10,000 Thoughts

Lessons in Yellow Squash

Every morning I step out the back door of my little house into my little yard and peer over the flowers and vegetables I’ve planted. This brings me particular joy as it’s the first summer that I’ve had a real yard since I started to have fantasies of home grown tomatoes and dirty fingernails. Today I pulled back the increasingly giant leaves to investigate my zucchini, only to see that it’s actually yellow squash budding away. Seeing this unexpected squash I had one of those moments where your life and heart open up just a crack more, you learning something about the world, and something simple becomes symbolic for something so big.


A wise woman I know reminded me of this same lesson recently while I was contemplating the uncertain future of a romantic relationship. She told me that the new relationship was just a seed that was sown, and no one knows what will sprout. You can water it and give it care, and still, nothing may grow. Or it may grow and grow out of control and become an ugly weed. Or it may grow into just the lovely thing you imagined might grow, or something different entirely, but even more beautiful.


This company, this labor of love, every single one of these 10,000 Licks, also started as a tiny seed, planted with love by Andi and me. It has grown in unexpected ways, like a beautiful good ole sunflower on top and some strange, we’re not quite sure what the heck those are, leaves jutting off the stem in wild ways. It was a mystery seed and hundreds of us; ice pop lovers, Minnesota lovers, real food lovers, we all came together to water it and fertilize it and to watch it grow. It will continue to grow and surprise us in its unique manifestation of nature and work and summer and sunshine and love.


It’s pretty stressful running a seasonal small business and maintaining a life and home and relationships, while also working a ‘real job’ that I love. I’m most peaceful these days when I’m watering my flowers and my vegetables. I breathe slower, let the breeze blow wisps of bangs across my forehead, feel flecks of water abandon stream and hit my sun warmed skin. I don’t have anywhere else to be when I’m watering my garden. Today I did so with the hose in my right hand and a cantaloupe ginger ice pop in my left hand (in case you are now wondering if I eat a ton of ice pops, the answer is yes). My rescue dog, Banjo, is over in the corner of the yard sniffing a tiny green tomato gently grazing it with his wet, black nose. I can’t help but feel in this moment that every seed is truly growing into what it is meant to be, and I can just relax, water, and accept.


Enjoy the sowing of your seeds friends, water with care, reap the bounty in its time, and pull the weeds when they become threatening to what you want to see flourish in your garden. This summer I will bring you the bounty of many seedlings that grew into deliciousness and made its way onto a stick and to your happy tongue. See you soon.


Sarah Newberry

From Potlucks to Pop Luck

Okay, okay, so our Kickstarter campaign is over (complete with happy ending), but the life of 10,000 Licks is only just beginning. And since our fundraising success was a true collaboration between hundreds of backers, it seems only fitting to continue to acknowledge members of that critical mass.

Rae Katherine Eighmey contributed early to the campaign– which was CRUCIAL for morale (mainly my personal morale, but still). This was at a point when we weren’t sure if we’d ever clear $2,000. So! Imagine our jubilation when we saw her name pop up as a backer. Rae is a friend of a friend, and she’s ALSO the author of numerous recipe and food books, Potluck Paradise being my personal favorite. In fact, while Rae did not realize this when she contributed, I actually interviewed her a year back for the radio series MN90: Minnesota History in 90 Seconds, about her book Food Will Win the War.

As for what made Rae want to support a local ice pop venture, I had to investigate further. So, I presented her with some hard-hitting questions. The revealing interview follows. Read more →

The Arc of Pops Is Long

Isn’t it beautiful??? This, my friends, is my “project dashboard” on our Kickstarter campaign, the screen I see when I check in to see how we’re doing in our progress towards our goal of $10,000. You’ll notice a couple different things about this purty little graph. One is that intimidating green line–ah yes, our financial goal– so close, yet so far away…. And YET! Look. At. That. Arc. That is one nice arc!


With 55 backers (!) and nearly 150 Facebook likers, we’re cruisin’ towards halfway, and the line is only going in one direction! Up, up, up!


I’m blown away by the support we’ve received, from friends near and far, and from so many strangers who simply couldn’t resist that popsicle-eating cat in our video. (It is the cat that did it, right?)


Anyway, for those of you who’ve already donated, or who’ve shared our project with friends, thank you so much! And please, keep on talkin’! The arc of pops is long… but it’s upward trending!


Give Pops a Chance

After months of chopping fruit, honing recipes, and navigating the wild world of food licenses, we’re ready to seriously DO this thing. Behold, our Kickstarter campaign–in which we ask you, our community, to lend us your support if you think that Minnesota would be a better place with gourmet, farm-fresh ice pops. So, whaddya say? We think we can make it happen! Click on the image to learn more…


When Lightning Strikes: First Day at the Market


Remember how two days ago I was waxing sentimental about how “success” on our first market day was assured, since I had decided to define success as simply having introduced our ice pops to the world? Well let’s just say I was NOT thinking along those lines when we pulled in, late (despite the 5am wakeup), to Fulton Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning, under an enormous thundercloud that would soon sweep up our brand new market tent and relocate it, breaking several of its very affordable parts along the way. Nor was I pondering that very endearing definition of success when 2 hours later, we were still fighting wind and rain, but then our outlet lost electricity and a bunch of our lovingly crafted, and carefully packed, pops became bags of “juice.” No, right then I was trying to come up with a NON-FROZEN item to make and sell to the world.


Life is good.


And yet. Yesterday was an absolutely incredible day. It was exhausting, exhilarating, instructive. The sun, eventually, came out, and with it came heat and hungry farmers’ market customers with adorable kids who would soon have blueberry mustaches courtesy of 10,000 Licks. Seriously, there were so many adorable little people at the market yesterday, and the joy we got from seeing them hold those pops in their little fists, licking them adoringly while their parents stole bites– there simply is no word.


There’s no word either for how ridiculously cool it was to hang out with these stylish folks for a couple of hours (albeit after some car trouble on our way across town), watching so many vintage-loving ladies’ eyebrows go up at the thought of Watermelon and Spearmint cleverly combined.


But more than anything, yesterday was about the learning, and we came away from it with no fewer than 8 good lessons for “next time”:


1. Bring not just two, but all four legs of your display table.


2. Sandbags aren’t just for looks.


3. If Foxy Falafel will continue to accept ice pops in exchange for awesome Beet and Curry Falafel, then you must continue making ice pops forever.


Notice the conspicuous lack of tent, and Sarah wearing our sign as a necklace so it won't blow away.

4. Ditto on Mango Sticky Rice from Gai Gai Thai.


5. Crank up the basil in the Strawberry Basil pops.


6. Pack pops in freezer many hours before unplugging freezer to travel across town. Otherwise, the Heat Gods will laugh wickedly and descend.


7. Bring more napkins. Ice pop eaters love the napkins.


8. Give pops cute names like Bluegrass (Blueberry-Lemongrass). Folks are lovin’ the names.


And probably plenty more that I’ve yet to process.

The Bright Side of Bureacracy

For a couple of gals who just want to make and sell their delicious ice pops to people who want to eat them, there have been a remarkable number of road blocks to starting an ice pop biz here in the Twin Cities. Want to sell something frozen? Gotta use mechanical refrigeration (no dry ice). Want to hand out samples? Better have a hand washing station complete with soap, paper towels, and waste bucket. Want to wrap your pops in wax paper before you hand them to people? Better list the ingredients and the net weight and your address. And don’t even think about making your pops at home. That’s disgusting! It better be in a commercial kitchen, with NSF-certified equipment, and be sure to wear surgical gloves that you dispose of after every step. Whew. It’s enough to make this gal sigh. Deeply.


But this post isn’t about how frustrating bureaucracy can be, because in actuality, that hasn’t been my experience. Sure, there have been lots of hoops to jump through, but really, the City of Minneapolis has been remarkably supportive and helpful. Our farmers’ market inspector, Katie Lampe, has responded to at least a half dozen phone calls from me, inquiring about this or that rule that I didn’t fully understand or hadn’t thought through. She even helped me find an ice cream cart manufacturer. And ditto for the State of Minnesota health folks–who helped explain why the City of Minneapolis has its own health department (confusing!)– as well as our St. Paul commercial kitchen inspector, and Leanne Selander in the licensing department in Minneapolis. It’s as if everyone is in agreement that yeah, there are a lot of hoops– so let’s try to figure out how to get you through them as quickly and smoothly as possible. I am so very grateful.


Which is all to say that we just received our license to sell at farmers’ markets this year, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. We’re legitimate now– I mean, really, we are, and it’s been a collaborative process. So while the talk of the town right now is the sad fact that politicians in Minnesota have been so unable (unwilling?) to compromise that the entire state had to shut down for three weeks, I’m actually feeling a little bit fuzzy about bureaucracy today. Sometimes, I guess, it works.

The Non-Bossy Guide to Networking

If you’ve ever been looking for a job– and let’s face it, we’ve all been at one point or another looking for a job–inevitably you’ve gotten the advice, “It’s all about who you know!” Or perhaps you received a slightly different version: “Relationships, relationships, relationships!” Finally there’s “You just gotta network, baby!” All are equally irritating, of course, when you’re feeling a little bit lost and uncertain and probably less than confident in the strength of your all-important network. I, for one, remember feeling discouraged by that advice straight out of college, since as far as I could tell, I had no network to speak of whatsoever.


My understanding of what “networking” really is has changed quite a bit since then. The mystique is gone, and now it simply refers to the inevitable friendships and alliances that result simply from doing favors for–and asking favors from–the other humans we meet along our merry ways. And while journalism and the other types of work I’ve done certainly have helped me form some great relationships, I am struck by the ways in which starting a business is an especially collaborative act.


With a menu like that, what's not to like?

Consider this: When we first decided we wanted to sell ice pops at farmers’ markets, I of course had to contact my friend Aaron Reser at Mill City Farmers’ Market, which was already full for the year. But after giving me some great suggestions for farmers to buy produce from, she decided I might benefit from a chat with Erica Strait of Foxy Falafel, who is also selling at farmers’ markets–both her delicious falafel and her bike-blended smoothies (you gotta see it to believe it).
Erica shared a very useful brain dump about starting a business, and also happened to put us in touch with Meghan McAndrews of the excellent blog High Plains Thrifter, and vintage store Mighty Swell Vintage–we’ll be catering Mighty Swell Vintage’s July sale– and writing a guest blog post for High Plains Thrifter next week. And thanks to Meghan, a well-networked gal herself, we’ll be meeting later this week with Annie D’Souza of Yelp Twin Cities about possibly doing an event with that fine organization this summer.


Meanwhile, we met Lori Karis of Sweet Cheeks baby food a couple of weeks ago– through her posting about a freezer for sale. Though the freezer wasn’t quite what we had in mind, we bought two heat sealers from her, as well as a couple food scales, bowls, measuring cups and–why not– an industrial size roll of aluminum foil. Lori, like so many other owners of small food businesses, was overflowing with great tips, and happy to help. Looking for a commercial kitchen? she asked. Try Thuro Bread in St.Paul. You already know how that story ends.


And so maybe there really is no punch line this winding tale, other than this: whether or not 10,000 Licks succeeds, I’m learning a ton about the way things work in this world, and the term “networking” has never felt less jargony, and more simply and wholesomely true. Networking, I’m beginning to think, is just another word for how when one person is still splashing in the water, struggling to get on the boat, everyone else, or most everyone else, seems instinctively willing to reach out a hand.


I like a world like that.

10,000 Logistics, or the Non-Delicious Parts of Starting an Ice Pop Business

As much as I’d love to spend my days making and eating Sweet Corn ice pops, and doing little else, sadly, there are a few non-edible items to attend to when starting a food business. To be honest, I kind of love this part too– the research element activates my journalistic brain, and the need to make 10,000 phone calls to figure out each aspect of, say, acquiring a food license for the City of Minneapolis, activates the part of my brain that is usually only employed when I have to call AT&T about an errant charge on our cell phone bill. I can be like a dog with a bone with certain details.


And it’s incredibly rewarding when all that research and legwork, by myself and fellow pop diva Sarah Newberry, really starts to pay off. And what a week this was for payoffs.


The first, and most exhilarating piece of the puzzle piece that we’ve put in place, is the commercial kitchen! As you’d probably guess, and as Bob rightfully pointed out in response to my Sweet Corn post, you can’t just make ice pops in your home kitchen, and sell them to the masses. This is for a lot of good reasons that I needn’t get into–nonetheless, it can seem like a major obstacle. How can we afford to pay thousands of dollars per year to rent a space, when we’re not even sure yet how much we can make selling these suckers? And more importantly, where can one find a commercial kitchen space to rent? Thankfully, the Twin Cities have a number of options for food businesses, the leading ones being Kindred Kitchen in North Minneapolis, and the gorgeous Kitchen in the Market facility at Midtown Global Market. Kitchen in the Market (KITM) stole our heart– it’s a beautiful space, and owner/manager Molly Herrmann has helped make it a great collaborative space for small food businesses, in which everyone seems to want to help everyone else. If our business continues to grow, we have hopes of joining KITM next year. But because it’s a business, KITM requires a year-long lease, and if you can ponder for a second the idea of eating an ice pop in February, you can probably guess why we’re not yet sure whether 10,000 Licks will be a year-round business. So, where to head next?


thuro bread

Home sweet new home.

I won’t bore you with all of the stories of the options we didn’t ultimately choose– community centers and churches and restaurants with odd hours–we considered them all. But ultimately, we found our solution right down the street, in a location that is literally equidistant from Sarah’s apartment in St. Paul, and my house in Longfellow. Introducing… Thuro Bread, a bakery and shared kitchen facility that is literally right next door to Izzy’s Ice Cream on Marshall Ave. In a nutshell, it’s perfect, complete with an affordable monthly rate, and–get this–a walk-in freezer. A walk-in freezer! That means that instead of cramming our pops horizontally into a freezer that is currently shared with frozen chicken broth and frozen corn and ice cube trays and veggie burgers, we can now set our pop molds on a stand-up cart designed for commercial use, and simple roll it on into the freezer. This blows my mind. In conclusion, woohoo!



Keepin' it cool

And yet it didn’t stop there. Ms. Newberry, who heads up our the Department of Equipment and Acquisitions, trucked out to Shakopee in her dad’s vintage Suburban last week, to pick up our new stand-up freezer, purchased from a company that accidentally ordered 10 of the wrong freezer model, and so resold them for a deeply discounted price. Anyone in the market? They have a few more. Picture this sucker with a chalkboard mounted on the side of it, with our revolving list of flavors…pretty adorable, huh?


So far, both Uptown Farmers’ Market and Northeast Farmers’ Market have invited us to participate once we get our Market Manufacture License from the City of Minneapolis (hopefully in about two weeks). So, very soon you may be able to stroll up to that little white freezer cart, and order up one of a growing list of flavors.


This week has been, to say the least, exhilarating. While each of these breakthroughs represents a great amount of effort and persistence, the results continue to surprise me. In other words, while I continue to insist that starting a food business is completely doable, somehow when that proves to be true, even I am a little bit shocked.


It’s like I’ve been declaring to the world, “We can do this!” and yet no one is more surprised than I when I realize that we are, in fact, doing it. And here we go.


The Unlikely Entrepreneurs

The New York Times this week has an article about the founding of Groupon–the discounts-are-better-with-friends web start-up that plans to go public soon, and is likely to be valued at somewhere around $25 billion. But the rags-to-riches plot behind Groupon isn’t what struck me today–rather, I was tickled by this little tidbit about one of the higher-up executives at Groupon:

Aaron With is Groupon’s editor in chief. The 29-year-old Mr. With has no journalism or marketing background: he worked for a Chicago nonprofit and, more relevantly, was once in a band with Andrew Mason, Groupon’s chief executive.

“People have grown numb to the elements of advertising that pander to their fears and hopes, that insult their intelligence with safe, bland approaches at creativity,” says Mr. With, who at nights and on weekends is lead singer in the band Volcano. “We’re mixing business with art and creating our own voice.”

Here’s the thought that entered my mind upon reading that paragraph: Is it just me or are more and more successful companies being founded by people who have no business founding companies? Certainly, ours is the age of the twenty-something billionaire– and I would argue it is also the age of the anti-professional, in which amateur videos are the funniest, personal blogs are more profound that tightly edited columns, and maybe, just maybe– ideas that come from real people, whose creativity grows organically from the real, actual fun they’re having, are the best and most lasting ideas.

Your trusty co-founder

The relevance here, of course, is that fact that 10,000 Licks is whimsical brainchild of Sarah Newberry, a music therapist, and me, Andi McDaniel, a journalist and web producer. Certainly, we have no special ice pop expertise. In fact, when I first had the idea for the business, I came up with a name–and a blog!–for it, well before I’d successfully made and eaten one delicious ice pop. The logic behind it all along has been “why not?”, and in the face of a never-ending gauntlet of licensing requirements, start-up costs, and other hurdles, “why not?” continues to be our guiding question. Some days, the answer to that question seems actually quite convincing. For instance:

Q: Why not?

A: Because you’d have to be an NSF-certified freezer, and pay for liability insurance, and rent commercial kitchen space, and find a source of food-grade popsicle sticks, and freeze copious amounts of berries, and, and….

Your fearless co-captain

But even in the face of those things, there is an element of fun, and whimsy, and most of all adventure, that I simply cannot resist about starting this business. On some level, it is almost more compelling by virtue of it not being particularly logical to be starting an ice pop business at a time like this.

At the end of the day, none of the answers to the question “why not?” sufficiently deter me. But even more importantly, I am haunted by that other driving question, which is: “If not us, whom?”

And let’s face it: the world needs more ice pops.