How to Be an Organic Romantic

Organic-minded & natural gift ideas for Valentine's Day.

January 27, 2012

Short on ideas for Valentine's Day? You're not alone. In fact, many companies actually prey on love-struck procrastinators by marketing last-minute Valentine's Day gift sales. All of this rushing around box stores, and trying to find a flower shop open past 9 pm on the eve of Valentine's Day, can turn a holiday that's supposed to be all about appreciating and celebrating your lover into a February 13 elbow-jabbing event at the local jewelry store counter.

If your better half happens to be an eco-minded, green-cleaning, CSA-subscribing, organic-eating locavore, the stakes are even higher. Buy her a scented jar candle, and she'll just crinkle her nose thinking of all the chemical indoor air pollution that the artificial fragrances create. Go to the trouble of making your green-minded man a special steak dinner, and before putting a forkful of the succulent cut to his lips, he'll ask, "This is local grass-fed organic, right, Hon?" Or maybe you, the giver, are the one who frets over the toll that a bad gift can take on your loved one's health (and planet).


To get a grip on how to please our planet-protecting partners without losing all romantic elements ("Hey, Baby, check out the compost bin I bought you!" just doesn't have that sexy edge) we turned to perhaps the world's most famous organic romantic, Maya Rodale. Maya encompasses a unique perspective to speak on the topic. She is the great-granddaughter of J.I. Rodale, who in the 1940s founded the organic movement in America by launching Organic Farming and Gardening magazine and founding what is today known as the Rodale Institute, an organic research farm in Pennsylvania where Maya is currently director of communications and outreach. Growing up with these organic roots (her grandfather, Bob Rodale, was instrumental in pushing for a USDA organic-certification system, and her mother, Rodale CEO Maria Rodale, published the book Organic Manifesto), Maya knows well the benefits of growing food and fibers without using toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

But Maya published her fifth book last spring: A Tale of Two Lovers. The combination of her organic upbringing and her fiction books' plotlines are what makes her an organic romantic authority: She's a romance author.

With that type of organic/romantic background, you probably pity the beau who faces the task of wooing her. But wait! The plot thickens…we did talk to that man, and we'll share his gift-giving secrets soon. "Maya is a difficult challenge on the romance front. She's either read or written about every romantic situation known to man," explains her husband, Tony Haile. "It's not necessarily Valentine's Day focused, but the things that have worked with Maya have never been expensive gifts, but things which suggested thought or effort."

Here are some ideas for Valentine's Day—from simple to grandiose—that won't break the bank or taint the planet. They'll be sure to keep your organic romantic happy.

• Organic-ify conventional ideas for Valentine's Day.

As the organic market continues to grow, so do your Valentine's Day gift options. Here are more earth-friendly, organic takes on the classics.

Flowers: If you live in a warmer climate, pick flowers and make your own arrangement. If your locale is still encrusted with snow and ice, you can order sustainably raised flower arrangements or plants from Organic Bouquet. Just heed this warning if your plan involves petals: "The organic flowers are especially important if you're using rose petals in the bath or on the bed," Maya notes. Pesticides aren't sexy.

For an earthy twist, you could also give the gift of organic seeds or a gift certificate from your local native plant nursery and commit to grow a garden together once spring arrives.

Chocolate: Organic chocolates are easily available now, and to help you pick out the best, recently orchestrated an organic-chocolate taste test. Check out the results to help match your mate's taste preferences to the bars we tested.

Dinner: Many restaurants are making a real effort to bring organic farm food to the table for customers; in fact, it's a top chef's trend. (Check out Maria Rodale's Top 10 Farm-to-Table lists for suggestions.) Using organic ingredients to cook your own meal adds a personal touch. "In addition to organic food, try organic wine, like Bonterra," Maya suggests. If you're lighting candles for ambience, be sure to choose beeswax candles—they actually help clean your air, not pollute it.

Lingerie: Finding organic lingerie in the United States can be a bit of a challenge, but it's worth the hunt. Non-organic cotton is grown using heavy doses of pesticides, and the crop is often grown from genetically engineered seeds. Online lingerie shoppers can find an organic oasis at Perfectly Imperfect, a company that offers sexy lingerie made from organic cotton. If skimpy lingerie isn't your lover's thing but you still want to give a gift from the intimates department, go for the comfortable-in-a-playful-yet-cozy-way PACT underwear, also made from organic cotton. The company donates 10 percent of underwear sales to organizations that help protect the planet.

• Opt for high-quality free gifts.

"Valentine's Day is only overrun by consumerism if you think that you have to buy something to show someone you care," Tony says. He's made this a guiding principle for trying to impress a professional romantic. "With Maya, it's more about showing her how important she is to me. You can do that better with your time and thought than with your wallet."

The point is, don't feel like a cheapskate if you don't dig deep into your wallet to celebrate your sweetheart on Valentine's Day. The gift of service could be more meaningful than a plastic box of chocolates, according to our organic-romantic expert. "If you're on a budget, refuse to pony up for commercial holidays, or don't need more stuff and you still want to show you care, try little gestures like making the coffee first, cooking breakfast, walking the dog, or giving an extra-long kiss before you leave for the day," Maya suggests.

Here's another idea. If your coffee table looks like a dirty dish bin at a restaurant, avoid bringing added clutter into the home via bouquets or heart-shaped chocolate boxes. Instead, give your lover the gift of a tidy, organized space—it's been proven to relieve stress. "It's hard to think about romance when there are dishes in the sink and the house is a mess," Maya says. "If you are the messy one in your relationship, taking an hour to straighten up will be the best gift ever. Add candles. Violà, romance."

• Don't limit yourself to Valentine's Day. Sometimes, it's fun to give an amazing, well-thought-out gift during other parts of the year. Here are some of the things Tony's given Maya in the past, and not necessarily for Valentine's Day. (Warning: Guys, you're going to hate Tony for setting this precedent.)

For the creative, tech-savvy gift giver: Consider taking old photo and video collections scattered about the house and attic and digitize them so they're all in one place. If you want to get really creative for a holiday down the line, try something along these lines: "For Maya's birthday last year, I spent three months cutting together old footage of her as a child and teenager with footage from American Idol, the Grammy awards, and interviews with friends and family to create a "Behind the Music" video for her that re-imagined her life as that of a rock star," Tony says.

For the wordsmith gift giver: Take things you've written for your lover, either romantic or silly, or things he or she's inspired you to write, and put them together in one collection. "I had some limericks I'd written for her during our early courtship bound by a specialty bookmaker into a beautiful book, 'Poems on the Theme of Maya,'" Tony says.

• Invent a holiday. Take some random day, one that might have special meaning, such as the anniversary of your first date or first kiss, and make it you and your lover's personalized Valentine's Day. For instance, Tony says he has a habit of creating new "Maya-based" holidays throughout the year. "So we have Cinco de Maya and Maya di Gras, where we go out and celebrate all things Maya," he says. "These days mean more to me than Valentine's Day, because I'm not telling her I love her because it is expected or traditional, but because I've chosen a completely random day to tell her how wonderful she is."