Embrace Freshness, Support Local: Thornapple CSA's New Journey Begins!

Organic Artistry: Enhancing the Flavor and Beauty of Seasonal Produce

June 26, 2024

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Organic Artistry: Enhancing the Flavor and Beauty of Seasonal Produce

The Salad Girl’s Journey

I still remember the day it all began, standing there in the kitchen of a northern Minnesota resort, a 15-year-old girl with dreams of artistry and a passion for fresh, flavorful foods. That summer job as a dishwasher was just the start of a lifelong love affair with making beautiful, nourishing salads.

Over the years, my fresh food prep skills allowed me to earn a steady income while pursuing my dreams as an art student and freelance artist. In the 80s, my husband Jim and I even ran an organic and natural food catering company on the weekends, where my favorite part was designing delicious, uniquely flavored seasonal salads.

The dressings I created for those events quickly became a hit, with customers clamoring for extra bottles to take home. That’s when the idea for my own line of fresh, organic salad dressings started to take root. Little did I know that this dream would soon be put to the test, as the 2008 recession came knocking on our door.

Pursuing Passion in the Face of Adversity

When the housing bubble crisis hit, our family’s interior and exterior painting business took a major blow. For the first time in 15 years, neither Jim nor I had any jobs lined up. It was the beginning of a recession, and we knew we needed to make a change.

That’s when we decided to take a leap of faith and pivot our energy into bringing my organic salad dressings to the market. The timing, as it turned out, was perfect. One of my last mural jobs was in the kitchen of a lovely White Bear Lake family who happened to own a boutique grocery store chain called Kowalski’s Markets.

As I was packing up my paints and brushes, I mustered the courage to ask the owners, Jim and Mary Anne Kowalski, how a food entrepreneur could get their products onto their store shelves. To my surprise, Mary Anne graciously set up an appointment for me to pitch my fresh, organic dressings to Teri Bennis, the director of new products.

Teri loved the concept of putting a certified organic line of fresh dressings in the refrigerated produce section, right next to the salad fixings. She assured me there would be a spot on the shelf as soon as I could consistently supply their stores.

So, in 2007, at the start of the recession, Jim and I, both in our 50s, took that crazy leap of faith. We brought four salad dressings to the Mill City Farmers Market as a test run, naming our new company “Salad Girl” in honor of my first food industry job. That first weekend, we sold out of 100 bottles in just an hour!

Crafting Culinary Artistry

As the weeks went on, we scaled up production and kept selling out. Soon, we started getting glowing reviews from local food critics, and area co-ops and grocery stores began asking for Salad Girl to be on their shelves. By 2008, our dressings were filling the refrigerated produce shelves of Kowalski’s Markets, and we continued to grow into co-ops, Lunds and Byerlys, Festival Foods, Whole Foods, Super Targets, and beyond.

Now, 15 years later, Salad Girl can be found in over 450 stores throughout the Midwest. What makes our dressings unique, you ask? Well, we designed them to be made fresh, refrigerated, and never cooked, unlike the shelf-stable bottled dressings you’ll find elsewhere.

We use only the finest, freshest organic ingredients, and we process them sustainably with a cold-blending method using a big whisk and cold kettle. This preserves the nutrients and ensures our dressings have that just-whisked, homemade flavor. And let me tell you, they make amazing finishing sauces, marinades, dips, and condiments – all while being gluten-free and dairy-free.

As a seasonal foodie, I’ve purposefully designed each flavor with special seasonal usage in mind. For example, our Lemony Herb Vinaigrette is perfect as a light, fresh, tangy marinade or dipping sauce, or drizzled over a spring salad with radishes, peas, and onions. And you can’t have a slaw without our Sweet & Sassy dairy-free creamy dressing.

Adapting to Overcome Obstacles

Of course, the journey hasn’t been all smooth sailing. We began Salad Girl during the 2008 recession, and we’ve had to navigate our way through the challenges of the pandemic years as well. Bumpy roads are just part of the gig, as they say, and we’ve learned to pivot as needed.

One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced lately has been the impact of inflation and supply chain issues. Ingredient costs are rising, and the availability of bottles, labels, and other materials has become unpredictable. But we’re determined to persevere, just as we did during the recession.

In fact, we’re in the process of switching out the local honey for organic fruit juice in more of our flavors to satisfy the growing demand for vegan options. Soon, all of our vinaigrettes will be totally vegan, ensuring we can continue to provide healthy, safe, and delicious organic products to our customers’ tables.

Connecting with the Community

As we’ve grown, we’ve also found new ways to connect with our community. Due to the pandemic, social media has become a great platform for us to engage with salad lovers, Salad Girl fans, potential new customers, and other small Midwest companies.

We love to share our “Social Karma” and collaborate with others who share our passion for fresh, organic, and sustainable food. So if you’re interested in working with us or supporting our mission, I encourage you to reach out through our website, Thorn Apple CSA.

Whether you’re looking to try our delicious dressings, learn more about our organic farming practices, or just connect with like-minded individuals, we’re always excited to hear from new members of the Thorn Apple CSA community. After all, it’s our shared love of seasonal, artfully crafted produce that keeps us going, even in the face of adversity.

So, the next time you’re in the mood for a salad that truly celebrates the flavors and beauty of the season, I hope you’ll give Salad Girl a try. Who knows – it just might be the start of your own culinary artistry journey.

About Us

Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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