NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Volunteers spend hours working at a community garden in the Bronx, but this year, they’re feeling the heat.
The garden nestled between two buildings is just feet away from the busy 2 and 5 subway lines in Crotona Park East. For volunteer Aazam Otero, it’s his weekly home away from home.
“I’m here between 20 to 30 hours on average,” he told CBS2’s Alex Denis.
Because this time of year, the grounds sizzle thanks to flower beds packed with Serrano pepper plants donated by proud New Yorker and businessman John Crotty.
“The goal is to get to 5,000 pounds of peppers grown in the Bronx,” he said.
It’s all part of his dream to bring pride and product to a struggling neighborhood.
Crotty buys back the ripened peppers at $4 a pound. The proceeds then go back to fund the community garden and the peppers ship to a New York City-based hot sauce maker.
“We wanted to use the tag line, ‘The Bronx is Burning’ for a whole new reason because we thought it would turn around a bad perception of a great place,” Crotty said.
So far, his plan is working. Crotty teamed up with his childhood friend Chef King Phojanakong to create the perfect pepper sauce called “The Bronx Hot Sauce.”
Getting it right took a few tries.
“When I went to them it was a beautiful, bright green and then they came back to me here, it is pasteurized,” said Phojanakong. “And I’m like, ‘What happened to the color? What happened to the flavor? Oh geeze!’ So I had to go back to the drawing board.”
But the final product hit the spot.
“It’s not one of these sauces where you’re going to eat it and smokes going to come out of your ears,” said Phojanakong. “You don’t have to sign a waiver. This is a sauce that’s going to compliment the food that you eat.”
Now bottled and heating up shelves at local farmer’s markets and in Whole Foods stores around the city, what’s next?
“Let’s get the 5,000 and then we’ll grow more,” said Crotty.
The hot sauce retails for $6.99 a bottle and nearly 5,000 bottles have been sold so far.
This summer, 22 community gardens have signed on in the Bronx, so they’re excited about next year’s potential.