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Greetings From the Tollgate Farm Manager

Greetings All,
March is maple syrup season! The 2019 Tollgate maple syrup season officially got underway Saturday, February 23rd with a very successful tree tapping extravaganza! Many eager volunteers came to Tollgate to assist in this activity day. We tapped about 50 trees, all connected to tubing.

For the first two weeks of March, cold weather has severely limited sap flow. According to the weather app., we are on the cusp of greatly improved sapping conditions. Fingers crossed, we are hoping for our usual annual average of 100 gallons. Time will tell whether the vagaries of nature will allow this.

Many groups have visited the Tollgate sugar bush this season. Lots and lots of field trips visit! Tollgate maple volunteers have done a wonderful job helping the kids learn about the magic of the maple season.

Maple volunteers also played a major role in the recent Tollgate Maple Feast. Registrants to the Feast got a hay ride to the woods, saw how trees were tapped, viewed the evaporator and got a yummy pancake and syrup meal. Thanks to the Tollgate maple volunteers for helping to make the 2019 maple season a success for all of our visitors!

Winter is beginning to lose its grip and there are many signs of spring around the farm. Bluebirds, piliated woodpeckers and even a bald eagle have all been seen around the farm. Not wanting to be left behind, Tollgate’s plants are showing signs of life. The daffodils are emerging, buds are swelling, and garden volunteer days are upon us.

Check the Tollgate volunteer calendar and plan to join us in the gardens. You can view the calendar online here. We have had a few warm days and the gardening season is in sight! See you soon around the farm.
-Roy Prentice

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Into the Classroom

As part of our collaborating classrooms program with Lanigan Elementary, Tollgate education staff was very excited to host one of our first virtual classroom visits.

Prior to the school visiting the farm for the first time, our team traveled to the school and embarked on a schoolyard investigation with the 1st grade class. We brought with us tools to gather weather data, equipment to construct rain gauges with the students, and a few friends from the barn for students to observe their physiology and behavior.

The focal point of the 1st grade program was to interpret weather and determine different ways that life on the farm adapts to various conditions, so we have continuously incorporated this theme and carried it through our many lessons.

In the fall, Lanigan 1st graders had the opportunity to experience life on the farm by visiting with and caring for the animals, and exploring Tollgate to carry out their weather investigations. Students got comfortable using weather tools such as anemometers to read the wind speed and laser guns that read the temperature.

They also got to station rain gauges in multiple locations around the farm. This gave the opportunity for students to compare their readings from their school rain gauges to the data collected here at Tollgate.

After a long winter, we were all eagerly anticipating the chance to revisit all of these wonderful lessons and make some conclusions about animal adaptations and weather. Students gathered in the media center of the school to tune in to a Zoom session broadcasted live from the farm.

As we prepared to begin the Zoom session, the teachers prompted for questions that the students might have and 1st graders eagerly shared their inquiries about what was happening on the farm that day.

We began by showing students their rain gauges and giving them the opportunity to read their rainfall data. The readings varied quite a bit depending on the location they were placed, so students were able to make some predictions about why we were seeing these differences.

They also shared their readings from the classroom, which were quite different from our readings at Tollgate, and this was an interesting point to reflect on as well. After sharing our conclusions, students were very excited to head out to the animal barn, so off we went on a gater ride to see the animals, bringing the students along with us on the iPad and Padcaster.

We first visited the chicken coop and made observations about the roosters and hens, and also counted the number of eggs in the coop. While still outside, we prompted the students to make predictions about the weather and share what they were noticing about the current conditions.

Using the anemometer and temperature laser, we got our readings and then questioned students if they think the animals would prefer to be inside the barn or out in the pasture. Based on the chilly temps and high winds, they voted that more animals would be in the barn, so we headed inside to see if this hypothesis was correct.

Upon stepping into the barn, we encountered some animals that the students had not yet seen or interacted with – baby lambs! They were huddling around their heat pads to stay warm, and some were even adorned with sweaters, so students were able to reflect on this as well.

We also spent some time with the goats, mama sheep, and more baby lambs before wrapping up the visit with some final weather measurements. It was a few degrees warmer in the barn, and as students predicted, we were shielded from the wind. We concluded by counting all of the animals we saw in the barn, and this further proved that most of the animals were definitely choosing to stay inside with these current weather conditions.

This visit provided a wonderful opportunity for students to further expand upon their knowledge gained during the previous field trip and make conclusions from our previous investigations. Students were incredibly engaged and had excellent observations and questions throughout, and we look forward to working with them again this spring when they come back to Tollgate for the final element of collaborating classrooms.

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2019 MS Farm Sprouts – Week #3 Wednesday AM

The sap was flowing this week and thus, the evaporator was firing, boiling the sugary maple tree sap (around 2-2.5% sucrose content during the spring run) into delicious maple syrup! Farm Sprouts signed in by creating the letters from their names with small twigs. Some twigs are straight, while others are curvy. We wonder what makes them grow the way they do? Farm Sprouts voted for firebox or evaporator, clues guiding our preparation to visit the Sugar Shack.

Our hike out to the Sugar Bush included greetings in Spanish and English to the animals lining the lane. The signs and smell of animal manure were in the air, noted by Farm Sprouts and surely another sign that spring is on its way! Another sign? Mud puddles! Farm Sprouts soaked up the opportunity to jump in the mud. We also spotted Canadian geese, yet have not seen any robins yet. The puddles are a sure sign the worms will be emerging soon and the robins will be soon to follow!

We were intrigued to see steam rolling out of the sugar shack. We peeked into the wood shed, amazed at the amount of wood stacked inside. We wondered for what purpose the volunteers might use the wood? We were able to see Mr. Wayne and Mr. Richard, busy collecting sap and pumping it up to the storage tank to be fed into the evaporator inside the Shack. We noted the temperature: 32 degrees Fahrenheit for the morning group and 38 degrees Fahrenheit for the afternoon group. It takes freezing temperatures at night and above freezing temperatures during the day to cause sap flow in the trees. Later, we recorded these temperatures and the conditions (cloudy, some rain) onto a chart in the classroom, as well a big “Yes!” for sap flow!

Inside the Sugar Shack, Farm Sprouts were completely in awe at the steam rising from the evaporator. Mr. Fred told stories and guided Farm Sprouts through discovering some of the answers to their questions. Mr. John and Mr. Bob generously assisted with running the evaporator for us today. The firebox, in particular, was very interesting, as well as seeing “where the syrup comes out.”

Farm Sprout preschoolers interacting with Tollgate maple sugaring volunteers to find out the purpose of the wood stacked in the Sugar Shack’s shed

Next, we made our way to the fire, tended by Mr. Ken. We greatly enjoyed his company and the opportunity to taste fresh, warm sugar maple sap (flash-boiled) with Mini Banana-Maple Pancake Muffins. We used Tollgate sugar and syrup in the recipe and Tollgate syrup for dipping. It was such fun to dip muffins in syrup and to lick the plates clean! With warm bodies and full bellies, it was then time to check on Farm Sprouts’ very own tapped tree to see whether or not they had collected any sap. They were surprised and delighted to see their bucket nearly full! They began an assembly line to take small buckets of sap to the larger tank, where it will then be picked up by the volunteers with a Bobcat to be transported to the Sugar Shack. Farm Sprouts spent some time exploring and playing in the Sugar Bush before journeying back to the classroom.

Back at the Activity Center, Farm Sprouts shared in the story, Maple Sugar from the Sugarhouse by Laurie Lazarro Knowlton. Thank you to the Hess and Grady families for donating this great story to us! Farm Sprouts learned they were very familiar with most of the process through their experiences at the farm this season, except for the part in which they enjoyed fresh maple syrup on pancakes. They need not worry, as that is the plan for next week! We journaled some of our thoughts and ideas before spending some time working in our own cardboard Sugar Shack among other activities available in the classroom. We look forward to enjoying fruits of our labor with a pancake celebration for our final week in order to draw another great season to a close!

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2019 MS Farm Sprouts Week #3 – Wednesday PM

The sap was flowing this week and thus, the evaporator was firing, boiling the sugary maple tree sap (around 2-2.5% sucrose content during the spring run) into delicious maple syrup! Farm Sprouts signed in by creating the letters from their names with small twigs. Some twigs are straight, while others are curvy. We wonder what makes them grow the way they do? Farm Sprouts voted for firebox or evaporator, clues guiding our preparation to visit the Sugar Shack.

Our hike out to the Sugar Bush included greetings in Spanish and English to the animals lining the lane. The signs and smell of animal manure were in the air, noted by Farm Sprouts and surely another sign that spring is on its way! Another sign? Mud puddles! Farm Sprouts soaked up the opportunity to jump in the mud. We also spotted Canadian geese, yet have not seen any robins yet. The puddles are a sure sign the worms will be emerging soon and the robins will be soon to follow!

We were intrigued to see steam rolling out of the sugar shack. We peeked into the wood shed, amazed at the amount of wood stacked inside. We wondered for what purpose the volunteers might use the wood? We were able to see Mr. Wayne and Mr. Richard, busy collecting sap and pumping it up the the storage tank to be fed into the evaporator inside the Shack. We noted the temperature: 32 degrees Fahrenheit for the morning group and 38 degrees Fahrenheit for the afternoon group. It takes freezing temperatures at night and above freezing temperatures during the day to cause sap flow in the trees. Later, we recorded these temperatures and the conditions (cloudy, some rain) onto a chart in the classroom, as well a big “Yes!” for sap flow!

Inside the Sugar Shack, Farm Sprouts were completely in awe at the steam rising from the evaporator. Mr. John and Mr. Bob (nearby) generously assisted with running the evaporator for us today. Mr. Fred told stories and guided Farm Sprouts through discovering some of the answers to their questions. The firebox, in particular, was very interesting, as well as seeing “where the syrup comes out.”

Next, we made our way to the fire, tended by Mr. Ken. We greatly enjoyed his company and the opportunity to taste fresh, warm sugar maple sap (flash-boiled) with Mini Banana-Maple Pancake Muffins. We used Tollgate sugar and syrup in the recipe and Tollgate syrup for dipping. It was such fun to dip muffins in syrup and to lick the plates clean! With warm bodies and full bellies, it was then time to check on Farm Sprouts’ very own tapped tree to see whether or not they had collected any sap. They were surprised and delighted to see their bucket nearly full! They began an assembly line to take small buckets of sap to the larger tank, where it will then be picked up by the volunteers with a Bobcat to be transported to the Sugar Shack. Farm Sprouts spent some time exploring and playing in the Sugar Bush before journeying back to the classroom.

Stick A-MAZING World!

Back at the Activity Center, Farm Sprouts shared in the story, Maple Sugar from the Sugarhouse by Laurie Lazarro Knowlton. Thank you to the Hess and Grady families for donating this great story to us! Farm Sprouts learned they were very familiar with most of the process through their experiences at the farm this season, except for the part in which they enjoyed fresh maple syrup on pancakes. They need not worry, as that is the plan for next week! We journaled some of our thoughts and ideas before spending some time working in our own cardboard Sugar Shack among other activities available in the classroom. We look forward to enjoying fruits of our labor with a pancake celebration for our final week in order to draw another great season to a close!

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Tollgate Farm 4-H Club 2019 Activities Have Begun

The members of Tollgate Farm 4-H Club have started the new year with an annual service project, providing schools and community gardens with seeds packets. We also participated in the Oakland County 4-H Culinary dinner, earning 3rd place for our table display. Although the county fair may be 6 months away, planning is well underway for project submissions. 

Tollgate Farm 4-H Club began the year with our annual community service project. After collecting over 3000 packets of seeds from various seed companies, we distributed them to 47 school & community gardens. We would like to acknowledge and thank our donors: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, Botanical Interests Seed Packets, Burpee Gardens, Plant Hart’s Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, Renee’s Garden Seeds Seeds of Change, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Victory Seed Company.

Congratulations to our youth members who received awards at he Oakland County 4-H Achievement Awards.
Aaron H: Key Club Award for multiple years in 2 project areas and participation at the club, county and state levels
Alexis J: Spark Award for exemplary service to club
Haru K: Spark Award exemplary service to club
Susanna K: Sheep Medal for project work in sheep

Congratulations to all club members. Tollgate Farm 4-H Club was recognized as a “Gold Club” for the program year 2018 – 2019. Also the club was recognized for community service.

The kids have been continuing to care for the farm animals on weekends. This generally includes basic feeding, filling water troughs, pen cleaning, egg collecting, and other tasks as needed. Of course everyone is looking forward to lambing and kidding season. The much anticipated arrivals will be project animals for youth members participating in the county and state fairs.

Just for fun, the kids competed in the Oakland County 4-H Culinary Dinner. For this event, each participating club selected a country and prepared food to share at the event as well as a presentation. Tollgate Farm 4-H kids selected Botswana for their country. Congratulations to the kids for receiving 3rd place for Table Display!

The arrival of spring lambs is always exciting! Our members look forward to preparing lambs and goat kids for showmanship at fair. They will be halter training their project animals and learning about their species. New this year – a couple of members will be raising roaster chickens for the Oakland Count Fair. The eggs are in the incubator with the first batch hatching at the end of March!

Tollgate Farm 4-H Club remains open to new members ages 5 – 19. 
Adult 4-H Volunteers Welcome to Help Guide the Members Through Projects! For more information:
Web: www.tollgatefarm4h.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TGF4H/
Email: tollgatefarm4H@gmail.com 

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