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Queens Chronicle

For truly local veggies, hit Socrates on a Saturday

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Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2019 10:30 am

Unless you’re growing your vegetables yourself, you’d be hard-pressed to get them from a more local source than Hellgate Farm. Based in Astoria and Long Island City, the group offers its produce — along with fruit, honey, ketchup and four different hot sauces to spice things up with — every Saturday at Socrates Sculpture Park’s farmers market.

“It’s a perfect niche for us,” said Hellgate Farm founder Rob McGrath. “We do all small-scale farming, we do rooftop farming.”

Hellgate Farm itself may be small scale, but its produce certainly is not. The group grows many of the standards — tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, kale, lettuce, onions, garlic and more — and brings large, healthy-looking specimens chock full of vitamins and flavor to Socrates. It’s been selling its bounty there for nine seasons so far.

“We call it our pop-up farmers market,” McGrath said, adding that his group draws plenty of customers. “It seems crazy but it’s almost too much interest in certain ways. People are really excited. We’re blessed to be in the neighborhood ... I bet on a really busy day, over 100 people come by.”

Socrates itself calls the weekly events Roots Saturdays, and they feature not only Hellgate Farm, which is there each week, but also a rotation of agricultural, environmental and culinary groups and people such as The Connected Chef, Smiling Hogshead Ranch and Queens Beekeepers Guild.

“Roots Saturdays is part of Back to Our Roots programming at Socrates that aims to create opportunities for connecting directly with the community and empowering healthy food choices along the way,” the park says on its website.

Residents can also drop off food scraps and other organic material that will be collected by the group Big Reuse to be made into compost — and they can pick up finished compost that’s ready to be added to soil for stronger, healthier plants of all kinds.

And Socrates hosts workshops, sometimes led by Hellgate Farm and sometimes by one of the other organizations, on one Thursday each month. The last one for this season will be held Sept. 19, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Led by Gil Lopez of Smiling Hogshead Ranch, the workshop is called “Choices Beyond Food — Taking Sustainability to the Next Level.”

“This workshop will leave you with a greater understanding of how all your food choices, from seed to table, have a large impact on your life and home,” Socrates says. “Gil will present practical and innovative ways you can take sustainability to the next level in your own community and beyond.”

More sustainable and innovative ideas can be had from Hellgate Farm, which also offers consulting and construction of agricultural systems, such as irrigation for other backyard farmers.

“We definitely like the idea of more consultations and builds,” McGrath said, adding that people can find information about those services on Hellgate’s website.

Back at Socrates, the group also engages in more lighthearted activities, like the seed matching game for kids run by Rachel Mukon, that sees the youngsters try to figure out which vegetable each one turns into.

And while prices for Hellgate’s produce are not at the discount level, the group accepts WIC, SNAP and other benefits, and offers a “pretty easygoing” sliding scale for those who need it, McGrath said.

Roots Saturdays with farmers market
When: Each Sat. through Oct. 26, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City
Entry: Free; produce prices vary.
(718) 956-1819,

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