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August 18, 2020

Every aspect of the popsicles made by Arealles Ortiz ’15 is hand crafted with Vermont in mind. From the hibiscus blossom tea made by Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Co. that goes into Radical Razz, to the compostable wrappings and wooden sticks on each frozen treat, to the organic soymilk yogurt she makes before mixing and freezing the kid-approved Blue Magic pop.

Ortiz is the sole producer and packager of Curly Girl Pops, a colorful plant-based popsicle company that makes getting the right nutrients and eating local, organic fruits and vegetables easy and delicious. New flavors are constantly in and out of rotation, but customers can expect to see fan-favorites like Superberries, Sweet Mango, Watermelon Strawberry and Hulk—made with kiwi, avocados and spinach—regularly on the menu.

“All the popsicles are made with Vermont maple syrup, which is great because we're in Vermont and there's maple syrup everywhere, but also because it's really high in antioxidants and manganese, which is a mineral our bodies need. I feel like it's the healthiest option as a sweetener,” Ortiz says.

The Curly Girl brand is a marriage of her background in nutrition and healthy eating with her passion for community building and education, all bound together with a whimsical yet simple adage to “eat the rainbow.”

As a nutrition and food sciences student at the University of Vermont, Ortiz studied the health benefits of various vitamins, chemicals and nutrients, and the plants, fruits and vegetables that are rich with them. “It’s helpful science, but it can be confusing,” she says. That’s when one of her professors, Mingruo Guo, broke it down into simple advice that would eventually come to be the golden rule of Curly Girl Pops.

“Basically, his summary was ‘Eat the rainbow.’ You want to eat every color of fruit and vegetable to feed your body because every color has different vital chemicals, different antioxidants and different components that help keep your body strong and your immune system strong enough to fight off sickness or disease.”

After speaking with Oritz, it seems unlikely there exists a flavor profile, plant or food that she wouldn’t try in her popsicles. In fact, the day she gave her interview for this article, Ortiz tried her hand at a brand-new creation starring a special ingredient you’ve likely never heard of.

“My grandmother has so many beautiful plants that grow in her backyard in Puerto Rico — bananas and mangoes and passionfruit and all kinds of fruit native to Puerto Rico — and one of them she juiced and sent to me in the mail, and that’s called ‘guanabana.’”

Guanabana, she explains, has powerful health properties that fight off cancer, colds, viruses, arthritis and infections. And on this particular summer day, Ortiz made and delivered a special pick-me-up popsicle featuring the custardy guanabana with coconut. “This batch I made was just for friends, family and giving,” she shared on Instagram @curlygirlpops. “[It’s] times like the ones we all experience now that, giving without the intent of receiving [is] important for me to practice.” 

Even during a pandemic — or, perhaps especially during a pandemic — Ortiz is dedicated to nourishing her neighbors with locally and ethically sourced ingredients. Before COVID-19 struck, Curly Girl Pops, Ortiz and her mobile freezer cart could be found exclusively at farmers markets across the state, beneath a rainbow umbrella that her customers have come to look for at the markets. Ortiz had to think on her toes to quickly pivot from direct sales and on-site promotion to web-based orders, delivery, social media and inbound marketing as the virus limits large gatherings and social interactions.

“If the road to farmers markets would have continued like it was, this would have been the best summer ever, financially speaking,” she says. But she made a personal choice this season to give her spot at the markets up to farmers and vendors in greater need of that direct sale with consumers. “I knew I could find another way.”

Recently she began experimenting with a wholesale business model and partnered with select retailers — including Little Taco Gordo Creemee Stand in Burlington, The Roots Farm Market in Essex and Plainfield Co-Op and Community Center in Plainfield — that now sell Curly Girl Pops at their locations.

As a Latina small business owner, Ortiz knows just how challenging it is for members of the BIPOC community to build a business from scratch and grow it into a sustainable operation, let alone a profitable success. But luck was recently looking out for Curly Girl Pops when an opportunity to acquire a trailer and renovate it into a commercial kitchen presented itself (to this day, Curly Girl Pops is based in her code-level home kitchen). Once the commercial kitchen is up and running, Ortiz will not only increase her production, but she’s looking to lend the space out to other small batch artisans who need a leg up in getting their delectables off the ground.

“I just want to extend what I love the most, which is health and fruits and being Puerto Rican, and mix it all together and serve it,” she says. “It's really important for me, too, to really get to know the community and for them to get to know me and to create a space for people to succeed.”

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