In 2014, affordable housing developer and former NBA point guard John Crotty and his partner, Daniel Fitzgerald, were working in the Bronx to rehabilitate some of the worst apartment buildings in the area. They found that the physical spaces were only half the battle—they needed to plant some seeds for long-lasting change.
After careful consideration, they decided that literal seeds were, in fact, the start of an answer. They realized that in order to create a thriving community, they first needed to create some thriving crops, something that people could rally around. Not only would it give the community much needed green space, but it would supply the neighborhood with a sustainable and guaranteed form of income. The two partnered with John’s childhood friend and Filipino chef King Phojanakong to found a startup called Small Axe Peppers. They then sought out the help of GrowNYC and the New York Botanical Garden to distribute 3,500 hearty serrano pepper seedlings to over 40 community gardens across the borough. Along with the seedlings, there was a promise to purchase the full-grown peppers back from the growers at premium prices.
In that first year, 125 pounds of fiery peppers were harvested and bought from the Bronx gardens! Using Chef King’s own recipe, 5,000 bottles of preservative-free, all-natural hot sauce were produced. The sale of the bottles also directly supported the local Bronx gardens and growers. Farm to table to farm, if you will.
Small Axe has now come to eight cities and 48 community gardens across the United States. They’ve harvested nearly 10,000 pounds of peppers, made over 400,000 bottles of hot sauce, and raised over $32,000 for local urban farmers. And they’re still growing.
Guess you could say they’re really on fire.