Ocean Friendly Gardens
October 25 2016

Ocean Friendly Gardens Take Root On East Coast

by Paul Herzog

While attending conferences in October, I saw more Surfrider chapters throughout the East Coast developing their Ocean Friendly Gardens (OFG) Program, and I saw partnership potential for Texas chapters. Chapter programs run the gamut from tabling to workdays, leading efforts as well as working in collaboration. It shows that the OFG principles and program components are applicable everywhere, and are adaptable.

It starts in Vegas, with attending the annual water supply agency-focused WaterSmart Innovations Conference (WSI). In past years, I have joined G3/Green Gardens Group in presenting on OFG principles, programs and partnerships. This year, G3 announced its professional training going nationwide by conducting an abbreviated Watershed Wise Landscape Professional training, based on the "watershed approach" (same principles as OFG). It was attended by people from Texas A&M and Texas State University, who joined San Antonio Water System in wanting to see G3 professional training in Texas.

At another G3-involved session - highlighting the collaboration between G3, Surfrider West LA/Malibu and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power - I was re-aquainted with Jennifer Carlile with the Mayor of Atlanta's Office of Sustainablity. What started as a conversation about her working with Surfrider-Atlanta OFG Coordinator John Coyne on a retrofit of a fire station turned into a brainstorming session with G3 about a retrofit within the context of job training for at-risk youth and bringing in existing City water quality mitigation monies. Jennifer is working on this and has looped in John.

From Vegas, I headed to the Surfrider-East Coast Chapters Conference on Long Island, New York to both lead an OFG workshop and in the following days, meet up with chapter OFG leaders in their areas. At the workshop, I presented a slideshow, with new information, including: a short video by the Eastern Long Island Chapter on using OFG and Blue Water Task Force to educate and help fix polluted urban runoff that contributes to harmful algal blooms (there are shorter video clips available, too); a condensed version of the OFG criteria; an OFG "tips" page; and a street curb cut permit (the showshow can be found here). Current and prospective OFG volunteers exchanged questions and ideas. The workshop had attendees from all over the region, including from Washington, D.C. and New Hampshire chapters. During a break, I got to talk with a chapter from the Great Lakes: Surfrider-Chicago Chapter Chair, Mitch McNell, who later reached out to a landscaper friend which expertise in bay-shore eco-landscaping. Maybe Chicago will launch an OFG program soon...!

Since I was already in the New York-metro area, I stayed an extra week to meet with chapters, starting with Eastern Long Island (ELI). In addition to making the film 'Into the Sea' that makes the connection between how people care for their lawns and the health of local waterways, the ELi Chapter has been busy plannign the installation of high-profile OFG demo gardens in Amagansett Square and the Village Green, both within the town of East Hampton. Amagansett Square is a small, rustic, up-scale shopping center centered by a large lawn well used by the public. Surfrider's Water Quality Manager, Mara Dias (who lives nearby and is active with the chapter), helped coordinate the project (pictured at left) and connecting with a local design company, Marders. The Square's owners are also now going organic at the Square! With that done, the chapter's sites have shifted to the Village Green project, which will absorb road runoff from the Village's main roads. 

Both projects and the emerging ELI OFG program caught the interest of a non-profits focused on organic lawn care, called Project Perfect Earth (PPE). Mara set up a meeting with the Project's staff and founder, and well-known landscape designer Edwina von Gal, to brainstorm about ways to collaborate. Seeing that we have much in common - from landscape principles to interest in consumer education and training of professionals - the PPE wants to talk further about collaboration.

My next stop was the Jersey Shore, speaking at the monthly meeting of the Jersey Shore Chapter, which attracted OFG volunteers from the South Jersey Chapter. Prior to the meeting, I got a tour of the City of Asbury Park's downtown, seeing a rain garden at the bus depot that the chapter helped contribute to (at left). After the meeting, a few attendees expressed interest in volunteering their homes for an OFG workday, and they got connected with the Jersey Shore OFG leaders. The OFG program has created an OFG as a residence and led several rain barrel-building workshops with Rutgers University Extension Program.

New York City was my last stop - to see the OFG created by the Surfrider-NYC Chapter. I was met by OFG Coordinator, Jason Camhi (far right), who showed me their retrofit of a parkway, not far from the East River. Jason has done a great job in leading the management of the parkway as well as creating a great OFG webapge. He is curious about doing street curb cuts just up the street - and we learned Matt Gove, Surfrider Mid-Atlantic Policy Manager, recently had a curb cut installed out front of his Brooklyn apartment (click here for more info). Plus he has another project in mind for which he is seeking funding.

In addition to these chapters' efforts, there are OFG programs run by chapters in Virgina Beach, Wilmington/North Carolina. Charleston/South Carolina, and on down into Florida. This is a smart, collaborative, hands-on network. It is something I reflected on when Mara and I fit in some time to get a kayaking tour of one of the many lakes and bay, led by ELI volunteer and naturalist, Mike Bottini. Ever the innovators, I asked Mike about whether people had considered composting toilets as a way to prevent the challenges with leaking septic systems. Mike has a composting toilet! I later learned from a colleague that there is bottom-up movement (haha!) for composting toilets in the Cape Cod area. Why poop in water?