Activist Spotlight, Ocean Friendly Gardens, Water Quality
April 25 2019

Activist Spotlight: Laura Oergel and Laura Bauer with the Ventura County Chapter

The dynamic duo of volunteer leaders Laura Oergel and Laura Bauer have been instrumental in the development of the Ventura County Chapter's Ocean Friendly Gardens (OFG) program and the positive impact it has on their community.

Laura Bauer (left) and Laura Oergel (right) rest in the Paul Herzog Memorial Garden on Mission Avenue in Ventura, CA

Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?  

Laura Bauer: I joined the Ocean Friendly Gardens program in 2011 when I moved from Pasadena to Ventura. I was already a landscape designer working mostly with California native plants, and the OFG landscape design ideas made a lot of sense to me. I attended an early seminar by G3 (the Green Gardens Group), which basically taught the same principles as OFG. 

Laura Oergel: I got involved with Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Gardens program in 2015 because we had moved to Ventura and I wanted to become involved with volunteering for a non-profit. Being a landscaper and loving the town of Ventura, the ocean and nature made Surfrider’s OFG program a great fit for me.

What are some local issues that are affecting your ocean, waves and beaches?  

Laura B: Ventura is rightfully proud of its beautiful, relatively uncrowded and clean beaches. But we also have two river systems and various flood control channels that dump runoff waste and nasty chemicals into the ocean whenever it rains. Ventura also has very limited local water resources.  We need to encourage homeowners to turn away from water-wasting gardens and demonstrate how easy landscape changes can retain rainwater and cut down on polluted runoff.

Laura O: Sea level rise and erosion are threatening our beaches and shoreline.  Thanks to the dedication and leadership of local activist Paul Jenkin, our chapter has saved a beach-front bike from erosion with the nationally recognized Surfers’ Point Managed Shoreline Retreat Project

Pollution from homeless encampments along the Ventura River empties into the ocean at Surfers’ Point.  The ocean is also bombarded with plastic debris from fireworks shot off during the County Fair held right there adjacent to the beach. Cigarette butts and single-use plastic items littered throughout the city are swept up by urban runoff and end up littering our beaches.  Ventura also has a water shortage crisis, and the ways we waste or conserve freshwater has impacts downstream in the ocean.  

Plus there is all the aftermath of the Thomas Fire that our community is still dealing with.  Our Chapter has been helping to educate homeowners affected by the fire or that are living in Fire Hazard Zones on how they can maintain their landscapes to be both fire resistant and Ocean Friendly

What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

Laura B: I’ve worked on several school gardens and a public garden that was a joint project with the Ventura Land Trust. I’ve also worked to set up many OFG gardens in Ventura and have helped organize and lead a garden tour and several workshops.

Laura O: I’ve had the great opportunity to lead the OFG program for over 2 years, including a very successful garden tour and many work days. I also lead the Strawless Summer Challenge last year and our chapter’s Ocean Friendly Restaurant Program.  I’m happy to be handing over the reins for that program to a very capable intern from one of our local colleges.  I’ve also taken on chapter chair responsibilities and have started our new volunteer social as part of our monthly chapter meetings. 

Laura Oergel shows volunteers how to properly plant a plant during one of the chapter's OFG workdays.

What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience?  

Laura B: People really enjoy the gardens, either their own or the ones at schools. I love to teach people about how their gardens are really mini-ecosystems of plants, soil and wildlife. 

Laura O: The outreach - meeting dedicated environmentalists like our core volunteers. Feeling like no matter what the Trump Administration does to our oceans with off shore oil drilling or closing down our national parks, we have so many people that care -  activists who will fight the fight to protect what we love. Our chapter is so lucky to have Surfrider’s Regional Manager Bill Hickman living right here in Ventura, as well as the legacy of Paul Herzog who developed and nurtured the Ocean Friendly Gardens program here in Ventura and nationwide.

What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?  

Laura B: Surfrider is all about individuals learning how small changes in their lives can make a big difference in their community. A bunch of people coming together for a few hours once a month can keep a beach clean of trash. Planting native plants, even in a small area, can support local wildlife. 

Laura O: You can make a difference, one person at a time. The stories are incredible. It doesn’t matter what your capacity, or talent is. It’s your passion that helps connect us and what we accomplish together through Surfrider will help preserve our oceans for the next generations. 

Laura Bauer leads a garden installation at a busy intersection to build community awareness

Why is being a Surfrider coastal defender important to you?

Laura B: As a landscape designer, I believe the principles behind Ocean Friendly Gardens guide how we should be building gardens in the future. These same ideas are being embraced by many forward-thinking designers throughout the country.

As a person, I want to be able to enjoy clean beaches and beautiful gardens. I think Surfrider provides a way to bring people together to help make our community better.

Laura O: We have to commit to undoing what humans are doing to this planet. Creating climate change as an example. Shout out to the OFG program! Awareness, education, activism, and community, including the dedicated folks at Patagonia based here locally. We have it all in our Ventura County Surfrider Chapter.

Watch this great short video that shows the installation of an Ocean Friendly Garden with students from the Ventura High School Environmental Club and how the project helps conserve water and prevent stormwater runoff.