About Us

The California Native Garden Foundation is a nonprofit public benefit corporation that:

  • works with youth – teaching and training them to manage urban lands sustainably;

  • designs and builds urban regenerative organic teaching and research farms; and

  • partners with local stakeholders to influence urban land use that addresses climate change, land justice, local food security and local food sovereignty.

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 native California gardens or thriving urban regenerative farms. Each of our projects is used as teaching laboratories where professional mentors train student interns the skills necessary to transform a city.

Our Vision
A world where children have access to nature, people can grow their own food locally and balance human activity with natural ecology.

Our Mission
We roll out a new land-use model 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 sustainable future.

Our Strategy
Our partners fund programs, contribute land sites regenerative organic farms and teaching gardens that form the centers of communities where we learn to grow and share food.


Visioning Statement of Purpose

We stand on a precipice. Our species has not been here before. At no time in our evolution, has CO2 ppm been 400. 

In our research at The California Native Garden Foundation, 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. 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. At the same time, we must continue to engage an intelligent informed community that is supported by government action, cooperation and expediency.

In 2014, along comes a project that became known as Win6Village or “The Agrihood.” Kirk Vartan, a local pizza guy and community activist had been leading a community effort to save the former BAREC site on Winchester Blvd. from “business as usual development.” His community-led vision was an urban farm. He met Alrie Middlebrook, president of CNGF and Middlebrook Gardens, who shared his vision, and a team was born.

They created a competition and engaged leading sustainable architects. Middlebrook Gardens produced a series of drawings, which included many programs for a working farm, community gardens and native landscaping.

Kirk engaged the local communities in Santa Clara and San Jose. CNGF reached out to its partners. CNGF, a native garden advocate and leader, has been forging relationships with ecologists, urban farmers, water specialists, soil specialists, ornithologists, waste management engineers, corporate partners, government leaders, local and regional school districts, local nonprofits, service clubs and community volunteers to create ecological and sustainable food gardens in over 80 schools and a small village in Ghana since 2006.

In 2009, Alrie and her team of school garden designers created a model called ELSEE: The Environmental Laboratory for Sustainability and Ecological Education. Our flagship ELSEE garden at 76 Race St. in San Jose contains over 200 benchmarks for the protection of ecosystems services in urban environments. It is the only certified site in Santa Clara County recognized by the USGBC and SITES Initiative.

When Middlebrook Gardens and selected architects created “The Agrihood” renderings for the local development community to see, we included those benchmarks in our plans. We also connected the technical solutions that can bring CO2 emissions down to acceptable levels by forming partnerships with our local and international experts who can assist in the design, construction and management of the working farm, community gardens and native landscapes.

The team at Core Companies liked what they saw and we joined their team. The Santa Clara City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve Core’s RFP and our first sustainable urban land use development was given the green light.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for the design and development community to set the bar high — to work as a unified team to create a model for other communities to emulate.

As a 501c3 public benefit corporation, CNGF can conduct research, write grants and forge strategic partnerships. Middlebrook Gardens’ team of designers, along with volunteer designers and interns at CNGF, have been donating their time for years to create the ELSEE model for schools.

As Earth’s inhabitants, we all want solutions that are built, that solve the foremost problem of this century.

CNGF and Middlebrook Gardens, who has incubated it since 2004, along with all the community partnerships we have developed, want to continue to lead this design process. 

We want to forge strategic relationships with other landscape architects and architects who want to lead in this effort as well. We will share our sources for innovation in soil, water, urban food technology, on site waste management, alternative energy, reduced air pollution, alternative transportation and social and educational programs for human health and well being with you as a strategic member of our team.

This is an exciting 21st century sustainable land use model.

Will you join us? Will you become a leader and forge new partnerships in the years to come with the new tools you’ll be acquiring as we combine a non-profit, a nimble design studio lab, overwhelming community engagement and government support. Will you join our team? Are you focused on assisting the development community by creating a model that significantly reduces CO2 emissions NOW?