Check Out the Tollgate Camp Video!

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Spring is an exciting time on the farm for the members of Tollgate Farm 4-H Club!

We welcomed lambs in February and more recently kids goats. Since the goats are dairy animals, we are looking forward to milking through the summer months. You may also see the members out helping to shear the sheep.  These animals will be raised by club members and shown at the Oakland County and Michigan State Fairs. A livestock project is a lot of work however a lot is learned from it: species knowledge, responsibility, sportsmanship, planning and more. 

We began to plan the garden. Recently we began to start seeds. This provides vegetables for the club garden but also seedlings for sale. It is also heartening to see the garlic planted last fall sprouting. The vegetable and seedlings we raise and sell at farm stand sales provide income to fund club activities. 

This spring the club members also had the opportunity to hatch chicks this spring. We selected easter eggers to supplement the layer flock. This birds will lay blue, green, pink or brown eggs when they mature. We also hatched out roaster chicks. These are a meat bird variety that a couple of our members will raise for auction at the Oakland County Fair. 

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:

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Spring Break Camp: Garden Kitchen Recipes

Monday AM – Maple Popcorn
Popcorn kernels: ⅔ cup
Vegetable oil: 2 tbsp
Maple syrup
Add oil and kernels to stir popper, let run until kernels have finished popping, serve up with a small amount of maple syrup to dip or drizzle

Monday PM – Maple Energy Balls
Oats: 2 cups
Sun butter: ½ cup
Maple syrup: ½ cup
Chocolate chips: ½ cup
Vanilla: 1 tsp
Dash of salt
Mix ingredients together in large bowl, set in fridge to cool for 20+ minutes, then roll into balls

Tuesday AM – Overnight Oats (Sand/Silt/Clay Pudding)
Rolled oats: 3 cups
Rice milk: 3 cups
Sun butter: 4 tbsp
Cocoa powder: 4 tbsp
Chia seeds: 4 tbsp
Maple Syrup: 4 tbsp per group
Vanilla: 2 tsp
Salt: a few dashes per group
Mix wet ingredients (including sun butter) then add dry ingredients. Store in a covered container to set overnight. Top with fruit of choice, we used banana slices.

Tuesday PM – Black Bean Hummus
Black beans: ½ bag dried beans
Garlic: 3 cloves
Tahini: 1 tbsp
Ground cumin: 1 tsp
Lemon juice: 1 tbsp
Olive oil: 3 tbsp
Salt: to taste
Drain and rinse the beans until the water runs pretty clear. Place in the bowl of a food processor. Roughly chop the garlic and add to the food processor. Add the tahini, cumin, lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of salt. Blend in the food processor until smooth, then taste and make any necessary seasoning adjustments. Serve with corn chips, pita bread, or fresh veggies for dipping.

Wednesday AM – Fruit Leather
Apples: 2 cups
Blueberries: 2 cups
Strawberries: 2 cups
Maple syrup: 2 tsp
Wash fruit and remove seeds/stems if applicable, leave the peels on for added nutrition. Blend fruit together and add maple syrup. Transfer to parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spread out evenly. Dehydrate according to your dehydrator instructions or oven bake at lowest temperature for 10 hours.

Wednesday PM – Asparagus Rafts
Asparagus: 5 bundles
Sesame seeds: 3 tbsp
Sesame oil: 4 tsp
Soy sauce or tamari: 4 tbsp
Minced garlic: 4 cloves
Pepper: 1 tsp
Salt: 1 tsp
Cooking Spray
Wooden skewers
Snap off tough ends of asparagus, cut in half, and arrange 4 spears on a flat surface. Thread two 3-inch skewers or toothpicks horizontally through spears 1 inch from each end to form a raft. Repeat procedure with remaining asparagus spears. Combine soy sauce, oil, and garlic; brush evenly over asparagus rafts. Grill 3 minutes on each side or until crisp-tender. Sprinkle evenly with sesame seeds, pepper, and salt.

Thursday AM – Green Smoothie
Banana: 6 peeled and frozen bananas
Mixed berries: 3 cups
Spinach or kale: 3 cups
Rice milk: enough to get good consistency
Maple syrup: drizzle some in
Blend ingredients in large blender until it reaches a smoothie texture

Thursday PM – Kale Chips
Kale: 2-3 bunches per group
Olive oil: 1 tablespoons
Seasoned salt: 1 teaspoon
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Line a non insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner. Remove kale leaves from the stems and tear into bite size pieces. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt. Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes.

Friday AM – Hard Boiled Eggs
Carton of eggs
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Bring large pot to a boil and add eggs. Cook for about 10-15 minutes. Peel shell off and season with salt and pepper.

Friday PM – Farmhouse Stew
Root vegetables (sweet potatoes, white potatoes, carrots): bag of each
Kale: 4 bunches
Vegetable stock: 4 cartons
Seasonings: salt, pepper, oregano, bay leaf
Garlic: 2-4 cloves
Dried beans: 2 cups
Prepare vegetables by  chopping onion, potatoes, and carrots, de-stemming and chopping kale, dicing onion, and mincing garlic. Feel free to add any other veggies or legumes for a heartier stew. Combine vegetables, broth, and seasonings together in large pot, stir together, and heat over a stove.

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Spring Break Camp Day #5: Fuzzy Friends Friday

This week of camp sure did fly by! We ended on a very positive note with a day centered around many of the campers’ favorite thing at the farm: the animals! The morning began with some games and reflection before embarking on new adventures.

We started off garden time by learning a little more about a type of composting that we utilize here at the farm – vermicomposting. A not-so-fuzzy friends that we got to meet and interact with during this activity were the worms in our vermicompost bin. Campers were fascinated with looking at these critters up close and identifying parts of their anatomy. Orange peppers also took this time to engage in a game of decomposition tag out in the field, a version of freeze tag where the campers chosen to act as worms will unfreeze anyone who gets tagged by bringing nutrients back to the earth to support new life. A very fun way to warm up this morning!

Our first visit to the animal barn today was to carry out our regular chores of feeding and watering the animals, collecting eggs from the chicken coop, and giving some love to the chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, ponies, and horses that call Tollgate home.

We had an embryology rotation this morning where the kids discovered all about the development of a fertilized egg. We started by observing the mother hens and comparing them to the newly hatched chicks as well as some chicks that are a little bit older. We also looked at some diagrams and models showing how the chick develops over the course of three weeks, and even did an egg dissection to identify the various parts of the egg.

Continuing on the theme of eggs, we incorporated them into the AM garden kitchen by having hard boiled eggs. Campers also prepared veggies for the afternoon snack. Each pepper group was given the task of preparing a couple of the ingredients, and they very strategically worked in almost assembly-line fashion to peel and cut the vegetables.

During lunch, Ms. Ellen’s son brought the Red Peppers a wonderful surprise, Ms. Ellen’s dog Teddy! They loved getting to meet him and gave lots of pets. After lunch, one of the activities that involved our fuzzy friends was to take them on a haltered animal hike. Campers were able to take out some of their favorite companions that they bonded with over the week and take turns walking them around the property. This was a great lesson for many of the kids that hadn’t walked an animal before, and also a wonderful opportunity to develop a closer relationship with the animals.

Today was the final day of our STEAM project, so when we went out to the woods, campers worked hard to perfect their erosion barriers before putting them to the ultimate test. Each group got to present their soil type, building strategy, and share what materials they used and why. Many also discussed how their engineering strategy was inspired by something out in nature or manufactured by people when tackling erosion problems in real life. During the test of water on land, the hills maintained their structural integrity and the soil mostly stayed in place. We were very impressed with how these projects turned out and how inventive the students were with their designs.

With the warmer weather and shining sun, most groups chose to take extra time in the forest to explore, play on logs, and splash around in the pond. Some campers got rather wet, but said that it was well worth it for the adventure they got out of the experience. The Green Peppers took time to gather materials that birds may use as nesting material, so that we could set it out and help the bird populations that nest around the farm. Yellow Peppers also returned to ‘Mt. Woodchip’ for some fun-filled climbing time.

Our PM garden kitchen snack was ‘Farmhouse Stew’ made with fresh veggies that the campers prepared in the morning, as well as vegetable stock, beans, and seasonings. Unfortunately the stew was a little hit or miss with the campers, so we accompanied it with some pretzels as well.

We wrapped up the day with some reflections on our favorite activities during the week, some strengths that we exhibited, lessons we learned, and gave compliments to fellow campers on things that they did well. It is always bittersweet to part ways after such an exciting week, but we take many valuable memories away from our time together, and hope to see campers return to Tollgate this Summer for more incredible camp opportunities!

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Spring Break Camp Day #4: Green Thumb Thursday

For Green Thumb Thursday, our theme was plant life and gardening, and we had a wide array of activities that fit or accompanied this theme. The morning commenced with map making, which was a continuation of yesterday’s task to create and hide rain gauges. Campers were eager to strategize and draw out aerial photos of the farm, with an ‘X marks the spot’ for the rain gauge location. Green Peppers led today’s flag ceremony, and now all groups have had the opportunity to partake in this task.

One of the morning’s green thumb activities included the crafting of seed balls using clay, compost, and grass seed. Some kids chose to take theirs home, and most also opted to partake in the launching of our seed balls as a method of planting them in the field. The Red Pepper group also took on the challenge of engineering catapults to launch them.

We re-visited the garden to continue tending the beds, plant spinach seeds, and also make newspaper pots for campers to take home and plant. Campers love working diligently to care for the edu-garden beds and learning new gardening skills, and we are very impressed in their hard work and the pride they take in it.

After much anticipation for chicks to hatch, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that one hatched yesterday, three this morning, and a fifth in the afternoon. In addition to meeting the fluffy new chicks, campers visited with the other beloved farm friends during morning chores. The kids have now had the opportunity to care for all of Tollgate’s animals, which has made for a very well-rounded experience in animal husbandry over the week.

Our first garden kitchen snack of the day was an all-time favorite! We made green smoothies by blending up frozen banana, mixed berries, rice milk, maple syrup, and kale. The Orange Pepper group was the last to have this activity block and had enough ingredients left for multiple batches, which meant third helpings for the campers – they just couldn’t get enough!

After lunch, we had another healthy snack with the use of greens by making kale chips. These were super simple but very satisfying. Campers helped to rip up and de-stem the kale, drizzle in olive oil, and sprinkle with salt prior to baking the kale until it got nice and crispy. However, some groups realized during the taste test that we were a tad over-zealous with the salt. This is part of the learning process of food science though. We are always working to adjust and perfect recipes, which the campers are a big help with.

Pepper groups returned to the forest and their soil mounds to begin building erosion barriers for their STEAM project. We began by gathering around the fire pit, discussing the procedure for our experiment, and brainstorming some natural materials that would be best to incorporate into our designs. Campers then got to work engineering barriers on the hills to hold the soil in place. We also performed our first test to see how the barriers held up against water, and took a moment to reflect on how we could reinforce our designs tomorrow before putting them to the final test.

One of the most exciting activities of the day was going on a wagon ride around the farm property. Red and Green Peppers joined together for the ride and saw many deer back in the woods. They also stopped in the hay field to play some really fun games with the parachute. Orange and Yellow groups rode out later in the afternoon, and faced an unforeseen obstacle of getting stuck in the mud! Luckily we had the parachute to keep us occupied while Farmer Roy came out to rescue us and by towing our tractor out with an bigger tractor.

Another great opportunity for pepper groups to come together was for the rain gauge hunt. Red and Green hid theirs for each other to find, and Orange and Yellow did the same. We swapped maps and set out on a mission to find them using the maps. All groups used teamwork and navigation skills to successfully locate the rain gauges!

We wrapped up the day with some reflections of some of our incredible memories thus far. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is already the last day of camp, but we’re certain that it will be one to remember!

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Spring Break Camp Day #3: Water Wednesday

For today’s theme of Water Wednesday, we kicked things off with a gathering activity called ‘Blue Planet’. The activity involved tossing an inflatable globe to one another, and seeing how often our right thumb landed in water. The objective is to gather perspective on how much of the earth is dominated by water, this was definitely proven given that the vast majority of campers’ thumbs landed in the ocean.

The morning’s garden kitchen snack was fruit leather that we prepared and processed Tuesday and then dehydrated overnight. This treat was a big hit, and we were left wishing we had more! We also worked to prepare asparagus rafts by cutting asparagus spears and connecting them with wooden skewers, then setting aside to finish in the afternoon.

We returned to the upper barn for a very fun game called ‘The Incredible Journey’ all about the water cycle. We discussed how all of the water in the world today has always existed on earth in some form, and how it is constantly moving and changing state through the water cycle. Campers got to act out a water droplet moving through this process by starting in one location and using a spinner to determine where they would travel to next. We then shared and reflected on our journey before making our way to the next rotation.

A morning visit to the pond was a must for Water Wednesday, so we spent some time at the waterfall splashing around and observing Tollgate’s ducks. We then used dip nets, tubs, dichotomous keys, and a few other tools in a pond study investigation for benthic macroinvertebrates – small critters that live at the bottom of the pond. We found some interesting beetles, snails, and a few larvae as well. Campers also found lotus pods and observed lots of new spring growth coming up around the pond.

Time in the animal barn is a regular favorite for campers as it provides the opportunity to visit with and care for the farm animals. We are anxiously waiting for the chicks to hatch in the incubator and for Gertie the sheep to have her lambs.

Following lunch, we had a beautiful and sunny afternoon with plentiful time in the forest. Pepper groups hiked out to the vernal pond and we learned about the seasonality of this body of water, and how it provides an ideal habitat for amphibians due to their unique life cycle. We walked around the pond looking for signs of animals, and found some deer scat and birds’ nests, showing us that many other animals may visit and depend on vernal pools as a water source in the spring. Campers also had a blast walking on logs and using them as an obstacle course to maneuver their way through and around the pond. Some of our campers also thought of the clever idea to test some natural materials such as acorns and bark and see what would float in the water – true scientists in our midst!

Also in the forest, we continued to dig out holes and build up our hills for the STEAM project involving erosion studies. The groups got to also identify soil types, and we saw some differences between soil in the various locations. Tomorrow we will put our hills to the test and see if they erode when water lands on them. Our goal is to continue making connections between water and land, and how they impact one another. Campers are beginning to brainstorm the engineering portion of this project as we will commence building erosion barriers tomorrow!

Afternoon garden kitchen was the asparagus rafts that we began to prepare in the morning. We placed the pre-made rafts into a zip-loc with soy sauce/tamari, sesame oil, sesame seeds, garlic, salt, and pepper and then let the asparagus marinate. Leaders grilled the rafts as campers observed and enjoyed the delicious smells filling the activity center before digging in. The rafts were a great combination of crafting and cooking, and such a fitting snack for a day focused on water.

Our final task was a science project of building a recycled rain gauge to collect rainfall data. Campers helped to fashion this with re-purposed pop bottles, gravel, laminated measuring papers, and tape. We brainstormed where we could put the rain gauge for optimal data collection, as well as a place it would remain well hidden. The fun spin on this task is that we will make a map tomorrow showing where the rain gauge is located on the farm, and another pepper group will get to find it.

As we are over halfway through the week, campers are developing great bonds and building lasting memories with their friends here on the farm. We can’t wait to continue on this trend for the next two days of Tollgate Spring Break Camp.

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