Native, Edible Outdoor Classroom

Native, Edible Outdoor Classroom

FROM: Deirdre Holmes | Charlotte Central School Farm-to-School, Charlotte, VT

TIME: 6-12 months

CATEGORIES: Classroom, Community, Cafeteria, Farms + Gardens, Projects + Activities, Events, Youth Leadership

An outdoor classroom in the edible schoolyard reinforces a vision for the land: alive, student-designed and student-planted, native, sustainable and edible. Students design the space in the fall, plant sunchokes, and watch their outdoor meeting and learning space grow in the spring!


  • Outdoor classroom site
  • Sunchokes
  • Compost
  • Student-sized shovels
  • Stakes and twine
  • Pole bean seeds
  • 1-2 classes of students
  • Optional $300 grant for materials (including tree stump seating, a wooden work table with benches)


STEP 1: DESIGN YOUR SPACE. Work with a class of students to design the outdoor classroom, including the shape of the “walls” and the size of the space. Go outside to explore the grounds and select an appropriate site. Talk about soil conditions, light, and other design considerations. Adjust your design as needed. This step can be in-depth (use a whole class period to map, measure and design) or limited (have a short conversation about design decisions.

STEP 2: PREPARE TO BUILD. Select a planting date and collect supplies: stakes and twine to mark the footprint, two buckets full of sunchokes (enough to plant, plus more to use in cafeteria taste test), compost, and student-sized tools. Be sure students bring sturdy shoes and outdoor clothes on planting day. Do any site preparation that is needed before students can work.

STEP 3: PLANT & TASTE. Allow students to dig up grass and soil, plant sunchokes, cover with compost and replace stakes and twine to mark area. Bring extra sunchokes back to the cafeteria or classroom for a taste test with the class or the whole school (try sunchoke chips!). Involve students in washing + preparing veggies, or ask food service staff to prepare a sample.

STEP 4: WATCH, LEARN & PLANT AGAIN. In the spring, have students monitor the growth of the sunchoke plants. In late spring, have them add pole bean seeds to the exterior of the "walls". The bean plants climb up the sunchoke plants, using them as supports.

STEP 5: BUILD A CLASSROOM. Ask parent volunteers to help collect tree stumps for seating, and build or find a sturdy outdoor table with benches (optional).

STEP 6: MOVE CLASS OUTSIDE! The following fall, enjoy the 10-foot-tall plants! They will be full of small sunflower-like blooms, creating the living, growing "walls" of the outdoor classroom.  Your space may be so popular that you need a sign-up sheet for classes to use it.

STEP 7: HARVEST AND ENJOY. Harvest the beans and some of the sunchokes can be harvested and eaten.  The sunchokes will grow up again the following year, or they can be replanted in a new location and/or configuration.


  • Students learn about architecture and design, then design their own classroom
  • Students learn about gardening, plants, plant growth, and soil and sunlight requirements
  • Students taste test new foods, including sunchoke chips and bean soup
  • Students grow food for the cafeteria
  • Students make a positive contribution to the school and community
  • School and community have a beautiful, new outdoor classroom and meeting place to enjoy


This concept can easily be tailored to meet outdoor classroom and meeting space needs. It can even be re-designed on an annual basis, allowing more students to take part in the design and planning phase every year, and adjusting to new siting and configuration needs as garden areas evolve.


About Farm to School Recipes for Success

From garden parties to cooking contests, farm visits to STEM lessons, farm to school programs all over the Northeast are sizzling! The Farm to School Recipes for Success contest features the top ten best projects, activities, lessons and ideas chosen from dozens of “recipes” submitted by schools and programs in advance of the 2015 Farm to Institution Summit on April 7-9. This contest is sponsored by the Northeast Regional Steering Committee of the National Farm to School Network and is funded by a USDA Farm to School grant with support from the National Education Association. Visit to learn more.