like we are preaching, it’s just because we are passionate in our belief in changing things for the better and building communities. Everyone can play their part however small – let’s start today.
Tags: carbon footprint, celtic jewellery, food miles, Made in Scotland, scottish economy, shop local, shoplocal, support small business