Auto Spa Owner Buys 16 Chickens, Creates Garden

Rob Burke gets some help from gardening expert Victor Alfieri. Garden has multiple plots for flowers, vegetables, and spices.

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.

Al Scala May 11, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Bill....we don't know the half of it! Just a failure by the town to provide info on an OPRA request, cost us taxpayers $50,000.
Diane Hummel May 11, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Congratulations on a job well done Rob! I applaud the area that you have set aside for all of this - and I think it will be beneficial to both the charities that you support, and to your business! While you know that I am not in support of Mr. Alfieri and his disregard for the ordinance of keeping chicken hens on his property, I think that what you have done is totally selfless, and that many people will reap the benefits of your hard work.
Rob Burke May 11, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Thanks for your kind words, Diane. I actually had no idea what your position was regarding Victor, but I would like to point one thing out to you. He hasn't violated any law. There is no law in place that regulates the keeping of hens UNLESS the primary purpose of doing so is to sell the eggs or the hens or their meat. Since Victor doesn't sell anything, he hasn't violated the ordinance. Now, I do wholeheartedly agree that there should be reasonable regulations in place for the keeping of hens for personal purposes/consumption. Emphasis on "reasonable." I would think the Council will now decide that it is incumbent upon them to pass an ordinance that would regulate this, since there isn't one today that does. I would take issue if they were to adopt an ordinance that, for example, prohibited the keeping of hens anywhere within 1,640 feet of any building or parcel occupied or used by humans. To craft a reasonable ordinance isn't hard; there are many examples. And Victor is an expert whose knowledge should be tapped for that purpose, modified in whatever REASONABLE way the Council chooses. I would urge them to do so immediately, and to dismiss the ordinance charge against Victor, since its fatally flawed. DIane -- please stop by and check out what we've done. Your choice whether you want to do so privately. Its really pretty cool.
Cathy Kazan May 11, 2012 at 02:25 PM
That is very interesting information on the ordinance Rob. Did you get a copy of it? I will stop by for the car wash soon. Can't wait to see the gardens and the chickens. You are a great example of what it means to be part of your community, despite with some of our council members say.
Nose Wayne May 11, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Bob, you "NOSE" how this town likes to stick it to you and Victor.They will come up with some idiotic ordinance so you can't have your garden and chickens and victor will have to get rid of his chickens.GOOD LUCK! Were all 'ROOSTING '' for the chickens.
Claire Furber May 11, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Very nice Rob! Thanks for sharing the info about the ordinance. Seems to me that Victor should be able to keep his chickens, I am very much in support of his campaign. People have to realize times are changing, people have to relearn to be sustainable and living in the suburbs is no longer an excuse, unfortunately some people are more stubborn to this fact. Best of luck.
Sandy Fantau May 11, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Hi Rob, your garden looks great. Best of luck with it. I think with Victor helping it will be a success.
Nose Wayne May 11, 2012 at 03:51 PM
BEAUTIFUL JOB ROB! Just did a drive-by.The place looks great.Just want to "NOSE",what chicken you are going to call "MAYOR",Because he also runs a chicken coop full of hens.
Rob Burke May 11, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Cathy -- Thanks for the kind words! I really appreciate the positive feedback from you and lots of other folks. You have no idea how much just a few words of support matters, when you're in an otherwise difficult situation. And yes, I have reviewed the ordinance, and I do have a law degree -- not that you need one to understand the ordinance. Simply put, it has nothing to do with gardens and hens that are used to feed your family. In my opinion, there is no good faith argument to be made otherwise, and frankly, I'm concerned as a taxpayer that Victor Alfieri may be able to sue the town for malicious prosecution under these circumstances. Particularly with the way some of the Council meetings were conducted and words that were said, and recorded. The expense associated with such a law suit would not be insignificant. I urge the Council to withdraw the charge and work collaboratively with their resident expert to craft a regulation that makes good sense. How can that be a bad thing?
Rob Burke May 11, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Thanks for your post. I don't want to anticipate those kinds of problems. And I really don't believe we will have them. Councilwoman Miller Ryan seems to be positive and supportive, at least in the couple of emails we have exchanged. Let's put some good karma into this and keep all that other negative stuff cordoned off somewhere else. Its not good for the hens.
Rob Burke May 11, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Hey Claire! Thanks. I think the keeping of hens should be reasonably regulated. Its not hard and lots of towns do it. Since Wayne's ordinance doesn't regulate the keeping of hens for personal use, the Council no doubt will now adopt one. I really hope they choose to do this in a positive way, that's balanced, fair and good for the whole community.
Rob Burke May 11, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Sandy -- Victor is awesome. This is really his project as far as I am concerned and we just happened to have a great spot for it and an interest in it. I could not have even dreamed of this on my own, and my hat is off to him. He has donated a tremendous amount of his time to overseeing and architecting this project and he's done an incredible job. We just finished planting a little while ago. Stop by when you have a chance and check it out, I'm amazed.
Rob Burke May 11, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Now, now -- no negative karma will invade this otherwise positive effort. All negativity is off limits! Remember the native american saying and let it dominate our approach to our modern day Victory Garden: We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
Nose Wayne May 11, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Bob, NOT being negative,NOSE first hand how the hen house is run.GOOD LUCK on your garden and hen house
Naola Vaughn May 11, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Love the article! I'm all for owning chickens and even chickens in town. Our town allows up to six hens on any lot with a regular home or business. Obviously not apartments. I'm not from your area, but I do have one thing to say. Most places I have lived, the city council are elected officials. Maybe they should keep that in mind, and as well, for those voting, obviously you already know to vote for people who are like-minded! There's a very large "green" movement around the nation, and I'm sure there's "green-minded" candidates!
Al Scala May 11, 2012 at 05:35 PM
WOW! Just came back from the Victory Garden. It is actually beautiful. It is well planned, designed and organized. It's really neat! The hens are beautiful and they have a really neat set up. That to is well organized. What a great project! It is a positive impact on our community and a wonderful thing to have! Thanks to Rob Burke and Victor Alfieri for bringing this to fruition!
Rob Burke May 11, 2012 at 05:42 PM
OK, but now is not the time and this is not the place, in my opinion. Thanks though for your well wishes.
Rob Burke May 11, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Thanks, Naola. No need to worry about the politics of chicken hens for the moment. I have a legally valid permit for my Victory Garden and for my hens. Let the Council deliberate properly and hopefully quickly and adopt a thoughtful, reasonable ordinance that balances everyone's interests. I bet it can be done in this instance.
Rob Burke May 11, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Hey Al! It was great to see you and like I said, eggs will be in our market basket in our store in just a week or two. We've already taken our first donation, too! Lots of happy people, lots of good karma. And lots of coffee stained skin from handling used coffee grinds generously set aside to amend our soil by the Pompton Lakes Bagel Store (Rich Mendez) and the Dunkin Donuts down the street.
Resident Kelly May 11, 2012 at 06:14 PM
I drove by last night and was amazed how beautiful the garden and coop are together. Rob & Victor, thank you, you both did a wonderful thing for our community. The hens are adorable! I can't wait to bring my mom over this weekend to see the finished project. What better way to spend Mother's Day?
Rob Burke May 11, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Thanks, Kelly! I'm actually headed out of town this afternoon for the weekend with my family, and I'm bummed out I won't be here! I can't seem to pull myself away from the garden. Its too cool! I do need to get the girls a radio so they can listen to music. Maybe it'll keep unwanted critters away at night...
Victor Alfieri May 11, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Thanks Rob…Great project. What a perfect setting for a garden and the coop under the willow tree, just looks absolutely beautiful. For those who are interested, the gardening method at the Wayne Auto Spa is “Square Foot Gardening” invented in 1976 by NJ resident and engineer Mel Bartholomew. Before Mr. B. became an engineer he was an efficiency expert. Mel would travel to manufacturing facilities, analyze their process, and help companies to become more efficient and save money. After retirement Mel started to backyard garden and SFG was born. After 35 years this method of gardening has now emerged as the most practical, efficient, cost effective, highest yielding forms of backyard gardening on the planet. Square Foot Gardening is now being implemented and used all over the world. The 16 chicken hens are Rhode Island Red and White Rock mix. Brown Egg layer. About 300 eggs per year. Size 2 1/2 pound max. To learn more about all this stuff visit my website http://www.woodlotfarms.com/
Rob Burke May 11, 2012 at 06:26 PM
I don't want to get too carried away with the mutual admiration society, but in truth Victor, it is I who owe you a debt of gratitude. Not the other way around. Enough said, for now.
Al Scala May 11, 2012 at 07:42 PM
By the way, the chicken hens are very quiet. Hardly any noise at all!
Rob Burke May 11, 2012 at 07:56 PM
You mean the ladies of Wayne Auto Spa!
Claire Furber May 11, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Rob I plan on stopping by there next week to see the hens. Now I want some! We all have to help Victor with the town council. Anyone that wants to help him should check out his website: www.woodlotfarms.com
Nose Wayne May 11, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Bob, Just a word of caution. My friend had a hen house and the FOXES ate ALL the chickens I saw a fox crossing the street up by Armstrong,Just be CAREFUL!
Victor Alfieri May 11, 2012 at 11:11 PM
Claire, thank you so much for your support. I want to build a garden for you. Please contact me when you are ready.
Claire Furber May 14, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Thanks Victor for the offer. We just put in our front yard garden this weekend and my husband added a 3rd area this year, which I am thrilled about. I do appreciate the offer though. I like to let people know how much you are doing to improve our community by the valuable services you provide and every time I check out your website I see something that I missed (like bat house installations).
Rob Burke May 19, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Sadly, Scondo, it appears your hopes may be disappointed...


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