Small Axe Peppers revitalizes Bronx with its homegrown hot sauce

Back in 2014, real estate developer John Crotty and his partner, John Fitzgerald, were working to rehabilitate some of the worst apartment buildings in the Bronx. But fixing the physical problem was only half the battle.

The affordable housing developers realized to create a thriving community, more needed to be done. So they enlisted the help of local community gardens, and a solution to help revitalize one of the poorest boroughs was hatched in an unlikely form — hot sauce.

Crotty co-founded the New York City-based start-up Small Axe Peppers with Fitzgerald and Chef King Phojanakong. Small Axe donates thousands of serrano pepper seedlings to more than 40 community gardens in the Bronx each year.

The start-up then buys back 100 percent of the peppers at a premium price to make its Bronx Hot Sauce, in partnership with GrowNYC and the New York Botanical Garden. This year the start-up donated 1,800 seedlings to the community gardens across the Bronx. Each bottle purchased directly supports the gardens and gardeners who grow these serrano peppers.

A fresh, sizzling idea

“Our model is very unique, we believe, because we’ve brought the economy into the community gardens in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Crotty said. “It’s structured to help create economic resources for them by utilizing what they do best — namely, grow food for people.”

In year one they bought 100 pounds of peppers from the community gardens, which grew to 750 pounds in 2015 and hit 1,500 pounds of peppers in 2016. Last year the company sold $100,000 in product, which translated into $8,000 back to the community gardens.

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