By Scott Merrill
Laura Hartz says one of the biggest influences in her life was simply being outside while growing up on the coast of Maine.
Today Hartz is an attorney at Orr and Reno, where she works with businesses and non-profits. Some of her particular areas of interest, she says, include environmental and energy law, land use, immigration, and business law.
Hartz, who lives in Pittsfield, NH, with her husband and their dog Murphy, also serves as President of the New Hampshire chapter of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA).
NOFA is a coalition of seven state chapters whose purpose is to advocate for and educate on organic and sustainable agriculture, family-scale farming and homesteading in rural, suburban and urban areas, agricultural justice and other related policy issues.
“I’d been watching their (NOFA’s) work from afar for a long time and the work I was doing, combined with my interest in food and gardening, led me to volunteering on the NOFA board,” Hartz says.
While completing an MS degree in Nutrition Science and Policy, with a focus in Agriculture, Food, and Environment, at Tufts University, Hartz says she became excited about the food and gardening community. After completing her degree program she worked as an environmental consultant and project manager for Downstream Strategies in Morgantown, WV..
Each of the seven NOFA chapters in the Northeast United States is a self-sustaining entity within its state. The New Hampshire chapter is located in Concord.
“My family always had a big garden and probably the biggest influence for me was that we were always outside hiking, and walking, and seeing other’s gardens. So, the outdoors has always been very important to me.”
Hartz has a large garden and chickens on her property and says she feels grateful to be part of a food and farm community in the area where she lives and to be doing her part to offset climate change.
“It’s nice to feel involved. Farming and gardening is a way to be more self reliant and to reduce climate impact,” she says. “It’s a remarkable feeling when you can go to your garden and pick what you have for dinner rather than going to the cabinet.”
Given her love of gardening and being outdoors, Hartz says one of her favorite clients has been Bedrock Gardens in Lee, NH. The 37-acre site, which opened to the public this year, integrates unusual botanical specimens and unique sculptures into the landscape.
“When Bedrock Gardens came to us [Orr & Reno], they were stalled in the planning board process and worried that they might have to close,” Hartz says. “My colleague, Bob Carey, and I guided them through almost two years of land use hearings and a superior court appeal to have their gardens recognized as a legitimate form of agritourism. This allowed Bedrock Gardens to remain open and to add parking and access for the people who come from all over to tour the beautiful gardens.”
John Forti, Executive Director of Bedrock Gardens and a horticulturalist for over 30 years, says that when he first came to the garden there were many plants he’d never seen before.
“It’s very inspiring to see both native and introduced plants used in very creative ways. It’s almost like a landscape journey as you move from one room to another and each one has it’s own mood and feel,” he says. “For me it’s about educating the next generation of environmental stewards. If you can’t identify a shagbark hickory or a whip-poor-will you aren’t going to care if they disappear,” Forti continued.
Visitors begin their journey by walking along a trail that takes them through a pine forest and into the gardens beyond. Forti is publicizing this part of the garden as an opportunity to participate in what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.” It’s another way, he says, to invite visitors to experience the benefits of green spaces.
Forti first encountered the concept while studying in Japan, where it is a national pastime believed to reduce stress and promote wellbeing.
“It’s really about just going into the forest or woods and cleansing your spirit in a lot of ways,” Forti says. “There have been a lot of studies about the essential oils in trees and they’ve analyzed how these oils are released into the air. It’s almost like a forest bath that calms the spirit. And we’ve created the new path into the gardens that I like to call our forest path because as you leave our parking lot and the busy entry up by 125 you can almost feel the world slipping further and further behind you.”
Through her work with NOFA-NH Hartz has worked on promoting the outdoors and making organic food more accessible for people who may not be able to afford it. With roughly 400 members in the state NOFA is the state’s only education and advocacy organization dedicated to organic agriculture and building a community around sustainable food and livelihoods for farmers. The group also promotes Community Sustainable Agriculture, Hartz says, which increases access to good food.
Asked who some of her favorites are in the food and farming world who give her inspiration she says,
“There are so many who inspire me. It’s hard to choose. My current favorites are Julia Child, Will Allen of Growing Power, and my brother-in-law, founder of Milkweed Farm in Vermont.”
November is NOFA-NH’s membership drive month.
Check out nofanh.org for more information.