Who wants to conduct holiday shopping at a wearisome series of faceless big-box stores? Our scientific analysis says "nobody in their right mind." That's why every December, we here at the Bohemian drum our fingers on our desks and tap our overcrowded skulls to present a short tour of local manufacturers and producers. Shopping local is one thing, but sourcing local carries with it that extra sense of pride. Consider these two-in-one gift ideas: the present itself, and the knowledge that it's made right down the street. Enjoy!
Body and skin care in Sebastopol
Isn't that special somebody deserving of a present extraordinary enough to be included in celebrities' Oscar night gift bags? Snap that very same gift up at Sumbody, in the form of brightly wrapped bath bonbons. "Bath products are the go-to gifts for the holidays," says Deborah Burnes, owner, cosmetologist, child model for Salvador Dali and a rock star in the world of skincare. As the personal skin consultant for the likes of Amy Adams, Kyra Sedgwick and Marcia Gay Harden, Burnes shares her knowledge and Sonoma County's healthful abundance with everyone from locals to Hollywood glitterati. Even Ashton Kutcher is a fan.
Produced in Sebastopol, Sumbody's all-natural, organic products are made for every part of the body, from head (shampoos, facial cleansers, makeup) to toe (foot scrubs, soaps, nail polish). There's even Bottom's Up, an all-natural baby butt salve. Specialized products include Zappers, vials of aromatherapy blends to "zap common ailments," and a rosacea line soon to be released.
"Wherever we can, we use local ingredients, like goat milk and honey, even if it costs us more," says Burnes. Looking no further than one's garden, Burnes reaps fruits, vegetables, flowers and even the earth itself to create fragrant soaps, scrubs and lotions. Scents range from winter's seasonal specials like Candy Cane, Cranberry Marmalade or Sugar Cookie to the warm, wishful thinking of Get Lei'd, Red Hot and Sex on the Beach.
Burnes is offering free skin consultations in mid-December as a "Be Kind to Sonoma County Day." Sign-ups are on a first-come, first-served basis. Sumbody's warehouse sale occurs in March.
"We have the misguided theory that in order to take care of our own skin naturally, it's going to take a lot of extra time and money," says Burnes, "but it's just a matter of moving your hand from here to there on the shelf. There's something in the store for every age and every budget."
Sumbody is at 118 N. Main St., Sebastopol, 707.823.2053, and 3800 Bel Aire Plaza, Napa, 707.255.8380. sumbody.com.—Suzanne Daly
Farm Fresh Clothing Co.
Designing for locals in Graton
The careful observer may have noticed a family resemblance among many of Sonoma County's coolest brands. The Hopmonk Tavern, the Russian River Brewing Co., Underwood Bar & Grill, Black Pig Meat Co., Peter Lowell's restaurant, Taylor Maid Coffee, Dutton-Goldfield winery and others all owe the distinctive look of their T-shirts and branding to Graton's Farm Fresh Clothing Co.
The year-old "fashion T-shirt company" is a partnership between Seattle transplants Matt Morgan and Lucio Dalla Gasperina. Morgan got his start in fashion designing T-shirts for Seattle bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Pearl Jam and Presidents of the United States of America. Dalla Gasperina, now a St. Helena winegrower, is the cofounder of Tommy Bahama, maker of casual resort wear. The two teamed up with local artist Joe Leonard to create custom designed organic cotton T-shirts that aim to capture the country cool of the NorCal lifestyle with hand-drawn, silkscreened images and fonts.
Farm Fresh also makes its own line of T-shirts with images that subtly tout sustainability and green living. An expanded line of casual clothing is in development, too. The shirts are available at Nordstrom (Farm Fresh has designed T-shirts for Nordstrom executive VP Pete Nordstrom's band, Stag) and through the company's website. A retail shop is in the plans, too.
Befitting its rootsy, homespun aesthetic, the company operates out of a hundred-year-old corrugated metal barn. Inside, the concrete floors, oriental rugs, groovy tunes and racy Macs make the space feel more South of Market than West Sonoma County.
Now that it's become the designer of choice for many in Sonoma County, word of Farm Fresh has spread to Silicon Valley, and Google and Facebook have since contracted Farm Fresh to create custom T-shirt designs. The 10-person company is growing, but Morgan says he wants to stay in Graton, or Sebastopol, where he lives.
"We're looking for a bigger barn," he says. "No pun intended, but we're growing organically."
More at farmfreshclothingco.com.—Stett Holbrook
BBQ Oyster Grill
An easier way to cook the half-shell from Santa Rosa
When Charlie Williams retired from his job as a senior technical writer and information designer two years ago, he decided to spend his newfound time doing something more hands-on instead of taking up residence in front of the television. Over the years, he'd picked up welding and metalwork skills, and thus was born the BBQ Oyster Grill, an innovative rack system for barbecuing oysters and other shellfish.
"I make each grill by hand," Williams says. "For example, I use a 48-ounce dead-blow hammer and vise grip clamps to bend pieces of expanded flattened 13-gauge steel over a steel form. Making each oyster grill requires a personal effort, and I think some people appreciate that as added value for the product."
Some might wonder: "Why not just stick the oysters right on the grill?" Williams says that approach is not as "convenient or controlled" as using his patented system. "You can cook an egg on a flat rock, but a frying pan works better," explains Williams. "The shellfish cooking rack is a tool that helps you make the perfect barbecued oyster every time."
At $20–$30, depending on size, the oyster grills work on gas and charcoal barbecues as well as ovens; they double as a serving tray and can be used to deliver fresh-cooked treats to dinner guests. The product's website features hunger-inducing photos of the Santa Rosa resident's forays into grilling oysters from Northern California oyster companies like Drake's Bay and Hog Island, all doused in delicious sauces, fresh off the grill.
In addition to convenience, his product is better for the environment. "Many brands sold here are produced in countries using dangerous and dirty manufacturing processes. When you purchase American-made products, you know that you are helping to keep the world a little cleaner for your children and grandchildren."
More at bbqoystergrill.com. —Leilani Clark
The building blocks of jewelry, made in Santa Rosa
If you've ever walked into a local bead store, chances are you've seen TierraCast's designs. In fact, so ubiquitous are the jewelry parts made by the Santa Rosa company, you just might be wearing one of their charms or clasps right now. The only metal casting company in California, TierraCast sells hundreds of thousands of pewter parts—beads, spacers, posts, links, caps, cones, etc.—to local, national and international wholesalers every single day, and they're all made out on Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa, where Steve Tierra and Alan Joseph have manufactured the building blocks of jewelry since 1978.
Both California natives and Sonoma County transplants, theirs was a serendipitous meeting of minds. Steve had just established TierraCast when Alan came along, looking for someone to mold and cast his jewelry designs. Fascinated by the production process, Alan offered to work for free in order to learn more. A partnership was born, and for the next 10 years they manufactured metal parts—everything from costume jewelry to elevator signs—on a made-to-order basis. Eventually, however, they tired of this "job-shop roller coaster," in which sales were dependent on the whim and demand of their clients. A local bank president advised them to make their own designs.
And so they did just that, eventually expanding every facet of the company—their site to 14,000 square feet, their sales from Moscow to Scotland, their workforce to 40 employees, a few of whom have worked there for decades. But despite their success, Steve and Alan remain hands-on. "We're still wearing aprons, getting our hands dirty out on the floor," Alan tells me. "This is not an on-the-golf-course kind of business."
TierraCast's jewelry parts, which cost anywhere from 35 cents to $2 each, are available at several local bead stores: San Rafael's Baubles & Beads, Santa Rosa's Legendary Beads, Cotati's Out on a Whim, Sebastopol's Apple Blossom Beads & Treasures and Windsor's Ubeadquitous. Alan, who enjoys seeing his designs integrated into finished products, is characteristically optimistic about the possibilities of his craft: "Congratulations," he says. "You can make your own jewelry!"
For more, see tierracast.com.—Jessica Dur
Timeless electric bikes made in Sausalito
The bright, crescent-shaped frames of Pi bicycles might look like they belong in a Technicolor cartoon, but the Sausalito-made electric riders are surprisingly functional. Built of recycled aluminum, the "PiCycle" features built-in suspension, a lithium-ion battery that is easily upgraded and a GPS navigator. Relying on no fuel but the electricity from an average wall outlet, with a roughly three-to-four-and-a-half hour charge time, the bikes are both green and easy to use. The various models range in speed from 20 to 40 mph, but you can also switch off the motor and simply rely on pedal power if you're getting low on juice (or, you know, actually want to exercise).
The only obstacle with the PiCycle is its price tag. Ranging from $5,995 to $8,995, the bike isn't easy on the thin pocketbook. But, as founder Marcus Hays explained recently at a Clean Transportation Summit, the cost is a result of hyper-local production.
"I think in the mind of the consumer, when they see our product for example, they say 'Why so expensive?' And so the context is missing for that consumer," he said.
Hays, a founding participant in the Calstart program designed in response to the California Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate, founded Pi in 2000. His company takes sustainability seriously, manufacturing the bikes on-site in Sausalito. The frame is cut with an efficient waterjet machine, and the company attempts to contract only with California vendors and manufacturers. "Presumably, we're making some of the cleanest vehicles in the world, as well as creating jobs here in California," he said at the Summit.
Moving PiCycles further beyond the bicycles of yesteryear are several unique features: rust-resisting, carbon-based belts instead of chains; a programmable display with your charge level and travel distance; and a USB socket to plug in headphones, charge your phone or power a set of speakers, so you can blare some conscious Berkeley hip-hop while you cruise along and feel good about doing your part. For more, visit picycle.com.—Rachel Dovey
Weirauch Farm & Creamery
Sheep-milk soaps and cheeses made in Petaluma
Some newlyweds covet fine china and toasters, but when Joel and Carleen Weirauch got married eight years ago, their most prized gifts were Alice and Aretha, two East Friesian ewes. Aretha has since passed and Alice is retired (the unofficial "nurse-maid" who hangs out with the castrated ram lambs), but the Weirauchs' passion for raising sheep and producing quality soap and cheese has only grown.
Though both grew up in Santa Rosa (Carleen went to Piner, Joel to Montgomery), they didn't meet until their mid-30s, after Joel returned from France with an abiding ambition to make sheep's milk cheese. For years, their business was mostly a hobby—they hand-milked the sheep and made cheese for their own personal consumption, all the while growing their herd. "Each place we've moved," Carleen tells me over the phone, "our personal space gets smaller and our animal space gets bigger."
Carleen also began making soap with sheep's milk and unprocessed virgin olive oil procured from neighbors across the street. Given its luxurious, nourishing properties (thanks to the high fat and protein content of the milk), the soap is certainly bankable. But for Carleen, who no longer sells wholesale or online, market expansion is not the point.
"I like the idea of selling out of a product," she says, "and catering to my existing customer base." The soap is also available in vegan form, a mix of clay, seaweed, exfoliating ground walnut hull and an organic herbal blend crafted by herbalist Lisa Kurtz. Sold exclusively at Kurtz's West County Herb Company in Occidental and farmers markets in Sebastopol and Healdsburg, Weirauch's decadent, affordable soaps ($5–$6 a bar) are certainly worth the trip.
Given its rich, creamy, nutty flavor, distinct from what Carleen calls "the ruddy barnyard flavor of goat cheese," it's no surprise that sheep's milk cheese is gaining popularity. Now that they are leasing a 65-acre ranch in Petaluma and have converted mobile classroom trailers into a certified creamery and a milking parlor, the Weirauchs will begin producing sheep's milk cheese for sale this spring. In the meantime, enjoy their organic cow's milk cheese currently available at farmers markets in Sonoma and Marin counties.
More at weirauchfarm.com.—Jessica Dur