Rob Burke has created a large garden and is raising chicken hens at his place of business on Hamburg Turnpike, .
Burke began planting vegetables and herbs in the garden on Thursday. He also purchased 16 hens from a farmer in Sussex County and will raise them on the property in a coop and fenced-off area next to the garden.
The garden is divided into small plots. A different item will be planted in each plot.
“I intend to use this as a resource for people to learn about helping the environment and each other,” Burke said. “This is fun; it’s rewarding and it’s interesting being able to take control of your own food supply.”
The garden and hens are the latest in a series of environmentally friendly measures Burke has taken at his Hamburg Turnpike business.
Nearly 60 solar panels on the roof generate 15,000 kilowatt hours worth of electricity a year. A water reclamation system cuts down the number of gallons needed to wash a vehicle from 50 to 15. He recycles motor oil and uses it to heat his business.
Burke received the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in 2006 and the Passaic County Green Building Design Award in 2009.
Burke has been trying to on the property for years. He and the township remain locked in a legal battle over the appratuses' fate.
“This is how I live my life,” Burke said. “I care about the environment and I want to take care of what we have here.”
Burke got the idea for the garden and hens from Victor Alfieri.
Alfieri is a self-taught urban homesteading and gardening expert. He owns three chicken hens on his property and several hundred square feet of gardens on his property. He designed Burke’s garden and retrofitted the shed so the chickens can lay their eggs inside it.
“I couldn’t imagine doing this without him,” Burke said of Alfieri.
Alfieri has to get the town to change its laws regarding chicken hens. He wants officials to change the minimum lot size required to own chicken hens from 2 acres to a quarter of an acre. Burke owns slightly more than two acres. He's also heading up trying to put a in town.
The in April that would have changed the law. Councilwoman Lonni Miller Ryan said at the council meeting that she is in favor of residents owning chickens, but that that officials “need to consider smaller lot sizes.”
Each of Burke’s hens will lay about 300 eggs annually. Burke will also create his own compost.
Burke said people might be allowed to plant their own vegetables at the garden. He said customers and residents could also take home vegetables and eggs he will harvest and take home eggs. He will not charge for this but donations will be accepted. Burke said he plans on donating any funds received to flood victims to help them purchase food during a flood.
Alfieri and Burke aren’t the only ones in town who have been encouraging residents to adopt a more environmentally conscious lifestyle. Erica Evans, founder of North Jersey Locavores, a grassroots organization that encourages others to purchase locally grown food, wants to start a farmers’ market in town.
Burke envisions schoolchildren visiting the garden and chickens on a regular basis.
“How many 6-year-olds know where their food comes from,” Burke asked.