One of the most important ideas I try to impart here at Green Gal of the Midwest is to buy responsibly—to buy local and green whenever possible—and to choose carefully when products come from far away. There is a greater impact on the world than you might think when you speak with your hard-earned dollars. And, of course, buying less big stuff and spending more on simple and healthy gifts from local artisans, business people and my wonderful farmers is echoed all the time in these posts—but particularly at this time of year when the shopping frenzy reaches its peak and grasping for the best deal, no matter what the cost to your health and wellbeing—not to mention the planet’s wellbeing—can be downright toxic.

But it can be tough to figure it all out, right? Which companies to trust? How to trace products? These are not always easy questions to answer. Every little bit of guidance helps. That’s why I was really pleased to see a little article pop up at Delicious Living Magazine for businesses that carry a “Woman-Owned Certification.”
According to DL writer Deanne Pogoreic, “Women account for less than a quarter of management positions in businesses globally. They’re also underrepresented on boards—in the United States, they make up only 18 percent of board members. Yet more gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction. Choose products with the [Women-Owned Certification Seal] to help women-owned businesses flourish.
“So as you shop this season, you might be on the lookout for the Women-Owned Logo that has been developed by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and their partners. WBENC is drawing attention to businesses owned by women and offering support to keep them going strong. You can help by spending holiday dollars in an informed way.” Here are a few of my best buys…

Fire & Flavor Cedar Wraps with grilled blue gill and aromatic vegetablesFire & Flavor Wraps

These amazing cedar wraps appeared in my New Hope Network blogger box. I took a quick scan of the website and realized they were the perfect answer to quick healthy meals that taste as if you cooked for hours. What could be better during the busy days before the holidays? Then I searched a bit further and realized that the company owner was Gena Knox. Here’s a bit of her bio:


Coming from a long line of Southern cooks, avid griller and cook Gena Knox was in search of flavor inspiration to enhance her home cooked meals—a way of cooking that was simple, healthy, and flavorful. That’s where the cedar plank comes in.
Exploring the age-old Native American cooking technique, Gena found that cedar plank grilling infused food with a fantastic smoky flavor, was easy to prepare, and resulted in a beautiful presentation. After one taste of salmon grilled on a cedar plank, Gena and her husband, Davis, were hooked. Wheels turned, and soon, Fire & Flavor was born.

Fire & Flavor is also a Certified Women-Owned Business, which made using those cedar wraps for my dinner so much richer. I loved the idea of supporting this fast-growing company that puts passion and quality in the right place.

By luck, I had just purchased some locally caught blue gill from my friend Dara—who, along with her husband Scott owns SS Backwards Longhorns. Yes, another woman-owned enterprise! Dara and Scott’s neighbor has a pond, and he loves to fish and has a freezer full of fillets. See why it pays to know who grows your food!

I marinated my tender fillets for about 15 minutes in some lemon juice and Bellucci Olive Oil, spent a few minutes prepping onion, carrot and celery julienne, and we were ready to wrap! These took only minutes on the grill and tasted just like summer—quite the winter treat. And how convenient when you are trying to eat healthy but have little time to cook. No grill? No worries. You can use a grill pan on your stove for the same luscious smoked flavor. Easy directions and stellar recipes are on their website.

So this got me thinking about gifts and shopping and all the wonderful women I have had the pleasure to meet who just happen to be business owners. There’s Dara, and remember Jackie Mills from The Family Garden and Blaine Bilyeu from Papa’s Pasture? Amazing women are everywhere! For instance, my daughter was fishing around for Christmas gift ideas for me, and out of the blue I said how much I wanted to get back into Yoga at our local Studio Gaia. And that’s just what she’s getting me—Yoga classes…and, yes, Studio Gaia is woman-owned.

Sally Burgess owner of Studio GaiaStudio Gaia

Sally Burgess is the owner of Studio Gaia here in Edwardsville. She is, in my opinion, a true Renaissance woman, having built several successful career paths that have all focused on women’s wellbeing specifically and community health in general. And every new step she takes, from her initial role as Executive Director of the Hope Clinic for Women, to nutritionist, to fitness expert, to the owner of Studio Gaia seems to expand upon what she’s already done, making Sally’s journey a monument to what one can achieve if the heart and the mind work together.

Studio Gaia is tucked into the basement of an old post office building, and from the outside it looks fairly ordinary, perhaps even industrial. But when you step inside the world is transformed, the air gently scented, the colors rich, bold and warm, the tea hot and the vibe cool. There is ample space for the wide array of classes offered at the studio, all taught by highly qualified instructors—including Sally. And the studio often serves as a gathering place for workshops, book signings, lectures and community events.

If you ask Sally how successful the studio has become, she hedges a little. “The studio doesn’t make a great deal of money,” she said. “But it produces a lot of cosmic income.” For Sally, her ROI comes in the form of student satisfaction, from comments like “I don’t know where I’d be without this place” or “Studio Gaia gave me back my zest for living.”

According to Sally, students form their own culture within the classes, creating community and within it their own wellbeing. “Many of the people who have become regulars here were not comfortable in large commercial gyms and fitness centers,” she explained. “Here we are small and intimate and very low tech.”

That’s right. There are no computerized systems at Studio Gaia, no cards to swipe or pin numbers to enter or computer screens to touch. You pull your card from the card file—no login. And that is very intentional. “We are bombarded by about 5000 messages a day, at this point, and I think this has a negative impact on our nervous systems,” Sally said. At Studio Gaia the messages are simple and quiet: welcome, relax, breathe.

Of course on the day I visited, it was anything but quiet. I opened the door and was met by a frenzy of activity, women bustling about with dust cloths, vacuum cleaners, mops, pails and scrub brushes. I had beat Sally to the studio by a few minutes and caught several of her clients, with whom Sally has formed a deep and wonderful friendship, in the secret act of cleaning the studio. You see, Sally is stepping up her journey again by completing a Master’s degree in Environmental Policy Communication, what she considers the “drawing together of everything I’ve done.” So she’s busy. Really busy. And those dear friends, who for the most part met through Studio Gaia, could not help but help, a testament to the care, love, and generosity Studio Gaia fosters in all who enter.

Sally with students who were cleaning her studio

When I said goodbye, Sally was stepping toward another project: The Gaia Grapevine, a soon-to-launch publication brimming with poetry, essays, health wisdom, environmental updates and more, written by Sally, her co-creators Linze Aya and Lynn Beaumont, and a host of guest contributors. It will be a for-sale publication initially in print but eventually print and electronic to benefit the studio and its ongoing programs. We’ll keep you posted on how to order.

Debbie Ward owner of Silver Tablet MarketingSilver Tablet Marketing

And then, right under my nose, is one of the most amazing women I I will ever meet—the person who is the designer of this very blog—Debbie Ward, owner of Silver Tablet Marketing. When I told Debbie a year ago that I thought we needed an updated look for Green Gal of the Midwest and scribbled out some crude ideas of what that look might be, I never dreamed she could work such magic. But she does all the time.

Ever since Debbie decided to leave corporate America and found Silver Tablet Marketing, her goal has always been to help the small guy, the one who has a fantastic business but doesn’t have access to the same knowledge and resources that helps bigger businesses get discovered. She lives by two mottos – “Always be nice,” and “Learn what you need to know.” and she applies that to her clients, striving to go the extra mile to get the results they want. I cannot imagine anyone who can make “you and your business” the center of her world for the time necessary to bring you success as expertly or as caringly as Debbie can. Her reputation as a results-oriented professional continues to grow, as does her standing in the St. Louis business community.

Because she is so skilled in her field, people are always surprised to find out that Debbie didn’t major in Marketing or Communications in college. She attended College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit college in Worcester, MA, and majored in French because she was always intrigued by other cultures. She spent her junior year abroad in France and studied, traveled throughout Europe, and haunted all the wonderful art museums and architectural buildings there. “Through my experiences, I learned how very different people in this world can be. It also helped me develop a keen sense of empathy and how to communicate beyond using just words” she will tell you.

And, for me, it is her background in “people and culture” that makes working with Debbie so different from working with other marketing professionals I’ve known. She will ask you the question beyond your answer when she senses there’s more to know. Your goals are always important because they are your goals—they don’t need to be hers. She’ll never tell you she knows better—though many times she does. But that kindness is genuine, and it penetrates every decision and every gentle-but-necessary nudge she needs to give you.

Perhaps it comes down to a woman’s touch, after all. And maybe we could use more of that in business these days.

Well back to gift-giving for just a moment before you head out the door and into the stores. What will guide you in those holiday decisions? There are some answers above, but probably not as many as you are going to need if you truly want to purchase wisely, locally, greenly and with social conscience. So here’s one last bit of advice, again from Delicious Living Magazine and the desk of Jenna Blumenfeld. It’s an article called How to Live Your Values Every Single Day and while it doesn’t contain an actual “Christmas list” of items you can buy, it will, I think, clarify for you what you value and then I do believe your gift giving will get more creative and a bit easier. Think outside that Christmas box.

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