Check Out the Tollgate Camp Video!

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Meet our Staff and Volunteers September 2020

Deanna Wagner is an agricultural laborer who started at MSU Tollgate in 2019. Deanna originally started her agricultural career at The Henry Ford/Greenfield Village. Since starting at Tollgate, Deanna has immersed herself in learning everything about the farm. She has also continued her learning journey at Wayne County Community College, receiving her Landscape Management Certificate in 2020. Deanna is a great coworker who cares deeply about the farm and works incredibly hard to keep it running smoothly. Thank you for all you do Deanna!

Kari Heughens joined the MSU Tollgate Farm staff as an Event Coordinator in September of 2018. In her role at Tollgate, Kari organizes events both big and small. MSU Tollgate Farm offers a very unique venue for business meetings, private celebrations, and wedding ceremonies. One of the larger events Kari helps organize is our annual Pumpkinfest. Kari loves her position as it offers the opportunity to learn and work with a great staff of people and when desired, a walk outside visiting the animals living on the farm.Kari has three grown children and 4 granddaughters all 6 years old and younger. She loves being able to have her grandchildren visit the farm and attend the community events MSU Tollgate Farm has throughout the year. This year has been a tough year, especially holding events at the farm. It has required creative thinking to translate our in-person events to virtual events. This summer, Kari and co-workers created the Tollgate Camp in A Box. The boxes contained a variety of items to teach and explore the skills needed to survive in the woods and garden at home. Kari feels very fortunate to work with kind and creative people at Tollgate. Everyone at the farm helps one another perfecting the idea of team work. Kari is proud of her position at Tollgate Farm and continues to look for ways to adapt events virtually, which allows her to grow her skillset and be on the lookout for inspirational ideas! Thank you for all your do Kari!

John has been involved with and a driving force behind the Tollgate maple syrup project for over twenty years. He has been a great supporter of all activities that focus on Tollgate’s 40 acre woodlot. Woodlot management, forest inventory, tree identification and, of course, maple syrup production, are all near to his heart. John comes by his love of the woods honestly. He owns over 300 acres in the upper peninsula and is a past president of the Michigan Forest Association. John is also a civil engineer by training and a former owner of a paving contracting firm. When you walk through Tollgate’s woods, appreciate the benefits that John has helped create: not only the tubing system which helps us collect sap to make over 100 gallons of yummy maple syrup each year, but also the paved trails that John’s company installed many years ago. Thank you John for all that you do for the farm!

Darby is the Production Manager on the Sustainable Agriculture team. Darby came to Tollgate in 2017 from Pennsylvania. Her interest in agriculture began in college where she did a lot of work with local food systems and food education. She started as an apprentice that summer to gain experience in production agriculture. She loved it so much that she came back as the Field Manager the next summer and served as the Production manager during the 2019 season. She manages many of the day to day tasks of the operation such as greenhouse work, planting and weeding. Darby works incredibly hard to provide our CSA members with amazing produce and still manages to help out others on the farm all with a positive attitude that makes it fun to have her as a coworker. Her passion for growing produce is evident in her work and we are lucky to have her as part of our team. Thank you for all you do for Tollgate Darby!

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MSU Tollgate Garden Volunteers Quilt Raffle: A Compilation

The Tollgate Garden volunteers have been hosting a quilt raffle fund raiser for many years.  Tollgate volunteer, Darretta Ferasin, has been a part of the Tollgate quilters who created quilts for our raffle for all of that time.  Darretta recently compiled images for all of the many beautiful work-of-art quilts that have been created through the years. 

Check out these beautiful quilts below:

Quilt Raffle Volume 1

Quilt Raffle Volume 2

Quilt Raffle Volume 3

Quilt Raffle Volume 4

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Virtual Learning Takes Shape At Tollgate: Experiential Learning in a Virtual World

All programs at the farm are rooted in experiential education with the 4-H learning model ‘do, reflect, apply’ at their core. Learners are not passive recipients of information being provided by a talking head, but rather active participants led by large overarching driving questions that spur investigation and questions of the learners’ own imagination. Incorporated are interdisciplinary learning objectives embedded in the paradigm of problem- and project-based challenges and culminating action projects. 

Due to COVID-19, this summer our three specialty camps for the slightly older camper took on a new shape. Winged Wonders, Outdoor Adventure, and Vet Science became weeklong interactive learning adventures which included virtual interactive sessions, STEM challenges, recorded and live visits from the farm, virtual visits with animals specialists and experts from other sites, and the use of a variety of interactive virtual tools, all accompanied by a blog filled with background and activities for the camper to explore on their own. 

A collaboration with Kellogg Biological Station and the KBS Bird Sanctuary, MSU Tollgate Farm/KBS Virtual Winged Wonders Camp hosted 49 campers from 8 states and 8 Michigan counties to explore ornithology, birds of prey, backyard birds, biomimicry, and much more. Tollgate’s Virtual Outdoor Adventure Camp explored wilderness skills such as shelter-building, fire-building, paddling skills, fishing, knot-tying, and more. 

This August, thirty campers ages 10-15 from 5 states and 11 Michigan counties explored the Tollgate barn and pastures virtually as they investigated veterinary science and animal medicine through our Virtual Vet Science Camp. Campers learned about the care of livestock and pets up close and personal, engaged in STEM challenges, and learned about veterinary tools & technology. Daily interactive real time sessions with MSU Tollgate Farm staff, Extension Animal Science educators, and visiting vets and animal care specialists complemented a vast array of interesting and challenging activities on the blog. 

The week began by establishing a culture of community with icebreakers and session norms. We explored the overarching theme of veterinary science, animal well-being, and the five freedoms with MSU Extension Educator Melissa Elischer. Tuesday was Horse Day with visits from our horse camp coordinator at her stables and an area horse vet from neighboring farm who showed us how he assesses a horse’s health with basic veterinary care. We built models of a stomach as we investigated monogastric, ruminant, and pseudo-ruminant digestive systems. 

Wednesday focused on sheep and cattle as Day Camp Coordinator Sara Mund led campers through a design and build cattle chute activity in which campers came up with amazing creative models. Tollgate Farm 4-H club member Susanna Khanuk shared her experiences caring for and showing sheep at the county fair and Nick Babcock, MSU Extension Veterinary Science Educator, visited us from his farm where he raises cattle and sheep to explore parasitology with campers. Thursday, Educational Program Lead Jenny Speyer introduced us to the Tollgate ducks and chickens to explore how they use their external body features to survive and Ms. Ellen helped us investigate embryology as campers engaged in egg dissection. 

One aspect of learning about caring for animals is knowing about their various systems. Campers engaged in a Junk Drawer Animal Systems Challenge as they chose one species of animal and one body system to research and represent with a model made of household items. Campers were asked to consider how that one system is nested within the larger system of the body to make up the whole animal and to help develop a learning framework for our challenge. Excitement built throughout the week as campers chose their species and system, and our showcase ensued on Friday with a wide range of systems including the avian respiratory system and the skeletal system of a tarantula and a snake along with systems of cats, ferrets, horses, chickens, and goats. Rounding out the week was a visit with our Toggenberg goats and an exploration of basic genetics with Tollgate Farm staff Sam Stokes.  

Throughout the week, campers eagerly chatted and shared their observations and wonderings which made for an exciting week of learning. They shared about their own livestock and/or pets with the group and participated in our challenges, eour virtual learning tools, and our discussions with gusto. The Virtual Vet Science Series will be available this fall for schools and families learning at home. Additional series available later this fall include Plants and Pollination, The Nutrient Cycle, The Secret Life of Trees, and Harvest Farm Ecology.  For more information or to register, contact Ellen Koehler

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Sustainable Agriculture Team Update August 2020

Education is what we do here at MSU Tollgate! COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in the plans, but we’re still doing what we can to connect with folks!

CSA members receive an inside look at the farm with a week by week description of production.

Gwen Schaller runs Root to Rise farm and incubates here, which means she leases land and equipment from us to run her own operation. Land and large upfront capital costs are typically the biggest barriers to farming, so by incubating Gwen can sharpen her skills and test her business without making massive financial investments.


We started the Mornings on the Farm program to share our experience on the farm with gardeners and give them a hands on opportunity to try tools and techniques. COVID-19 made that tricky, and we moved the program to an online format that shoots video live from the field.


Will Jaquinde also edits the Michigan Small Farm Newsletter, which is a forum to connect small farmers throughout the state by giving them a venue to talk about what’s happening on the farm. If you are interested in signing up for newsletter, you can find more information here.


There are lots of other initiatives like donating produce, working with our youth programs and more that we are still engaged with. We’re always thinking up new ways to positively impact eaters and producers, so if you have any ideas we’d love to hear them!

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Meet our Staff and Volunteers August 2020

Carmen Hamilton has been an educational program leader at MSU Tollgate Farm since 2017. Carmen is a lifelong gardener who brings her positive, enthusiastic personality to everything she does. After completing the Extension Master Gardener program, Carmen volunteered at Tollgate and later joined our staff. As an educational program leader, Carmen leads school groups, helps with camp registration, works in the conference center, and has helped with the farm sprouts program. This year, Carmen has been instrumental in helping volunteers navigate the new volunteer selection process. Carmen is always willing to help others around the farm and keeps our office stocked with everyone’s favorite hard candies. Thank you for all you do Carmen!

Renee has been the president of the Tollgate Garden volunteer organization for many years. She brings a love of horticulture, an organized mind, and a caring personality to her role at MSU Tollgate. Renee manages monthly executive meetings along with general membership meetings for the Tollgate Garden volunteers. Renee not only administers work in the gardens, she gets her hands dirty. She has established and tends many of the beautiful gardens around Tollgate and also uses her love and knowledge of horticulture to mentor other garden volunteers. The horticulture gardens at Tollgate are a tremendous resource for gardeners and visitors and would not be the same without Renee’s guidance. Thank you for all you do for Tollgate Renee!

Tollgate’s Education Coordinator Ellen Koehler is passionate about experiential outdoor learning with a focus on place-based agriculture, natural resources, and community food systems education. Ellen loves Tollgate and values working with the rest of the education staff to develop and deliver meaningful authentic learning experiences for community groups, families, schools, and home-based learning co-ops. Ellen’s background includes horticulture, teaching, and educational leadership and she thoroughly enjoys collaborating with other educators, community partners, and volunteers to bring educational experiences to life that align with the mission of MSU Extension. Ellen especially enjoys leading the farm’s teen leadership program and increasing the farm’s focus on educating for sustainability. Ellen joined the Tollgate team in 2014, and since then she’s spearheaded the annual Pumpkinfest and the financial aid process, both with the goal of helping to make our programs more accessible to all. Thank you for all you do Ellen!

Kathryn Fitzpatrick is the Area Garden Leader for the MSU Tollgate PAR (Plant a Row for the Hungry) Garden. Through her leadership and the work of other volunteers, the garden annually donates an average of 2,000 pounds of fresh produce to local groups like Forgotten Harvest and other charitable organizations that provide families in need with nutritious food free of charge.

As a young child Kathryn’s family moved from Texas to Sao Paulo, Brazil where she grew up in a multicultural environment. She has since traveled extensively domestically and internationally for work and pleasure – experiencing new cultures is a passion that she shares with her husband.  In addition to travel, cooking, gardening, reading, and enjoying her five married children and six grandchildren (two of whom are married), are her favorite pastimes.

After completing a Masters Degree in Computer Science at Purdue University and a 30+ year career as an engineer and Information Technology professional and ultimately executive, Kathryn wanted to engage in community service and reconnect with her love of nature.  The MSU Extension Master Gardener Program not only fit the bill nicely, but appealed to her desire to continue to learn.  She has been a Master Gardener since 2016 with her first year volunteering focused on Farmers Markets, her second year in the Tollgate PAR Garden in a supporting role, and the last three years as Area Garden Leader for the Tollgate PAR Garden.  Additionally, she completed a cleanup, design, and installation of a beautiful courtyard garden for the Jewish Community Center Brown Center Adult Day Care for people living with dementia.  In 2019, Kathryn was honored to receive the Oakland County EMG Unsung Hero Award.

The Tollgate PAR Garden, which was started in 2002, has special significance to Kathryn, as she did missionary work in the slums in Brazil and experienced first hand the impact of poverty and hunger.  Being able to provide an average of 2000 pounds of fresh vegetables every year to the needy in this country is very gratifying to Kathryn. This is possible due to the ongoing support of the Tollgate Farm Manager, Roy Prentice and his staff, the guidance and support of the CSA Coordinator, Will Jaquinde and his staff, and of course the wonderful team of volunteers who are extremely dedicated and hard-working.  Forgotten Harvest typically picks up our harvest every week, and distributes it to various food pantries and soup kitchens.

This year the PAR Garden team is growing garlic, shallots, potatoes, onions, summer and winter squash, cabbage, beets, green beans, turnips, and carrots.  The season starts with planning in the prior year winter in order to order seeds and schedule transplant growing for spring planting.  Mid-May kicks off the planting, maintenance, and harvesting until late-October when the team preps the beds for the next year.  Every year brings new challenges as well as opportunities to improve the yield, as they are continually at the mercy of the weather and pests.  Best practices the team have employed are based on the Extension Master Gardener principles, and include Integrated Pest Management, disease resistant vegetable varieties, crop rotation, companion planting, and irrigation.  

Continuing to assist in addressing the food shortage through the Tollgate PAR Garden, even more so this year, provides a significant community service to those in need. 

Thank you Kathryn and the rest of the PAR garden team for all the work you do to provide nutritious food for the food insecure in our community.

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