ARMOUR SQUARE — Bees might be a distant thought now that the weather has turned cold, but on a neighborhood rooftop, a colony of 30,000 bees is chugging along, churning out honey for Ray Tominello's startup business.
Tominello, a 22-year-old Bridgeport native, started Rooftop Local Honey & Bee Products in 2015 as something of a hobby. But with the support of the local community, Tominello's business could expand to other neighborhood rooftops in the next few years — and it could be used to help local kids.
The idea for the business started after Tominello moved back from Indiana to attend Mount Carmel High School. While living in Indiana for some of his childhood, Tominello developed an interest in farming and producing one's own food, he said.
"I always had a thing for agriculture, farming," he said. "Being able to live off the land, it feels good."
Toninello set up chicken coops in the backyard of his Bridgeport home, and learned how to keep a bee colony. From there, he found a rooftop in the 3200 block of South Princeton Avenue where his colony would not be a bother to neighbors.
A friend lets Tominello use the kitchen of an unnamed restaurant during off hours so he can produce the honey. Eventually, Tominello got his product into neighborhood shops Hardscrabble Gifts and Joy Cafe. The business, which also makes lip balm and soap, also has a presence at some local farmer's markets, he said.
"I took some classes, taught myself," Tominello said. "The main reason was to spread awareness. I want people to be aware of the importance of bees, how they help produce all kinds of food."
Tominello now has a few bee colonies in northwest Indiana and the one in Armour Square. He said he'd like to move the Indiana bees to the neighborhood. Eventually, he'd like to expand elsewhere.
"I'd like to do it all over the city," he said.
But the goal of expansion is not necessarily to grow his jarred honey business. Tominello works full time as a stationary engineer and isn't angling to make his business a full-time venture, he said.
Rather, Tominello said he is driven by his desire to educate people on bees, which are seeing drastic population losses across the world, and the benefits of locally produced foods.
Tominello also said he'd like the business to have a charitable component. He considered buying a plot in Englewood for a colony but didn't have the money. Still, he'd like to expand enough so that he could teach kids about the trade.
"It would be cool to teach others, get kids off the street," he said.
For more information on Rooftop Local Honey, click here.