- James Buck
- Arealles Ortiz
Eating a popsicle on a hot summer day is a surefire way to relive childhood: think Rocket Pops that turn your tongue blue, or brain freeze from too much Good Humor. Each icy treat means a race to lick the drips and catch the last bite on the wooden stick before it falls onto the grass — or your shirt. With Curly Girl Pops, Arealles Ortiz, 27, brings out her customers' inner child while serving them healthy fruits and vegetables.
Unlike the mass-produced sugar bombs many of us ate growing up, Ortiz's plant-based popsicles are chock-full of fresh organic ingredients, including apples, carrots, ginger, mango, raspberries, spinach, citrus, coconut milk and rhubarb. They're sweetened with maple syrup. Sure, her Blue Magic temporarily dyes your tongue, but its color comes from organic spirulina.
Ortiz, who moved from New Jersey to Montpelier with her family when she was 14, developed an interest in wellness when she was a teenager. Despite her sweet tooth, she began to focus on what she put into her body and how it affected her daily life. That eventually led to studying nutrition and food sciences at the University of Vermont.
"I learned so much about nutrition and how important it is to consume healthy food — food that's grown by local farmers and things you can grow yourself," Ortiz told Seven Days by phone.
Meanwhile, she started making popsicles as a hobby, experimenting with ingredients and flavor combinations and sharing them with family and friends. After completing her degree, Ortiz realized that a health-focused popsicle business would be a perfect way to share her passion while nourishing her customers.
"Being a woman of color, it felt like it was a good entryway into the health and wellness world, too, which is very dominated by white people," Ortiz commented. "Being that representation for other Latinx and people of color really mattered to me, to provide an inspiration and to show that I can do something that I'm passionate about, regardless of the hurdles, which are always there for us."
Curly Girl Pops has been a bright presence at farmers markets in central Vermont for four years. Ortiz has sold her rainbow of popsicle flavors under a matching umbrella at weekly markets in Montpelier, Worcester, Stowe and Waitsfield. On hot days, customers would crowd around her cart to cool off with flavors such as Sweet Mango, Hulk, Superberries and Radical Razz.
Ortiz had planned to participate in even more markets this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic shifted her business operations. "Popsicles are kind of an impulse buy," she said. "Since the markets are based on preorder sales, and you can't linger around or eat on-site, it created a challenge for me."
Rather than take limited vendor space away from farmers at the reconfigured markets — and risk customers' popsicles melting on their way home — Ortiz decided to skip this season's markets altogether. Instead, she added online ordering to her website and offers delivery from her home base in Montpelier directly to customers.
Ortiz now delivers popsicles to the Montpelier, Middlesex and Waitsfield area on Saturday mornings and to Waterbury and Stowe on Sundays. They are also sold at the Roots Farm Market in Middlesex. For customers from towns outside her delivery zone, she offers a pickup at Richmond Community Kitchen on Friday mornings and is working with BBz Delivery Collective to make the popsicles available for delivery in Burlington soon.
"Anything cold on a hot day, you have to make it a point to get it and go right home," Ortiz explained. "I wanted to leap over that and just get directly to the community."
That adaptation has been difficult, she said, especially figuring out how to reach longtime farmers market customers who don't follow her on social media or subscribe to her email list. At the market, sales often happened in a way that doesn't translate online: When someone bought a popsicle and wandered around the market enjoying it, others were inspired to walk over and buy one for themselves.
- James Buck
- Curly Girl Pops
In addition to that challenge, Ortiz operates the business on her own. The process of making the popsicles, individually hand-wrapping them — in compostable parchment paper, delicately tied with hemp string — and delivering them takes the entire week. She has hired help for the farmers markets in years past, but with the new business model — and the extra health precautions during the pandemic — she produces everything by herself in her certified home kitchen.
"I love doing it, and I want to provide this service to the community," Ortiz said. "I'm just really looking for the support that will help maintain the business moving forward."
Curly Girl Pops did see an influx of social media followers in recent weeks, following the circulation of a list of Vermont businesses with black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) owners. But so far, Ortiz said, the increased visibility hasn't generated increased sales.
"I gained over 200 followers in the first two to three days," she said. "But the sales to date haven't been crazy busy at all. My hope is that, through the summer, I'll really start to see the support that everyone is talking about."
That support is integral to Ortiz's future business plans. She would like to expand the seasonal business to year-round offerings and share with Vermonters the Puerto Rican cuisine she learned to cook from her grandmother, including her favorite dish, pasteles.
Long-term, Ortiz's aims to bring her nutritious treats to parts of the community that struggle with food access and to get land where "the Latinx community and people of color can come together to learn about growing food, enjoy popsicles and enjoy traditional foods of our heritage," she said.
"Not to be harsh," Ortiz said, "but seeing new followers and not new sales is kind of reflective of the state we're in right now. People are posting about stuff and not actually doing anything about it.
"There's such a huge disparity of wealth between white and brown people — access to land, access to money and opportunities," she continued. "The way to do something about it is to see the injustices that are happening to black and brown people around the world, and really do the work and support the people locally who are trying to add to Vermont's value."
If popsicles can conjure the joy and innocence of childhood and provide wholesome, nutritious ingredients, perhaps they can also help to deliver social change.