ELSEE Mission and Purpose

The Environmental Laboratory for Sustainability and Ecological Education (ELSEE) is the model for a garden that does two important things: (1) serves as a laboratory for hands-on learning of science, nutrition, stewardship, and sustainability; and (2) promotes healthy land use by preserving native biodiversity, growing local sustainable food, and protecting ecosystem services.

The first ELSEE garden is located at California Native Garden Foundation’s headquarters.  Started in 2010, the teaching garden is up and running, used for field trips, summer camp, and weekly community events.  CNGF is always building upon and improving the master garden, keeping in mind that the soon-to-be-finished product will provide a model for future ELSEE gardens on school campuses.  By replacing asphalt school yards with ELSEE gardens, we can improve the health and sustainability of school lands and better utilize these public lands for effective STEM education programs.

Common Questions about ELSEE

What is ELSEE?
The Environmental Laboratory for Sustainability and Ecological Education is a model for a garden that does two important things: (1) serves as a laboratory for learning science, nutrition, stewardship, and sustainability; and (2) protects our land, resources, and ecosystem services.

What does ELSEE stand for?
ELSEE is an acronym for The Environmental Laboratory for Sustainability and Ecological Education.

Who is ELSEE’s sponsoring organization?
It is a project conceived, directed, and managed by the California Native Garden Foundation (CNGF).

What are ELSEE’s goals?
ELSEE has both educational and sustainability goals.

Educational Goals

  • gardening using the ecology-based model
  • growing and preparing native food, and integrating it into a mainstream diet
  • producing conventional food with urban agriculture technology
  • the hands-on components of the Environment and Education Initiative (EEI), the new ecology curriculum for California schools.

Sustainability Goals

  • utilize school lands in a way that promotes both education and responsible, healthy land use
  • preserve our clean air, water, and healthy soils and protect ecosystem services
  • promote local biodiversity by landscaping with native plants

Where is the ELSEE master garden?
The teaching garden at CNGF’s headquarters (76 Race Street, San Jose) is the first ELSEE garden. It is located on a .4-acre square piece of property, bordered on the north side by Garland Street, on the west by Race Street, on the south by St. Leo the Great School’s driveway and on the east by St. Leo’s parking lot.

When did ELSEE begin?
Officially, ELSEE began on March 2, 2010, when volunteers from the California Native Garden Foundation began teaching classes to 100 second to seventh graders from St. Leo the Great School next door to the ELSEE master garden. Unofficially, ELSEE began eight years ago when Middlebrook Gardens moved to 76 Race Street, a former broken concrete parking lot, and began converting it to native plant demonstration gardens with examples of sustainable landscape features, such as gravel parking, porous concrete, flagstone patios, rustic shade arbors, and seasonal rivulets. During these past years, Middlebrook Gardens created a corporate headquarters where its clients can visit and see our craftsmanship, our selection of sustainable materials and technology, and our native plant gardens organized by the regional plant communities of the Bay Area.

Why did ELSEE begin?
The current public schoolyard model is outdated; its lands are underutilized. Traditionally, schoolyards are concrete and asphalt. These lands can be converted into teaching gardens that are more environmentally friendly and can even generate income for schools. As of 2014, California public schools are required to teach environmental education. Outdoor learning laboratories provide a space for hands-on, project-based education, allowing children to be closer to nature and experience the natural environment.

In short, ELSEE gardens…

  • provide a space for effectively teaching environmental science
  • accommodate interactive, hands-on learning
  • educate a generation of future voters, policy-makers, and leaders about important environmental issues
  • protect native biodiversity by utilizing native plants in landscaping
  • restore healthy soils using sustainable farming practices and composting
  • teach and encourage healthy eating by growing organic fruits and vegetables
  • protect our water system by replacing asphalt with permeable hardscapes

How will ELSEE thrive after it is built?
When the ELSEE master garden is completed, its operation and management will be sustainable and profitable. The goal is to create a financially self-sustaining model, so that all ELSEE gardens will be supported by their own programming and services. The ELSEE master garden already has the following sources of income up and running:

  1. School field trips
  2. Venue rental
  3. Fundraising events
  4. Weekly Sustainable Saturdays - workshops, CSA partner, native food brunch
  5. Native plant nursery

In the future…

  1. CNGF plans to open a restaurant, the Eating California Restaurant, at its headquarters. CNGF will create its own native edible food products with the Eating California label and sell them in the restaurant, online, and in retail grocery outlets.
  2. CNGF will teach certification classes for sustainable sites certification through the USGBC and the SSI. CNGF Headquarters, 76 Race Street, San Jose, CA, is a pilot site for the SSI program.
  3. Fresh fruits and vegetables grown in our vertical farm and native organic edible foods grown on site will be sold.
  4. Visitors to ELSEE will pay an entrance fee to tour ELSEE. Publications and souvenirs will be sold in the Visitor’s Center.

How will an ELSEE garden create income if it is recreated in other communities?
ELSEE will serve as a functioning model for schools and neighborhoods everywhere to teach sustainable living skills and provide significant operating income, including money generated from organic produce sales, sustainability workshops, nursery sales, venue rental, and more.

Who designed the ELSEE master garden?
Alrie Middlebrook drew the concept for ELSEE in the winter of 2010. Aaron Middlebrook expanded the original conceptual ideas to include the 3-D architectural drawings of the individual elements that comprise the ELSEE campus, including the subterranean visitor’s center, vertical farm, the stacked ocean container classroom and dormitory, the Eating California Restaurant, the Erlandson’s tree house, and the outdoor kitchen.

What stage of development is the ELSEE master garden in?
Currently, the ELSEE master garden utilizes many design features that protect ecosystem services: a constructed wetland, native gardens that recreate California ecosystems, porous hardscapes, and a turtle and fishpond. The design takes advantage of urban farm technology to make the most of our space by using vertical gardening, an aquaponics system, a roof garden, and a wild-grape shade structure. Recycled materials have been to construct the food tours, play structure and vertical garden, and cordwood retail nursery office. The current structure on the site acts as the CNGF office and an indoor classroom. The native plant nursery is small but growing (literally!) every day. All site and architectural development will conform to the benchmarks set forth by the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

In the future, we hope to own the land on which the master garden stands. The house on the property will then become the Eating California Restaurant. Three-dimensional designs for the finished garden can be viewed here.

What classes will be taught in an ELSEE garden?
The ecology-based curriculum developed by the State of California will provide the content for our instruction. Working with classroom teachers, each grade will be taught the standards required, but outside in a garden setting.  Teachers will use a hands-on, five-senses approach. Teaching will be project-oriented and project-driven.

Who teaches classes at the ELSEE master garden? What students do they teach?
Classes are taught by student interns from local high schools and colleges. So far, the participating high schools are Downtown College Prep, Willow Glen High School, Notre Dame High School. Participating college interns have come from Foothill College, Cabrillo College, Stanford University, San Jose State University, and Santa Clara University.

CNGF invites classes from local elementary and high schools to the ELSEE master garden for field trips.  During field trips, the students are given a tour of the teaching garden and are taught an ELSEE lesson.

How can I get involved with ELSEE?
Currently, CNGF hires interns throughout the year to join one of its several project teams.  One of the teams focuses on ELSEE programming.  Eventually, CNGF will launch the ELSEE Internship Program when the entire master garden is finished. When it is, CNGF will be able to offer ELSEE interns lodging, food, and instruction in exchange for work, project development, and teaching.

How has revenue been generated to pay for the ELSEE master garden?
The funding will come from many public and private sources.

  1. Foundations and institutions who fund environmental projects, environmental education, food safety and security, sustainable development and green job development, outdoor educational programs, clean air and clean water programs, organic urban agriculture, water conservation and watershed management, reduced carbon, zero waste, art education, student intern development, and so on.
  2. Public funding for economic green development, environmental education, neighborhood improvement and enhancement.
  3. Private donations to CNGF.
  4. Fund-raising events hosted by CNGF members and friends.
  5. Private corporations such as food distributors and processors, agribusiness concerns, solar and alternative energy manufacturing companies, green building materials manufacturing, engineering and technology companies, construction management enterprises, and restaurateurs.

 Our Brochure

Download the Middlebrook 2014 Brochure Web version PDF file,600k

Download the Middlebrook 2014 Brochure Print version PDF file,18MB

Middlebrook Center Brochure

Middlebrook Center Brochure









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