LAKEWOOD – Girl Scout Jillian Peslak recently earned her Silver Award by donating 11 rain barrels she designed with fellow troops to the Ocean County Master Gardeners.
The barrels, which are painted bright blue and carefully designed with flowers, butterflies, tomatoes, dragonflies, rainbows, caterpillars and suns, will be used in the Master Gardeners’ community garden at Ocean County Park to collect rainwater. All food grown in the garden is donated to local food pantries.
“Last year, they raised and gleaned 15,000 pounds for the foodbanks,” said Master Gardener Mike Miller.
That includes a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs, including ethno-centered vegetables like hot peppers that are grown to satisfy the rising Hispanic population.
“It really is a labor of love,” said Miller.
Why Rain Barrels?
Rain barrels are a way to trap and store recycled rainwater to use for maintaining a garden. According to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Ocean County, about an inch of rain collected over a 1,000-square foot roof will yield 600 gallons of stored water.
Jillian, who lives in Manchester near Pine Lake, said the idea to create rain barrels came from her past experiences as a nature lover.
“When I was a Junior Naturalist at Cattus Island, every year they entered a rain barrel painting contest and then afterwards the rain barrels would be displayed outside at the nature center and they would actually be used, and that really got me thinking,” said Jillian.
The barrels she used for this project came from Ocean Spray Cranberries, which Jillian and her family picked up at a facility in Pennsylvania.
“Ocean Spray Cranberries uses them to hold their juices, but they don’t reuse them, so if you ask they’ll give them to you.”
One of the reasons they chose them is because they’re already food grade. She said they were blank barrels, but had stickers on them for what kind of juice was inside. Most of the designs were pre-drawn on the barrels freehand by Jillian and other Girl Scouts who helped with the project.
“The dragonfly almost looks 3D on there,” said Miller, “We get a lot of dragonflies in here.”
Jillian’s dad Peter unloaded the rain barrels from a pickup truck at the community garden in Ocean County Park, to a chorus of oohs and ahhs from her friend and fellow Girl Scout Alex Jacobs, sister Emily, brother Noah, mom Tasha and grandma Debbie Browning, who made the trip from Wisconsin for the occasion.
Miller and fellow Master Gardener Georgina Price gave the family a tour of the community garden, which was green and sprouting with crops like peas, garlic, beets, carrots, tomatoes, beans, peppers, radishes and blueberries, letting the group pick asparagus and snap peas right off the plants for a taste.
The Master Gardeners tend to the garden about three times a week, and then as the season grows on, bring it to local food pantries and donate it. They just got done harvesting their asparagus, which Miller said is very easy to grow once it gets started. Herbs are another important crop in the garden, which grows basil, oregano and chives, and others. The amount of herbs has been increasing every year.
“They appreciate them a lot when we drop them off at the food banks because they don’t get herbs,” said Miller.
The ethno-centered vegetables have also been appreciated in the community. “In Lakewood there’s a huge Hispanic population and a lot of them go to the food banks,” said Miller, specifically to Catholic Charities, Mary’s Table in Point Pleasant and St. Anthony Claret Church across the street from Ocean County Park, which suffered a fire to its food pantry a few months ago.
“It’s literally feast or famine. You might come in here one Monday and have 50 or 60 pounds of ripe tomatoes and that goes right out, and another day you may only be picking two or three pounds of herbs,” said Miller, adding that two or three pounds of herbs is still a huge bag of herbs.
Jillian graduated from Manchester Township Middle School and will attend the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science in Stafford Township in the fall. Her family is excited to see what projects she will work on next.
“We love lakes and nature and frogs and you name it,” said her mom Tasha.
For her Gold Award, Jillian may explore something a little more close to home, when it comes to sustainability issues with Manchester’s three lakes – Harry Wright, Pine and Lakehurst.