raising hell(gate) in urban farming
Throughout its seven years, Hellgate Farm has always done things a bit differently than other urban farms in New York City- from raising backyard chickens and housing an apiary, to producing its own hot sauce. Hellgate Farm is not your typical urban farm. Last season, crops were grown in over seven plots of land throughout Astoria and Long Island City, though Hellgate owned only one of them. The team has been able to develop partnerships with business owners and homeowners across Queens and convert unused growing spaces and backyards to successfully grow upwards of 70 crops this season, fill 30 weekly CSA orders, make and sell their own trio of hot sauces, and sell produce to local restaurants!
In 2017, Hellgate is exploring a new and less traveled business model in hopes of attaining maximum sustainability, profit, and community impact. Unfortunately, this means having to temporarily put the CSA aside.
Like most urban farmers Rob McGrath, Hellgate’s owner, envisions everyone having access to clean, organic, and affordable produce. To this end, he is looking forward to improving the local food system by working with a large acreage organic farm in upstate New York. With more land Hellgate will be able to provide additional CSA shares for the Queens community. Their goal is to offer at least 50% of the shares at a subsidized price in areas with less access to affordable fresh produce, combined with community education programs.
Hellgate’s impact will be far more reaching even by harvesting one half acre upstate than they could ever accomplish with scattered backyard plots around Queens, but don’t worry, those plots are still going to be used!
In order to financially support their mission, Hellgate plans to use the land in Queens to focus on their value added products. Last year they began a partnership with a factory owner in Long Island City that provides them access to the factory’s rooftop. Due to the climate on the roof, the Hellgate team was able to grow a wide variety of peppers, and as such, Hellgate Farm Hot Sauce was born. They have already sold thousands of bottles of their hot sauce and it has been a profitable venture to date. Hellgate hopes to expand their product yield even more this year and get more bottles in the hands of their loyal customers.
Through their partnerships with local restaurants and sales of their hot sauces, ketchup, and other products currently in development, Rob hopes to be able to get their sister-farm started and restart the CSA as soon as possible. Rob notes, “This is a lifetime project, it will only keep growing and developing!”
With the team’s continued hard work, community support, and growing line of Hell-ishly delicious products, Hellgate’s new business model is well positioned to pay off for all of us!
-Greenhorns Contributor Julia Caruso