Check Out the Tollgate Camp Video!

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Farm Breeding Season

Fall is always an exciting time of year on the farm. Apples are harvested and pressed into cider, winter produce is collected from the fields and stored, and animals are preparing their bodies for winter and also for having babies!

Tollgate breeds their sheep and goats each fall in order to have babies in the springtime for many programs such as 4-H, Spring Break Camp, Spring Into Farming field trips, and Sheep-to-Sweater programs. The gestation period of sheep and goats is only 5 months! This year we are planning on 5 female goats and 8 female sheep being pregnant over the winter, and birthing as early as February and ending mid-April. This is always such an exciting time, but of course, it is not an exact science. While we hope for the best, sometimes the process does not always go as planned, but of course it is a great learning experience as are many of the happenings that go on at the farm.

In addition to lambs and kids (goats), we will have chicks too! Our embryology program is a neat way for kids to learn about the chicken life cycle, and their chicks come back to the farm to grow up to lay the tasty eggs that we sell here at Tollgate. Stay tuned to the birthing announcements in the early Spring months!

We are also looking for adults interested in volunteering to help care for the animals. If this is something you would like to inquire about, please contact Animal Care Coordinator Nicole Simmons at simmo221@msu.edu.

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Night Hikes on the Farm

This fall, MSU Tollgate Farm hosted our first fun-filled night hike. The Halloween-themed program took place on Friday, October 26th and had about 20 attendees. The event allowed people to see MSU Tollgate Farm after hours, when the property is normally closed to the public.

An educational leader guided the group on a hike through the woods where guests got the opportunity to learn about nocturnal life on the farm. During their exploration around the farm, participants also roasted s’mores, drank cider, and picked pumpkins.

Continuing on this trend, Tollgate plans to host a series of these events that offer educational and recreational opportunities for visitors to venture the farm at nighttime and explore fascinating natural science topics. These events will be open to the public and will particularly appeal to scout groups, families, and anyone with a thirst for knowledge and adventure.

Each hike will incorporate different themes fitting to the month or season. We are looking forward to scheduling these night hikes in months to come. Keep an eye out in the newsletter and Facebook for upcoming dates.

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Collaborating Classrooms and Tollgate School Partnerships

MSUE Tollgate continues to partner with area schools to provide students with innovative inquiry-focused place-based learning experiences. Recently, Tollgate staff worked closely with the Novi Community Schools, Curriculum Superintendent R.J. Webber, Science Coordinator Emily Pohlonski, and kindergarten teaching teams from all five Novi Elementary Schools to tailor a program about trees that aligns with the Michigan Science Standards and the teaching goals of the teachers.

Also new this fall, Tollgate staff has partnered with Farmington Schools Associate Superintendent Aaron Johnson, Principal Greg Smith, Science Coordinator Colleen Stamm, and the teachers from Lanigan Elementary so that every Lanigan student will visit Tollgate twice this school year for authentic learning in the living laboratory of Tollgate’s forest, fields, barns, and pond.

This fall, each Lanigan grade experienced a different program designed to inspire learning and to align with the new Michigan Science Standards. Built on the national Next Generation Science Standards and as found in A Framework for K-12 Science Education, the new standards emphasize not only what students are to know about science, but also what they are able to do with science.

Tollgate programs incorporate the science and engineering practices that students should be able to demonstrate at sequential stages in their K-12 education. One important change in the science standards is an emphasis on integrating science content with application. By presenting students with real world challenges and guiding them through awareness, understanding, and action, children investigate phenomena, record and analyze data, make models, and draw inferences through their explorations in the natural world.

As shared in a report sponsored by the National Science Foundation, many strands of science learning take place in informal settings which result in positive outcomes for students. “For example, learners can experience excitement and motivation to learn about phenomena in the natural and physical world. They can come to understand and use concepts and facts related to science. They can learn how scientists actually conduct their work using specialized tools and equipment. And they can develop an identity as someone who knows about, uses, and sometimes contributes to science.”

Visits to Tollgate foster these outcomes and bridge multiple disciplines using crosscutting concepts to allow students to connect their farm experience with different aspects of their classroom learning and to deepen their understanding of core ideas observed in the farm environment.

Newly piloted Tollgate programs include Water and Land: The Connection, Ecosystems Explorations, and Weather and Animal Adaptations. One grade experienced the Collaborating Classrooms version of Weather and Animal Adaptations with a visit to the school by Tollgate educators to explore big ideas and driving questions. Students were commissioned to gather weather observations and data in their schoolyard and to develop and present a weather forecast.

Next, students took a field trip to the farm to explore animal interactions and weather investigations on site. Thirdly, Tollgate instructors created a virtual classroom, including video updates on weather data collection and live outdoor observations to explore connections between what’s happening in their schoolyard and on the farm.

As Tollgate Education Staff continues to collaborate with school leaders and teachers to develop innovative programming to inspire learning, we are privileged to witness wide-eyed discovery taking place through the vantage point of our young visitors. We look forward to extending the learning throughout the school year through multiple interactions with the students. For more information about Tollgate school programming, contact us at koehle43@msu.edu.

National Research Council. 2009. Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/12190.

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Giving Tuesday – Help Support MSU Tollgate!

As a friend of MSU Tollgate, you know the wide variety of programming and educational opportunities our staff offers to the surrounding community. 

In partnership with Michigan State University’s Give Green Day on Tuesday, November 27th, we are asking you to consider supporting the MSU Tollgate Financial Aid Fund. The MSU Tollgate Financial Aid exists to support families, schools, or individuals who are experiencing financial hardships, but still wish to attend an MSU Tollgate program.

As you may be aware, many of the programming opportunities at MSU Tollgate are fee-based to support the employment of qualified instructors, education materials, and to care for farm livestock. In the past year, a substantial amount of students who visited the farm benefited from the MSU Tollgate financial aid fund. With your help, we can increase the amount of financial aid granted in order to provide a greater number of students access to agricultural-based educational opportunities.

Catherine Hamilton of Stevenson Elementary stated, “The program at Tollgate addresses the needs of our students. Many of our students are in need of cultural experiences outside the classroom. Our students need the opportunity to make real world connections to the content they learn about in school.” An elementary school teacher from Hazel Park Elementary expressed similar gratitude in saying, “We really appreciated the scholarship support which reduced our costs and enabled our students to attend.” Thanks to the scholarship fund, schools such as these are given the chance to partake in hands-on learning opportunities at Tollgate.

For more information on supporting the MSU Tollgate Financial Aid Fund, or to make a donation to help us meet our $2,500 goal, please visit our donation page. Please also consider sharing our fundraising initiative with your friends and family who have benefited from MSU Tollgate offerings.

Donate Here!

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Tollgate Volunteer Opportunities

There are many fun and friendly opportunities to contribute to Tollgate!
  • The Tollgate Garden Volunteers maintain the nearly 20 ornamental gardens on the farm.
  • The Tollgate Maple Syrup crew makes maple syrup every year, and does all the preparation and maintenance for sap collecting.
  • The Tollgate Educational Programming staff seek volunteers throughout the calendar year for school and community field trips at the farm.
  • We are also seeking adults interested in helping to care for the farm animals.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

For educational programming, contact: koehle43@msu.edu

For animal care, contact: simmo221@msu.edu

For all other opportunities, visit: Tollgate Volunteer Page

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