Cranford High School Junior Ben Ilaria will soon raise his rank from Boy Scout to Eagle Scout, thanks to some help from the Master Gardeners of Union County.  Ben, 16 and a Scout since the age of 8, recently joined forces with the Master Gardeners to select and complete his Eagle-Scout-required community-service project.  On three consecutive Saturdays in April, Ben enlisted fellow Scouts from Troop 80 in Cranford to strengthen and upgrade the fence that surrounds the Master Gardeners’ flagship Community Sharing Garden.  

Located at Trailside in the Watchung Reservation (Mountainside)., the Sharing Garden, and its nearby Sharing Garden Annex andBerry Patch Garden produce up to 29 varieties of fresh vegetables and fruit every year.  All harvested produce is given to local food pantries and soup kitchens.  Since 2002, the Master Gardeners have donated 15,548 lbs. of hardy produce to help feed the hungry in Union County. 

In recent years, however, the maturing crops in these gardens were besieged by small animals, namely woodchucks, rabbits, mice and voles.  These clever critters were often able to bypass the fence to get at the succulent produce. 

Sign Up for E-News

In fall 2010, Ben Ilaria, aspiring to become an Eagle Scout, was approached by the Master Gardeners with the idea of earning his Eagle Scout badge by completing a project at their Trailside Demonstration Garden site, namely fixing the Sharing Garden fence.  To meet Eagle Scout requirements, Ben planned the project, managed its execution by fellow Scouts and family members, and saw to it that everything was completed as planned in 215 man hours.  Post-completion, he is required to write a report describing the project, how it turned out, and what happened that was unplanned or different from what he had planned.

Thanks to Ben, plus a team of 16, including fellow Troop 80 Scouts, Ben’s Dad Bill (former Troop 78 Scout leader), and several other family members, the Sharing Garden fence is now strengthened with new box wire and the fence’s rusted electric wire is now replaced.  In addition, a wide strip of weed-control fabric has been laid down and secured around the garden’s 35’ x 75’ perimeter.  Grants to the Master Gardeners for these materials were generously provided by the Westfield Y’s Men’s Club and the Fanwood-Scotch Plains Service League.

But that’s not all.  While Ben and his team were busy fixing the fence, something did happen that was unplanned.  Ben had more Scouts than he needed to fix the fence.  He put these Scouts to work shoveling a mountain of mulch into wheel barrows, then spreading that mulch on all the MG garden beds. The Scouts earned community service and troop involvement credits by completing these tasks.  Last, but not least, Ben and his team, as planned, built four large wooden tables for use by the Master Gardeners’ at their 22nd annual Spring Garden Fair and Plant Sale, upcoming on Sunday, May 15, 2011 from 12 Noon to 5pm, rain or shine.

“The Fair is our sole fund raiser and major means of support,” says Master Gardener Joanne Krueger, who, as Demonstration Garden Coordinator, personally hosted and mentored Ben and his team during the Eagle Scout project.  “We’ve held it annually since 1989,” she advises, “at our Trailside Demo Garden site in the Watchung Reservation in Mountainside.  Prices are reasonable and, typically, more than 1,000 people attend.”

The Master Gardeners grow and donate a wide variety of flower and vegetable plants for sale at the Fair, including deer resistant, drought tolerant, and many easy-to-grow plants for beginner gardeners.   Local gardening centers also donate or discount plants and shrubs.  In 2010, an estimated 125 children participated in children’s activities at the Fair.

“This year,” adds Krueger, “thanks to Ben and Troop 80, we have added four new tables to display our many varieties of flower and vegetable plants.  We will also be proud to show off to Fair attendees both our newly mulched garden beds and our newly upgraded Sharing Garden fence.”  Krueger affirms that “Ben and the boys really did a great job!  We can all be proud of the results!”   

Cranford's First Presbyterian Church, 11 Springfield Avenue, charters and sponsorsScout Troop 80.  For more information, please call the church at (908) 276-8440 to be put in touch with Assistant Scout Master Matt Howard.

The Master Gardeners of Union County are headquartered at 300 North Avenue East in Westfield.  For information on the Master Gardener Program, visit http://mastergardeners-uc.orgor call Lynne Orlofsky at (908) 654-9854.  For answers to your gardening and land stewardship questions, call the Master Gardeners’ Garden Helpline at (908) 654-9852.