A world where children have access to nature, people can grow their own food locally, and there is a balance between human activity and natural ecology.
To roll out a new land-use model in order to leverage urban spaces for education, workforce development and climate resiliency, through a variety of partnerships. In this way, we can build food security and food sovereignty for our communities, while restoring local ecology, and giving youth the ethic and the skills for a more sustainable future.
Our partners fund programs, contribute land sites for regenerative organic farms and native teaching gardens that form the centers of communities where we learn to grow and share food while protecting the natural world in cities.
Who We AreC N G F
California Native Garden Foundation (CNGF) is a nonprofit public benefit corporation. We are undergoing a transformation to the Lab for Nature-Based Urban Living, with at least 25 regenerative organic farms and native hedgerows in Santa Clara County – to inspire a new model of land use, one that restructures our cities to work in harmony with nature.
The CNGF garden, located at 76 Race Street in San Jose, has been building community for 21 years around regenerative land use practices, food access, and native ecology. The garden itself contains the local California native plant communities of the Bay Area region and hosts many types of wildlife, including birds, pollinators, and insects.
We are skilled at taking an asphalt parking lot, an empty vacant lot or a flat piece of compacted land covered with weeds, and transforming each of them into highly productive California native gardens or thriving urban regenerative farms. Each of our projects is used as teaching laboratories where professional mentors train students the skills necessary to transform a city.
The mission of CNGF is to forge an ecological land use model and restore nature in cities. We are changing how urban land is used to protect our air, water, soils and food. We are empowering youth to build resilient cities. We teach and train youth the skills to manage city lands sustainably. We bring community stakeholders together to create cities that address the major needs of our planet and all who are dependent upon it for living healthy lives.
We stand on a precipice. Our species has not been here before. At no time in our evolution had the average level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere across the globe passed 400 parts per million (ppm) as happened several years ago – a symbolic and worrying milestone in growth of man-made climate change.
In our research at CNGF, we have learned that increased carbon dioxide emissions are heavily linked to how we use land and build on it, how we dispose of our waste, how and where we grow our food, as well as energy and transportation. In fact, if taken together, these essential requirements for life are responsible for a whopping 86% of carbon emissions.
It is our responsibility—the designers and artists, the builders, scientists and engineers—to create new sustainable models. With the support of community activism and timely government policies and code adoptions, we can force drastic reductions in the very near future.
It is imperative that we work as a team to accomplish these goals quickly. We work and live in a hotbed for innovation. We are also living at a time with increased scarcity of water and loss of genetic biodiversity. The stage in the Santa Clara Valley is set for change! It’s time to create a new sustainable urban land use model for others to emulate — one that addresses the essentials for life while utilizing new, successful technologies and science discoveries. At the same time, we must continue to engage an intelligent informed community that is supported by government action, cooperation and expediency.
Alrie Middlebrookteacher designer artist writer ecological thinker
Alrie is CNGF’s Executive Director and Co-Founder, along with botanist Dr. Glenn Keator, physician Dr. Barry Slater, civil rights attorney David Long, and nonprofit accountant Tom Bradner. She is a committed advocate and practitioner of the sustainable lifestyle, landscape professional and California native plant specialist. Under her guidance, CNGF and, previously, Middlebrook Gardens, have installed over 800 native, sustainable gardens throughout Northern California. She remains on the leading edge of the rising sustainability movement.
Alrie is committed to educating the public and promoting sustainability through native gardening.
Alrie has given lectures and workshops throughout California. She has garnered awards and recognition; her company became the second business in Santa Clara Valley to achieve the status of a certified green business. With renowned field botanist Dr. Glenn Keator, she co-authored the groundbreaking book, Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful Ecological Gardens. She also published the California native cookbook, Eating California.
In 1976, she started working professionally with plants. Middlebrook Gardens, a landscape design/build management company that specialized in native gardens, was created in the 1996. In 1999, Alrie began transforming a half-acre concrete parking lot at 76 Race Street in downtown San Jose into a vibrant garden full of native California plant communities. In 2004, she, along with a group of native garden enthusiasts formed CNGF. Today, the site is operated as CNGF and the Lab for Nature-Based Urban Living.
Board of DirectorsC N G F
Dr. Melissa Blum is CNGF Board Chair, volunteer, and client. It all started three years ago when she first hired CNGF to transform her lawn into a drought-tolerant native garden. In the years since, she has become an avid watcher of native bees and is learning how to preserve the abundance of Blenheim apricots and Santa Rosa plums that now emerge every spring.
Building on her background as a college instructor, Melissa has helped to write CNGF's nature immersion curriculum for young children, and loves to collaborate with the amazing team of artists, scientists, and environmentalists who, together, are creating a vision of hope and sustainability for our community and our planet.
Dr. Sanhita Datta is a Professor of Biology at San Jose City College in San Jose, California. She received her PhD in Biological Sciences from Drexel University and her MS in Environmental Biology from Eastern Illinois University.
She is passionate about equitable opportunities for education and working towards an environmentally sustainable future of food production and habitat restoration. She has inspired many students from many disciplines to learn about the scientific foundation of environmental sustainability and the need and impact of actions small and large at the individual and at a community level.
In her free time, she is an avid gardener and volunteers in organizations that promote sustainable agriculture.
Sherry Kaufman, CNGF Board Member, has been a volunteer with CNGF since moving to California from Chicago in summer 2021. Sherry is currently a Program Specialist with Google Children’s Centers.
While living in Chicago, Sherry was a part-time professor at Erikson Institute Graduate School of Child Development, and worked as a teacher/consultant with young children, families, and professionals in early childhood environments, bringing her appreciation for nature to these relationships. Prior to that, she served as director of a not-for-profit Reggio Emilia-inspired early childhood education program.
Sherry is a school law attorney and was an Assistant Regional Attorney with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. She sees in CNGF opportunity to engage people of all ages and stages to act together to address the environmental challenges of our time.
Allegra is an emerging professional passionate about equity, regenerative agriculture, and ecology. She was born and raised in San Jose and holds a B.S. in Landscape Architecture from UC Davis. Currently, she is working as a landscape designer at H.T. Harvey & Associates, assisting with the design of urban native landscapes and mitigation projects.
Her work with CNGF started in 2017 as summer landscape design intern and Nature Camp teacher. Since then, she has taught a homeschool garden class and worked with interns to create concept designs as a part of CNGF’s SITES Consulting Group.
She is also an artist and jewelry maker and enjoys growing edible and native plants. CNGF’s work resonates with her, as access to land, food, and education is an essential part of an equitable and sustainable future.