COLUMBIA — Maroua Jawadi shaded her eyes from the sun as she stood behind a small, black chalkboard listing ice pop flavors of hibiscus raspberry, spicy pineapple and Hawaiian sweet potato at the Columbia Farmers' Market.
Jawadi began making her own ice pops in an attempt to provide a healthier alternative for her two children. In July of 2012, she began selling organic ice pops made with local ingredients at the North Village Arts District Farmers and Artisans Market.
"Once I became a mother, it became more important for me to know exactly what was going into my food," she said Saturday at the Columbia Farmers' Market. "I started challenging myself to see what I could make, and if I could make it taste better."
Saturday was Jawadi's last shift at the Fresh Beets Gourmet Ice Pop cart for a while, although it will still have a presence at the market. She planned to leave Sunday for Michoacan, Mexico, for a month of research on paletas, the Latin American ice pops made with fresh fruit that inspired her creations.
"I went to school in Southern California and there was always someone selling them," Jawadi said. "I always thought people love them there, so they're probably going to love them here, too."
After her first batch of ice pops was a huge hit at her daughter's summer birthday party, she started toying with the idea of turning her frozen creations into a business.
"I actually used to make organic wedding cakes, but I didn't really like how you just dropped it off and left," Jawadi said. "I wanted something more personal, with more interaction."
To sell her ice pops, Jawadi had to meet some requirements. Mobile food vendors are required to work out of and store their food in a kitchen that can be inspected by the Health Department.
"There is no established commissary kitchen for vendors to use, so you have to form relationships with restaurants or businesses who are OK with you being there," Jawadi said.
According to the city of Columbia's mobile food guidelines, all mobile vendors need a Columbia/Boone County Health Department permit and a temporary business license. Vendors must also meet a number of sanitation requirements.
Creating unique flavors
Once the business aspect was settled, Jawadi got to work creating a variety of natural ice pops with unique ingredients and flavors.
"I start by sourcing my ingredients, and if I can't find what I want at the markets, then I usually go to a local supplier," she said. "Then, I sit down and formulate a plan and I get to the kitchen and get started."
On Saturday at the farmers market, Anna Zacherl made sure to stop by the stand and buy a $3 hibiscus raspberry ice pop for her 12-year-old daughter, Emilia.
"We saw it last time we were here and we didn't have any cash, so we decided today that we had to stop," she said.
Randy Fletcher enjoyed one of the more adventurous flavors, jalapeno pineapple.
"I got the jalapeno pineapple because it's my favorite pizza," Fletcher said. "And it's delicious."
In her absence, staff from the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture will be manning the ice pop cart.
Thirty percent of the sales for the month of August will go to the center's Planting for the Pantry project, which gives the community an opportunity to invest in urban agriculture and build the capacity of low-income families to meet their food needs.
While she is in Mexico, Jawadi hopes to observe the experts and come back with knowledge that she can use to grow her business, such as better methods for making ice pops.
"My only real plan is to go there, eat lots of popsicles, talk to lots of people and see what I can find out," she said.
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