Programs for Kids

Nature Camp: Nature + Food + Mindfulness

This is an exciting new year for Nature Camp at CNGF. We have officially become San Jose’s first urban eco-village. We now have eight unique businesses operating out of Middlebrook Center, which means we will be able to offer your children more experiences at Nature Camp.

One of our eco-village partners, Mindful Ways, led by Jennifer Jettcoat, will be offering Nature Camp preschool for children 2 to 5 years old. Learn more about her classes and fees here. This year, we are fortunate to have Jennifer managing our Nature Camp for 6 to 12 year olds. Her “mindfulness” approach to teaching ecological patterns and principles will be reflected in this year’s curriculum, offering the children a greatly enriched experience. 

Some of this year’s Nature Camp highlights:

  • Focus on the Heroes Badge Program, with an increased number of badges to earn with outdoor lessons and projects
  • Mindfulness and local ecology lessons will serve to heighten the children’s understanding of the world around them
  • Naturalist and tracker, Ryan Taylor, will be on hand to take the kids to the river to demonstrate valuable life skills
  • Guest chefs will be here to teach children how to cook with plants from the garden, including native edibles
  • Guest beekeeper will share honey farming knowledge
  • SJSU “Engineers Without Borders” students will be sharing their expertise in aquaponics with your future engineers in controlled environment agriculture

Because of these enhanced services, we are increasing our fees this year. We are, however, offering a discount to parents who register their children by April 17th.

Earn Earth Heroes Badges

Our Earth Heroes program is an exciting opportunity for the children to learn and develop skills catered towards sustainable land management and ecological land use. This summer, Earth Heroes will engage in a variety of outdoor skills at Middlebrook Center, San Jose’s first eco-village, affording the opportunity for children to earn up to 30 badges, including:

• Grow Trees
• Grow Veggies
• Keep Bees
• Compost
• Grow Native Plants
• Harvest Veggies
• Aquaponics Farming
• Collect Seeds
• Analyze Soils
• Manage Storm Water
• Grow Ancestral Plants
• Build an Erosion Control Garden
• Learn About the Solar System
• Raise Small Animals
• Keep a Journal
• Learn About Your Local Ecology
• Do a Research Project
• Learn About Life Cycles
• Recycle Plastics
• Learn About the Water Cycle
• Learn About Wild Animals
• Identify Edible and Medicinal Plants
• Track Animals
• Learn About Ecology


$255 per week
Early Drop-off at 8:30am: $25 per week
Extended Care until 5:00pm: $50 per week

Nature Camp Earth Heroes Schedule

Monday – Friday
9:00am to 3:00pm with option for early drop-off at 8:30am and/or extended care until 5:00pm

Week 1: June 11-15
Learn About Your Local Ecology – Badge #23
Learn About Evolution
– Badge #29
Register for Nature Camp Week 1
Register for Early Drop-off Week 1
Register for Extended Care Week 1

Week 2: June 18-22
Learn About Life Cycles – Badge #12
Analyze Soil – Badge #25
Register for Nature Camp Week 2
Register for Early Drop-off Week 2
Register for Extended Care Week 2

Week 3: June 25-29
Keep a Journal – Badge #22
Learn About the Water Cycle – Badge #27
Register for Nature Camp Week 3
Register for Early Drop-off Week 3
Register for Extended Care Week 3

Week 4: July 9-13
Compost – Badge #1
Grow Trees – Badge #6
Grow Native Plants – Badge #4
Register for Nature Camp Week 4
Register for Early Drop-off Week 4
Register for Extended Care Week 4

Week 5: July 16-20
Recruit Friends – Badge #7
Harvest Grey Water – Badge #8
Build a Rain Garden – Badge #16
Register for Nature Camp Week 5
Register for Early Drop-off Week 5
Register for Extended Care Week 5

Week 6: July 23-27  
Recycle Plastics – Badge #26
Keep Bees – Badge #3
Plant Veggies – Badge #2
Register for Nature Camp Week 6
Register for Early Drop-off Week 6
Register for Extended Care Week 6

Week 7: July 30 – August 3
Aquaponics Farm – Badge #10
Storm Water – Badge #13
Propagating – Badge #5
Register for Nature Camp Week 7
Register for Early Drop-off Week 7
Register for Extended Care Week 7

An additional week added due to high demand!

Week 8: August 6-10 
Learn About Your Local Ecology – Badge #23
Learn About Evolution
– Badge #29
Register for Nature Camp Week 8
Register for Early Drop-off Week 8
Register for Extended Care Week 8

Class Field Trips

As the years have gone by, our Teaching garden called ELSEE keeps growing and keeps becoming more beautiful. It started to look a lot different than any other property in our neighborhood. Now folks know if you’re looking for nature in the city, it thrives here!

Lots of people come to visit our gardens,  About 8,000 people each year. We have class field trips, summer and after school nature campers, pizza lovers, coffee drinkers,birthday celebrators, customers who buy native plants or drought tolerant food plants. We have teachers and parents, urban farmers, university professors, ecologists, botanists, Aquaponics engineers, high school classes and college interns. We have soil scientists, composters, composers, keepers of chickens, artists and musicians, bicyclists, politicians and people who work for them. We have heads of non profits, people who go on corporate retreats. We even have visitors from other places like Africa or Tokyo or France who want to build a garden like ours in their country.

In fact, our gardens at Race St in central San Jose are so special, they are unique in the entire county of Santa Clara. Why? Because every day we can show over 200 ways we are using our land to sequester more carbon, promote biodiversity and teach our children how our planet functions so efficiently, always renewing itself and constantly reusing all its waste, saving its water, reusing it and providing food for all creatures who call Earth home.

In the meantime, come by with your school class and participate in a hands on, project based lesson, tour our gardens and have a pizza party. Your students can build something, grow something, eat good food, listen to an expert, harvest food, prepare it, stop by our nursery,and sit in the sun with their buds!

Moms and Dads can book a birthday party, schedule a corporate retreat, buy some veggies from our Aquaponics farm, buy some milkweed plants, hire us to help you remove your lawn, or ask us to help you identify a bug or a plant you can’t or just stop by and watch the fish or chickens. They’ll be happy to see you!

Educational Design Grants

We are a state wide organization. In 2007, UCPress published Designing California Native Gardens:The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens. After my book was published, I traveled around California, giving book talks. These connections helped provide a spring board to launch our garden grant program. Since we began, CNGF has awarded nearly 85 garden design grants to schools and non-profits in California.

Our program has expanded to include lesson plans.  We encourage schools that are awarded grants to select lesson plans that work with our garden design programs. We provide a list of sources as well as ones we have developed for our Flagship ELSEE lab in SAN Jose.

If our grantee school is located near a community college or university, we encourage them to reach out to local students who may be interested in becoming environmental education teaching docents at their new school gardens.Our intent is to form a collaboration with each grant recipient and develop a coalition of community partners. Together, we are building a long term stewardship plan to perpetuate the garden education program at each of our grantee’s schools.

We work with each school to design an ELSEE teaching model, embracing a cultural change that has its roots in the transformation of an under utilized school property to an ELSEE garden classroom!

We strive to build our garden program from the ground up by creating passionate engagement with a group of core volunteers at each school. This process allows each individual volunteer to gain ownership in the transformation. First as individuals, who are supported by a cohesive team,they are able to make a personal commitment to the long term stewardship of the garden classroom. We have created a presentation called The Healthy Land Use Model to engage the local as well as national businesses that serve each school community. Our “Circle the wagons” approach to implementing educational and cultural change in the community begins with our core team, expands to include their business partners and this “vigor of change” is centered in the transformation of the public land around the school.

Our community of partners include San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, San Francisco City College, UCDavis, Foothill College, Merritt College and Cabrillo College, UCSC and Stanford.

Each Time We Award a Garden Grant

We hope our grantee schools will establish a link with their local colleges whose students serve internships in their chosen fields. Such majors as Environmental science, landscape architecture, plant science, nutrition,sustainable development, international agriculture and education majors make be seeking community centered intern positions.

Participating interns can be divided into teams.

Lesson plans, prop kits and docent teachers, community outreach, social media, gardening and propagation, workshops and events, etc.

Here at our ELSEE teaching garden, each team of interns is mentored by CNGF volunteers and their university professors who have expertise in their teams discipline. Our core group of volunteer leaders enables our interns to set and meet their goals during their internship program. 

Our partners include Sec. of California Food and Agriculture, Karen Ross, Whole Kids Foundation,

Health Trust, The City of San Jose, The Santa Clara Valley Water District, The Audubon Society, Santa Clara University, SAN Jose State University, UCSC and Stanford.

The Children’s Discovery Museum, CREECH, The Living Classroom, St. Leo the Great Catholic School, St. Andrews Episcopal School, California Landscape Contractor’s Association, The Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County, our many partner schools, non-profit grant recipients, and many local and regional businesses. We strive to work with our grantee schools to assist and help them develop a set of community partners with their ELSEE garden project while we continue to strengthen our existing partnerships.

Garden Rentals

The ELSEE garden is available for kids and adult birthday parties, corp team building events, wedding and anniversary parties, and pop up events for local community groups.

We can accommodate up to 100 guests. 

We have kitchen facilities and a wood fired Italian pizza. Outdoor dining, guest chefs, music, performers, well maintained native gardens and 26 different garden venues help educate and entertain each guest.

Contact [email protected] to help you plan your event. Plan a tour of our gardens to see what you can imagine for your guests!

We’ll help you create that magical experience in the gardens!