Check Out the Tollgate Camp Video!

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Volunteer Process During Covid-19

Interested in volunteering at Tollgate? Both Extension Master Gardeners and Non-Extension Master Gardeners must first complete our Volunteer Selection Process at https://msu.samaritan.com/custom/502/#/volunteer_home

Make sure you have the following information correct when you apply:

  • Volunteer type: GOLD 
  • Program area: Choose one:
    • EMG: Extension Master Gardener
    • Non-EMG: Agriculture and Agribusiness
  • Primary County: Oakland, Wayne, Macomb
  • Specific Event: not applicable 
  • Staff Member: Choose one:
    • EMG Oakland: Lori Imboden
    • EMG Wayne: Dierdre Hope
    • EMG Macomb: Karen Burke
    • Non-EMG: Carmen Hamilton

Once you have entered all your required information into the Volunteer Selection system an MSU Tollgate staff member will reach out to you about completing a brief interview. Interviews will be conducted by one of the following staff members; Roy Prentice, Ellen Koehler, Carmen Hamilton, or Mike Mathis. After the interview you will be asked to confirm with Roy Prentice or Ellen Koehler your intent to work on an approved Extension Master Gardener project or Non-Extension Master Gardener project. MSU Tollgate Farm staff will provide you with written permission to visit the farm. You will also be asked to sign a Safety Guidelines form and return this to our staff and the Consumer Horticulture Team member for your area.

We appreciate your willingness to volunteer at MSU Tollgate Farm and thank you for beginning this new process of volunteer selection. Volunteers are the most essential partners we have in MSU Extension and they create life-changing experiences and provide millions of dollars in added value in our communities.

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MSU Tollgate Farm Offering Discount for 2021 Rental Events

Nestled in the City of Novi is a beautiful working farm, Michigan State University Tollgate Farm and Education Center. MSU Tollgate Farm includes beautiful flower gardens, open pastures, pond, walking trails, farm animals and 3-acres of organic vegetable fields. There is a historical barn with an attached conference center on site. The barn is in original condition and with lighting and decorations becomes a spectacular place for weddings and special events. For all these reasons and more, MSU Tollgate Farm is truly unique venue.

MSU Tollgate Farm is available for indoor wedding ceremonies in our historic barn and outdoor weddings ceremonies at several beautiful sites on the farm. The Conference Center attached to the historical barn is a perfect for business meetings and celebrations of all kinds. The Conference Center is equipped to support any technology needs, while holding up to 80 people with desks, chairs and a podium. We offer rectangular desks and chairs or round banquet style seating. Catering is offered, allowing you to create a custom menu for your event. MSU Tollgate Farm can meet any of your needs to be that special venue you have in mind.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, MSU Tollgate has cancelled all weddings, business meetings, festivals and educational events. With all the disappointment COVID-19 has brought to our lives, we would like to offer a 20% discount to any group that was unable to have their event in 2020, whether it was scheduled at MSU Tollgate or not. The discount will apply to the rental rate for any event scheduled in 2021.

MSU Tollgate Farm is currently closed to the public, we hope to re-open sometime soon, when it’s safe and restrictions subside. We look forward to welcoming groups big and small, and anyone that will enjoy the well maintained, beautiful, natural simplicity and wonder that MSU Tollgate Farm offers its visitors. Stay safe and take care, we hope to see you soon!

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How do we irrigate our CSA fields?

We use three different methods for watering. The first method is drip tape, a thin plastic tube with regularly spaced holes that emit drops of water. We use drip tape for crops like squash, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant that we plant into plastic mulch. These crops benefit from the extra heat and weed suppression provided by the plastic mulch, but the mulch prohibits water from infiltrating so we put drip tape under the plastic mulch. Because drip tape and mulch are a significant expense not just to buy but also to install, we only use it on long season crops where we will get the most bang for our buck. We plant about an third of our crops using drip tape, which uses the least amount of water, is the best for preventing disease but is also the most expensive.


The second method is movable solid set, which is a series of impact sprinklers. We set up this system direct seeded crops like carrots that need consistent moisture to germinate. We can quickly install the solid set, which allows us to water daily for the two weeks needed to get the crop to germinate and establish without moving hoses or the gun. We only water a few thousand square feet at a time with this system before it gets moved to the next field and that crop is covered by our last, and main, irrigation method.


The third and our most used method is overhead watering with our large impact sprinkler or gun (the actual industry term). This giant impact sprinkler emits 40 gallons of water a minute and covers a circle 110 feet in diameter. It’s fed water by 2 inch diameter hoses, pumped from our reservoir by our pump and generator. This is our main method for irrigation because it is highly flexible, in that it can go anywhere quickly and can cover a range of areas and water amounts. Its also the most affordable since it requires no upkeep outside of pumping water and rarely breaks.


Each irrigation method is matched not just to the crop, but to the crop’s life stage, the soil quality and more. Each system has advantages and disadvantages, and as we have used each system more we have learned more about how to get the most out of them.

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MSU Tollgate Farm During Stay Home, Stay Safe: Sakura Garden, Hay Field, and Garlic Mustard

Spring in the Sakura Garden

At the end of April, the cherry blossoms in our Sakura garden were in full bloom!

Fertilizing the Hay Field

Tollgate recently started a small scale fertilizer trial in the hay field.  We applied 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre to two acres.  This summer, when we cut hay out of the fields, we’ll note the number of bales in treated and untreated areas.  Observations will help guide our management of the fields in future years.

Have you seen this plant?  Pretty, but beware.  Garlic mustard is an invasive plant commonly found in woodlots, hedgerows and gardens.  Garlic mustard produces lots of seeds and can take over a woodlot rapidly crowding out our spring natives.  At Tollgate, staff and volunteers have been pulling out garlic mustard for years to keep it in check.  The Tollgate woods are a wonderful example of a beech/maple forest type with a beautiful understory of spring wildflowers.  This spring display is made possible by the hours spent controlling garlic mustard. 

Enjoy these additional photos from around the farm. We cannot wait until it is safe to welcome visitors once again.

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Indoor and Outdoor at Home Activities for Youth

Screen-free Activities for Kids

Penny Boat: Build a miniature boat and see how many pennies you can place on it before it sinks.
Materials: Pennies, tub of water, building materials (aluminum foil, tape, string, sticks, cardboard, styrofoam, etc..)  
Steps: Gather materials, get creative in boat design, and count how many pennies it takes to sink your boat, 10? 50? 100? More?
Extension Opportunities: Design your boat on paper first, make a prediction of how many pennies it will take to sink your boat, reflect and redesign to improve boat after sinking. 
Rainbow Hike: How many colors can you find in nature. Take a rainbow hike and see if you can find the colors of the rainbow in nature. This activity can also be done inside looking out a window. 
Extension: Grab some paint chips at a local hardware store and match the colors to objects in nature. 
Meet a Tree: Pair up and have a partner describe a local tree (what color/shape are the leaves, texture of the bark, size of the tree, smell, buds, blossoms, fruit). Once the partner has finished with their tree description, its your job to find this tree using the clues from their description. Once you have found the right tree switch roles and repeat. This activity can also be done with the guessers eyes closed. The partner takes the guesser to a tree with their eye closed and they must use their sense of touch and smell to learn about tree. Once finished studying the tree the partner walks the guesser back to where you started and you must now find the tree you met with your eyes open.
Under a Log: Take a walk in the woods and find an old rotting log or larger stick. 
Lift up and turn log over. What creatures do you see? How does the soil and life found under the log differ from the life around the log? 
Observe logs in various areas and compare the differences and similarities. 
Germinating Seeds in a Bag: Observe a seed as it transforms into a plant right before your eyes.
Materials: Ziplock bag, tape, dried beans (any variety will work), and a paper towel
Step 1: Gather materials
Step 2: Dampen paper towel and fold so it fits inside the plastic bag.
Step 3: Place 1-4 dried beans in the plastic bag. Make sure all the beans are touching the paper towel. 
Step 4: Close up Ziplock bag, and tape the bag to the inside of a window that gets plenty of sun.
Step 5: Observe daily for signs of germination(the first sprout, roots, leaves). When you see leaves beginning to emerge, that is when its time to plant.
Faster Option: Pre-soak seeds in a cup of water for 24 hours before starting Step 2.
Extension Opportunities: Start a daily journal documenting the process of germination. 
Start a small garden (plant the germinated seeds in the ground, or in a small pot, or my personal favorite, start a shoe garden and plant the germinated seeds in a soil filled shoe)
Nature Rubbings: Discover all the beautiful textures of nature 
Materials: White paper, crayons, a objects found in nature. 
Step 1: Hold paper still over object you want to make a rubbing of 
Step 2: Using the side of the crayon, gently rub the crayon over the object. This should create a print of the patterns found on the object. 
There are many ways you can do this activity. You can bring crayons and paper out with you on a nature walk and doing the rubbings on the spot. You can gather materials from outside like leaves, twigs, wood, rocks, flowers, etc… and do your rubbings together at home. Too difficult to get outside? Gather fun objects from inside and do the same thing! 
Mud Kitchen: Make your own mud and explore
Materials: 
Dirt, water, sticks, containers 
Find your own mud patch or make your own. This activity allows your child to get creative and explore the consistency and textures of mud.  Build, mix, measure, explore, and imagine. 
Experimental Smoothie: Use ingredients you have at home to create your own smoothie flavor combination. 
Tips: Frozen banana’s make it creamier and more of an milkshake consistency.  A cup of kale or spinach hides well when mixed with the flavorful combination of fruit and juices. 
Fun ingredients that can go in smoothies: frozen fruit, fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, nut butters, yogurt, oats, etc.. 
Extension: Made too much smoothie? Make it into popsicles to enjoy later. 
Sit spot: Find a spot to sit, preferably outside (think: yard, porch, or park, but a window could work as well) and use your senses to notice whats around you.
Use your eyes and ask yourself, “what do you see?” Do you see birds? flies? people walking? ducks swimming?
Close your eyes and use your ears. What do you hear? Leave rustling? water splashing? cars beeping?
Use your nose. What do you smell? Any thing? Maybe a neighbor grilling? the smell of pine trees? maybe you can smell the new spring flowers in bloom? 
Lastly touch. What do you feel? Where are you sitting? What does your seat feel like?
This activity is all about observation and using your senses. Repeat this activity going to the same location if possible daily and noticing whats different? Whats the same?

Online Activities and Resources

Museum Virtual Tour: Check out 12 of the worlds most famous museums from Seoul to London from the comfort of your home. 
National Park Virtual Tour: Take a trip to some of your favorite national parks from anywhere at anytime using the National Parks virtual tour page. While you are on their page check out their awesome Parks from Home activity page where you can watch an adorable video  all about baby animals and become junior ranger from the comfort of your own home by clicking the link here.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Live Cam: Check out the wonders of the ocean from whereever you are. You can explore any of their 10 live cams from 10am- 10pm Pacific Time, from exploring the gentle sway in the great kelp forest to the lively action in the otter cam, you are guaranteed a great time. 
TIME for Kids: Time for Kids is offering the digital subscription of their kid friendly magazine for the duration of the school year. 
Ranger Rick:Check out this awesome website filled with nature and wildlife inspired videos, games, and activities offered free till June by the National Wildlife Federation. 
Doodles with Mo Willems: If you haven’t checked out Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems yet on The Kennedy Center YouTube channel we highly recommend it. He explains the process of doodling as a space to explore and have fun- its about the process and not the finished product!
MSU Extension: Check out 84 easy science lessons you can do from home with supplies you most likely already have. Children can have fun while they improve their critical thinking systems and learn how to ask their own question and find their own answers. 
Huron-Clinton Metro parks YouTube:   Check out their YouTube Channels for a bunch of interactive and educational videos about Michigan wildlife and nature! 
Huron-Clinton Metro parks Activities: Activities, worksheets, and coloring pages all about Michigan wildlife and science. New activities added weekly! 
Cincinnati Zoo: Check out the Zoo’s website for at home activities that inspire creativity as you learn about the many animals that make up the Cincinnati Zoo. You can also check out their YouTube Channel for Home Safaris where they highlight an animal everyday @ 3:00 est. 

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