food for thought

Rooted Women: Julie Zagars of Naturally Boulder

Julie Zagars

This month’s Rooted Woman is Julie Zagars, Managing Director of Naturally Boulder, the oldest and largest community association for the natural and organic products industry. In this capacity, she has set organizational strategy, created special events for up to 500 guests, crafted new programming, connected early stage brands with retail buyers, coordinated all of the business and budget details of the organization, and in general, served as a strong marketing and convening force for the industry. 

Q: Natural Products Expo West is this week (and so is the big pitch slam that we’re co-hosting!)  Who will you be seeking out on the showroom floor?

Julie Zagars holding a Naturally Boulder Award.

A: This is my 29th year of attending New Hope Network’s Expos and I still get excited to learn about the hot new products that will land on retailer shelves (or be available DTC!) a few months from now. It’s like having a crystal ball into the future of everyone’s grocery carts. In that same vein, I really enjoyed serving as a NEXTY judge for Expo East last year. We know consumers are seeking out climate-conscious brands, looking for more (tasty) plant-based alternative products, and hoping to find more ways to fuel up with protein. Personally, I’m always interested in full-spectrum hemp products, savory snacks, innovative new ingredients, and dark chocolate just-about-anything.

Q: As someone who is so good at taking a vision and making it a reality, how do you get motivated to go out there and kick butt every day (even on those days when everything piles on at once)?

A: Why, thanks for the compliment! I always appreciate being acknowledged for my GSD skills as I know how to Get Stuff Done. But I would say that it’s rarely a matter of “getting motivated” when the impulse comes from deep within. I’m highly energized by working in an industry that’s striving to change the world. I believe it’s my role in life to bring natural and organic products to ever-wider audiences and I love getting excited by new brands and finding solutions to make our lives easier and more sustainable. I’m all about facilitating productive collisions and it’s rewarding to see those relationships blossom. In terms of external stimulation, I guess I would say that I am personally powered by Boulder’s own Rasa, so you’ll often see me in afternoon meetings with a mug of their adaptogenic brews or a blend of their Magnificent Mushrooms with Crio Bru, a dash of peppermint extract, a splash of simple syrup, and a glug of coconut milk. 

I’ve really enjoyed these last four years with Naturally Boulder, working with our vibrant community. I look forward to partying with everyone at Spring Fling, Naturally Boulder’s annual celebration of the natural and organic products community in Colorado, on May 3rd! But the Board and staff have been encouraging me to take my skills to a larger stage where I can have an even greater impact. As hard as it will be to leave that nonprofit behind, I agree and I look forward to finding fresh challenges in the natural and organic products industry where I can bring my blend of operational and special events expertise, marketing and writing skills, positive energy, big picture vision and attention to small details.

Q: So after all of that Wonder Woman-ing, what do you like to do to unwind after a hectic day/week?

A: I’m fortunate to have a dear friend in Massachusetts who teaches yoga classes via Zoom so I’m able to participate from a distance. If I’m catching up on Rachel MaddowThe Handmaid’s Tale, or Only Murders in the Building, you’ll probably also find me knitting. I wish I had more time for reading and naps! Snuggling with my two kitties is restorative for all of us.

Q: What is your favorite spring go-to meal or snack featuring a local farmer or producer for a busy day?

A: My chef friend Katy Sparks shared a wonderful recipe for transforming summer squash into a soup with bright flavors. Every year, I look forward to making this when we begin to see the bounty of local squash at the farmers’ market and at roadside stands. (See recipe in this post)

Q: And as an award-winning baker, what are some of your favorite indulgences?

A: My favorite recipes yield fudgy peanut butter brownies, molten flourless chocolate cakes, tangy lemon puddings, thick and chewy chocolate chip cookies, sunny pineapple cakes, and fleur de sel caramels. 

Q: We know it will be hard to narrow down the list, but who are a few Naturally Boulder members you’d like others to know about, and why?

A: I really appreciate that ours is such a cooperative industry where we truly believe that rising tides lift all boats, so we share resources, connections, and ideas. If you attended Naturally Boulder’s 18th Annual Pitch Slam last month, you heard Steve Hughes from Sunrise Strategic Partners make a genuine offer to serve as a sounding board and mentor to younger brands and mid-career professionals. Zach Watson at New Hope is similarly interested in helping to connect service providers to companies who need their help. (Honestly, the whole team at New Hope Network is amazing and inspiring and somehow, magically, indefatigable.) I applaud Liz Myslik’s interest in investing in brands as a Managing Partner at Loft Growth Partners. I love Jane Miller’s warm energy and interest in mentoring new professionals, as she takes the lead at Rudi’s Rocky Mountain Bakery. And I’m always proud of my partner, Joe Dobrow, for his work in helping progressive-minded MBA students break into this industry through the MBArk program! 

See all of our Rooted Women by clicking on the Spotlight” search button on this page.

Summer Squash Soup with White Beans, Mango & Basil

Adapted from Sparks In The Kitchen by Katy Sparks

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large sweet onion (Vidalia or Walla Walla), diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 medium or 2 large zucchini, diced
  • 4 medium yellow squash, diced
  • 10 shiitake mushroom caps, diced
  • 6 cups chicken stock, heated (preferably organic, low-sodium)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 mango, diced
  • ½ cup basil leaves
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a 6-quart pot.  When the oil shimmers, stir in the onion and garlic; saute until translucent.  Add the zucchini, yellow squash and mushrooms and stir to coat with the onion and garlic mixture.  Cook the squash 3 – 4 minutes.  Adding a little salt at this point will help make the squash wilt.

Pour in the heated chicken stock and the beans and simmer for about 20 minutes.  This is not a long-cooking soup.  All the flavors develop their full potential fairly quickly.

Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Ladle the soup into bowls, add the diced mango, tear the basil leaves into the bowls and drizzle with a nice fruity olive oil.

Consider topping with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

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