Chicago Tribune: What was an asphalt parkway outside Mission Press Inc.'s new home on Franklin Avenue in Franklin Park is now a sustainable garden with vegetables and herbs and beehives.
The move has “been good for business,” said co-owner Michael Smith about the proximity to major highways, and the plantings have enabled the company to fulfill a commitment to the environment while providing produce for employees.
"My favorite is our vegetable garden," Smith said. "I can do roasted salsa with all the peppers. We have ghost peppers out there."
The idea came while reading a village newsletter, he said. A tree program caught his eye, then his interest.
“We provide trees at no cost to the homeowner,” said Andy Smolen, Franklin Park’s deputy commissioner. “This [year] was one of the largest seasonal plantings we ever did in Franklin Park — 85 trees.”
Trees are available to businesses if planted on village parkways. So after Smith emailed Franklin Park Mayor Barrett Pedersen, Smolen came out to help identify trees best suited for an area near lots of concrete and asphalt where temperatures are higher and there can be salt.
"Locust trees are good because they do attract pollinators," Smolen said. "They're also one of the toughest trees."
Through Smolen, Smith said he learned that a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) program could bring his vision of a sustainable garden to reality at a lower cost to himself.
“Greening a public space provides an overall public benefit to the community,” said Allison Fore, a MWRD public and intergovernmental affairs officer.
As the regional stormwater authority for Cook County, Fore said sustainable gardens fit with the MWRD’s overall goal since trees and other garden features collect rainwater.
"A benefit of sustainable gardens is that they promote permeable surfaces, which capture increasing rainfall," she said.
To help county residents and businesses begin their sustainable gardens, Fore said the MWRD provides free EQ Compost. It is created by co-composting bio-solids, woodchips and yard waste.
“EQ Compost improves soil quality by supplying organic matter, improves soil structure and porosity for a better plant-root environment, and retains nutrients longer which allows plants to more effectively utilize them,” she said.
Smith could use EQ Compost in his sustainable garden, and Smolen said public works employees removed about 2,000 cubic feet of asphalt, stone, rock and brick, replacing it with bio-solids.
“Impermeable surfaces lead to flooding,” Smolen said. “Changing that is a step in the right direction. [Rain] will go into the ground rather than the sewers.”
Smith said the public works employees went above and beyond in their work.
"They really got into it," he said. "They made the trees perfectly straight; they wanted it to look nice."
Drought- and salt-resistant plants share the garden with the locust trees, making it not only environmentally sound, but downright cool.
“The coolest thing, I think, is that we’ve taken a piece of asphalt and, at little cost, turned it into an ecosystem,” Smith said.
It’s relatively low-cost and low-maintenance, Smith said, while providing produce for him and his employees. Through initiatives of The Hive: Chicago’s Beekeeping Supply Store, the bees are also providing jobs in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood.
Smith said he’d encourage other businesses to create sustainable gardens.
“Imagine if you had an acre. You could provide seasonal fresh veggies for employees,” he said.
For more information about Franklin Park’s sustainability commitment, visit www.villageoffranklinpark.com/living/sustainability_initiatives/.
Fore suggests visiting the University of Illinois Extension’s Conservation@Home Program for sustainability resources: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/conservationhome/ and compost.mwrd.org for an electronic form if 10 or more cubic yards of EQ Compost is needed.