Garden On A Roof


Journal & Topics Reporter

Three men and a roof.

That combination has led to more than 100 pounds of fresh produce being distributed this summer for free to employees of Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. (CBBEL) from its Rosemont rooftop garden.

Here’s how it started:

“In 2010 Christopher Burke was given a composter as a gift. So he brought it into Higgins Road office to see how it could be used,” said Burke employee Doug Gotham. “So it filled up and we were thinking about ways to use the compost. We came up with the idea for a company garden on the roof. Chris supplied the special roof soil to set up the garden, Pete Magnelli buys the plants each spring, Michael Goldenberg does the harvesting and distribution while we all help maintain the garden.”

The three men all work for CBBEL. Gotham is a landscape architect, and Magnelli and Goldenberg are both computer-aided design (CAD) drafters. The roof is on top of the nine-story building CBBEL owns in Rosemont at 9575 W. Higgins Rd.

The garden roof this year produced 48 tomatoes, 40 pepper, six cucumbers, four zucchinis and two sweet potato plants along with lettuce, eggplants, onions and herbs.

Throughout the summer the three workers do weeding, fertilizing and watering of the plants.
“Michael does the harvesting a couple times a week now,” Gotham said. “He’ll go up to the roof, gather some vegetables and distribute them. He goes to each of the CBBEL office floors in the building and drops the veggies off in the kitchen.

“People can take whatever they want,” Gotham said. “Many CBBEL employees are urban dwellers and don’t have gardens. They really enjoy the freshly grown vegetables.”

Each spring the group hosts to a planting party in the rooftop vegetable garden where volunteers help prep the plots, plants and water.

“The rooftop garden is a great way to continue our sustainability efforts and provide some great vegetables,” said Christopher Burke, company president. “We’re able to use biodegradable food scraps from our office compost system materials as fertilizer which allows us to give these materials a second life instead of rotting in a landfill.”

So far this year, the garden has produced an abundance of tomatoes.

Garden workers are limited to Gotham, Goldenberg and Magnelli due to safety reasons.

“It’s not like your typical rooftop garden as it really is just a roof. We grow the vegetables in pots donated to us by a local landscaper,” Gotham said. “The wind is challenging up there.”

Gotham says they fertilize the garden every two to three weeks and it is now fully irrigated.

“We have learned a lot while doing this project,” Gotham said. “The first couple of years there were no weeds or insects. We believe that was because we had used new soil in the beginning. However, the weeds blew in and in addition, now we have all types of insects including bees. So now we have to weed weekly.” There are about 40 containers.

In 2012 CBBEL won an Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award for being a “model of environmental stewardship”.

The rooftop garden was included in the 2012 recognition which noted, “The rooftop garden has contributed to reducing the heat island effect of the dark roof, and absorbed and utilized a portion of the rainfall that the roof receives thereby reducing the amount of stormwater runoff. The plants were fertilized with a year’s worth of compost accumulated from our own in-house food waste composter.”
The garden has been a hit with the more than 150 CBBEL employees located in Rosemont.

Due to its success, CBBEL will run the garden again next summer. The total out-of-pocket cost is about $50 for the plants, Gotham said, which is paid by Magnelli who buys the plants out of his own pocket at the beginning of the season. This is in addition to the hard work of Gotham, Magnelli and Goldenberg.

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