Check Out the Tollgate Camp Video!

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MSU Tollgate Farm 2021 Lamb Sale

In farming, the only certainty is uncertainty. Bad weather, disease (animal or human), medical emergencies, market shifts can all crop up at any time necessitating a shift in how a farmer must run their operation. This was certainly the case when the COVID-19 hit. With limited income from educational programs our livestock program was faced with the stark reality that most farmers deal with everyday: the livestock had to earn their keep. Now, this is not to say that the animals at Tollgate don’t work hard: they do. However, production had never been a priority, much less a financial necessity until COVID-19 happened.

We needed our animals to be able to support the cost not only of themselves, but of the rest of their flock/herd. This meant we needed to get the most “bang for our buck” in terms of inputs (feed, medicine, time) but also profit. We needed a good market and special customers who were willing to pay for fresh, locally produced and ethically-raised meat from our flock of sheep and boy-goats. A relationship with Chef Ken at Toasted Oak has provided this for us over the last year, and we could not be more grateful. The team at Toasted Oak really honors us and our livestock with the food they create for their patrons. The team prioritizes a low-waste cooking style that starts with being willing to elevate uncommon meats such as mutton (older sheep) or goat and often wasted cuts such as offal (organ meats) to center stage within their dishes. 

Now, we would like to give our Tollgate Farm family the chance to bring some of our meat home to your kitchen! As part of our efforts to make our flock of sheep the most efficient at their job, we are moving away from the Suffolk breed towards a cross-bred dorper flock. This means keeping the best genetics from our Suffolk ewes: good moms, beautiful conformation, fast growth, etc and adding in new dorper genetics to add and strengthen these traits. We recently purchased 3 dorper-cross ewes to add to our flock, which means that it was time for 3 ewes with traits we don’t want in our breeding program to go to the butcher. It is the meat from these sheep (2 yearling lambs and 1 mutton) that we are now offering for sale by the cut through our farm store! While you are there, don’t forget to check out the soaps our 4H club makes by hand with milk from our herd of toggenburg goats!

If you place your order by Tuesday morning, all farm store purchases can be picked up from 4 – 6:30 PM every Wednesday in the pavilion.  If you have any questions about pickup, please contact tollgatefarm4h@gmail.com. Thank you for supporting our livestock program!

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Meet our Sustainable Agriculture Team 2021

From left to right. Darby is on her 5th season as Tollgate. She has enjoyed watching the CSA grow from 60 members in 2017 to over 200 this season! Darby is an avid runner, tea drinker and pesto maker.


Gwen is on her 6th season farming at Tollgate! Along with Darby, she facilitates the Apprenticeship and CSA. The last 3 years she has been working part time for the CSA and full time on her own operation. Gwen incubated Root to Rise Farm at Tollgate growing produce to sell at a local farmer’s market. We are so happy that she was interested in joining our operation this year! She is a lover of all cats, an excellent baker and a playlist making connoisseur!


Patty is joining us as one of our apprentices this summer. A Michigan native, Patty joins us with extensive animal husbandry knowledge, but she is looking to improve her vegetable production knowledge. Already she has shown her enthusiasm and aptitude for the job! She is a mother of two beautiful girls and a lover of all things true crime.


Nicole is our second apprentice joining us this summer. Hailing from New York, Nicole is joining Tollgate as both an Apprentice and as our new Multi-Media Communications Assistant. Already she has upped Tollgate’s social media and video production game! She is currently searching for the best bagel in Metro-Detroit. If you have any suggestions let us know!

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Meet Our Volunteers June 2021

MSU Tollgate recently hired a new Operations employee, Brett Dan. After two years of working the grounds, cleaning, and helping with garden and educational projects, Deanna Wagner has left MSU Tollgate to take a job with Greenfield Village. Brett comes to the farm having worked for two years on campus in the south campus farms. As you can see from the attached image, Brett is a real “hands on” kind of guy. We are all happy to welcome Brett to the Tollgate team!

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Meet our Staff and Volunteers May 2021

Richard has been a member of the MSU Tollgate maple syrup volunteer team for many years. The farm relies on Richard and Wayne Watson to perform the lion’s share of the maintenance of the tubing system that conducts sap from Tollgate’s 250 tapped maple trees and the collection of sap during the maple sugaring season. During the season, you will see Richard going back and forth between the woods and the sugar shack, collecting sap from the tanks and then transferring it into the large collection tanks outside the shack. Keeping the tubing from the trees to the tanks in good shape also requires constant attention: repairing damage from adverse weather, falling branches, and pesky squirrels and their ever-gnawing teeth. Richard performs his work with a great sense of good humor and dedication to the project, his fellow volunteers, and the farm. The maple project would not be such a huge success without the dedication of Richard and his fellow maple sugaring volunteers. Thank you for all you do for the Farm Richard!

Nicole is thrilled to have recently joined the Tollgate team as Multi-Media Communications Assistant and Farm Apprentice. Her current focus is producing videos for Tollgate educational programs and Detroit Public Television about plants & other happenings on the farm. Come mid-May, she will spend half of her time out in the field with the CSA crew as a Farm Apprentice! 🌱👩🏻‍🌾Nicole recently ventured out to the Metro-Detroit Area from Rockland County, New York (not NYC & not quite Upstate NY, but right in between). Last year during the pandemic, Nicole serendipitously found her love of farming through a farm apprenticeship with Dig Acres in Orange County, NY. She studied Communications and Environmental Studies at the University at Buffalo, but before fully tapping in to her love of the land & cute plants, she spent 3 meaningful years working in non-profit engagement with young adults & families in Buffalo, NY. You can often find Nicole talking about how cute plants are, exploring waterscapes, cooking, & snapping photos of food before anyone takes a bite

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A Sweet Start to our Virtual Programming this Spring: Maple Sugaring Michigan’s Sweet Treat

Eager learners experienced the tapping of a tree in the sugar bush as they watched the sap flow from the drilled hole before going outdoors at home or school to measure and calculate the diameter of a tree. Steam and evaporation investigations accompanied a visit to the sugar shack to see the evaporator and reverse osmosis filter up close and personal. Students compared and contrasted two Michigan agricultural crops – corn and maple – and explored the tastes and grades of maple syrup. Virtual learning tools from collaborative group work in breakout rooms to Kahoot games and STEM presentations kept kids engaged and having fun while actively learning about one of Michigan’s sweetest treats and agricultural crops – maple syrup! MSU Tollgate Farm has been grateful to be able to adapt to meet our mission through educational programming with school and home-based learners.

Interested in learning about our future virtual series? Visit our virtual program webpage: https://www.canr.msu.edu/tollgate/schools/virtual-school-and-community-programs

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