Check Out the Tollgate Camp Video!

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Meet our Staff and Volunteers January 2021

Dawn Snook has been volunteering for the last 25+ years, working with senior citizens, children, schools, churches, nonprofit organizations, animals, and now plants. She came to Tollgate the fall of 2016 pursuing her certification as an Extension Master Gardener and soon after achieved her Advanced MSU Extension Master Gardener status.
With a love of gardening and a passion to share it with others, she can be found helping family, friends, and neighbors with numerous questions, concerns, and advice on gardening practices. She also heads up her Homeowners Association Beautification Committee planning, planting, and sharing the beauty that surrounds us all. When asked if she could give us a hand here on the farm it was an easy decision for her to be part of the great volunteers at Tollgate Farm.
She has been involved in everything from Pumpkinfest, helping maintain garden beds, office work, to the Edu Garden. She also donated an amazing nutcracker for our Holiday Lights at the Farm Event! The Secret Life of Trees program brought her back to Tollgate recently to aid in the filming of this wonderful interactive virtual program that reaches out to our local kindergarteners. Dawn finds the children on our virtual series to be a delight and finds their excitement contagious. She enjoys working with our educational program staff and seeing their wonderful interactions with the students. Dawn feels lucky to be part of such a wonderful organization. Thank you Dawn for all you do for the farm!

Laura started volunteering at Tollgate in 2009 on her Conservation Steward Capstone project of removing invasive phragmites. Since then, Laura has worked on constructing the wetlands/pond shores ever since. If you ever been to farm, you have also seen Laura’s amazing welded metal sculptures. Her first welding class was a continuing education class at Schoolcraft College where she had to find metal for her first project rather than buy it. That week she was at Tollgate helping put the plastic cover on the new greenhouse and she asked Roy Prentice, our Farm Manager, if a pile of metal behind the workshop building was scrap. Since then Roy has given Laura all sorts of old farm pieces and she has turned them into several sculptures that adorn Tollgate’s buildings and gardens. Thank you Laura for all you do for the Farm!

David Komraus, aka the Pond Guy, started his (almost) every Saturday service as a Tollgate Garden Volunteer in the spring of 2008, shortly after getting his Oakland County Volunteer Master Gardener certificate. He has a natural affinity for water, and soon discovered the overlooked and overgrown Constructed Wetlands, i.e., the Pond. In 2010 David became the Area Garden Leader for the Pond. At the time he was doing things single handedly but is now happy to say that he has a team of dedicated volunteers helping. The current major project down at the Pond is repairing and eventually rebuilding the waterfall, which had a bit of a catastrophic failure during last spring’s very heavy rain. David is always looking for more interested volunteers who would like to help with the pond.David has been the Secretary of the Tollgate Advisory Committee since 2013. You also might have seen him helping out with the apple cider press at one of our many yearly events, or maple sugaring, or generally running around the place in a gator or a tractor doing odd jobs or looking for rocks.David recently retired and was looking forward to spending much more time in his favorite garden, but we all know how that worked out in 2020. Speaking of an affinity for water, David is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and retired from the U. S. Naval Reserve with the rank of Commander. His civilian career started as a semiconductor manufacturing engineer, then progressed to engineering software sales, manufacturing process lecturing and consulting, and happily ended with a long stretch of software development project management for the Veterans Health Administration. Along the way David worked at IBM, EDS, GM, and HP.He and his wife Rosemary like to travel. Often returning home to Northern Ireland where Rosemary was born and raised. They have two grown children and three also grown grandchildren. When he’s not in the garden at Tollgate or at home. David likes to Scuba dive, volunteer, and build classic ship models. The Tollgate team is incredibly grateful to have a long-term volunteer like David who helps on the farm in so many ways. Thank you for all you do David!

Curious about everyone who works at MSU Tollgate Farm? Every Monday we will feature a staff member or volunteer. Today’s staff member is Norbert Leppanen! Norbert Leppanen has been part of Tollgate, first as a volunteer and later as a staff member, since 1993. Norb originally came to Tollgate to work with the farm’s therapeutic horseback riding program for children. When the horseback riding program left Tollgate in the mid 1990s, Norb stayed on. Prior to coming to Tollgate and during his first ten years as a volunteer, Norb was also a professional firefighter for Detroit and Farmington Hills. Norb is the behind-the-scenes guy who keeps the farm running smoothly. He has the ability to think through problems and often comes up with unique solutions. Norb is a fantastic support person who does a great job taking care of the livestock and maintaining Tollgate’s facilities and equipment. In his free time, Norb has volunteered as medical staff for the University of Michigan’s CS Mott Children’s Hospital and the Muscular Dystrophy Association summer camps. Norb’s continued support for Tollgate over many years is much appreciated. Thank you for all you do Norb!

Mindy has been volunteering at Tollgate since completing the MSU Extension Master Gardener program. She has volunteered at Tollgate volunteer plant sales, Pumpkinfest, and other events. Even though the MSU Extension Master Gardener program suspended their volunteer service requirement in 2020, Mindy continued to help at Tollgate this year. She spent many hours weeding the Children’s Garden and created an amazing holiday light display with the help of her son. When not volunteering at Tollgate, Mindy and her son are both family law attorneys at Lady4justic PLLC. To Mindy, Tollgate is a hidden jewel that she never even knew existed and she wants everyone in our community to experience all it has to offer. She is happy to help Tollgate so the Farm can continue its great and important work. Thank you for all you do Mindy!

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MSU Tollgate 2020 Year in Review: Projects, Programs, and Accomplishments

  • Successful Maple Tapping and Pancake Feast 
  • Maple Sugaring Production: 100+ gallons of maple syrup bottled thanks to maple sugaring volunteers
  • Introduced Goat Story Time 
  • Started Virtual Goat Experiences
  • Race, Food, and Land in Detroit 3 Part Webinar Series with MSU Extension Session Facilitators Alondra Alvizo and Naim Edwards
  • Virtual Evenings in the Garden: September – November
  • Stewards Virtual Summer Series: A teen led, resiliency focused series with seven sessions and 55 teens
  • Virtual Specialty Camps:  Vet Science, Outdoor Adventure, Winged Wonders: Interactive virtual camps for slightly older campers with 95 youth registered
  • Free Virtual Summer Camp: Blog activities and videos free for youth
  • Introduced Camp in a Box: Themed boxes for youths
  • Tollgate Videos featured at The Michigan State Fair, LLC Virtual State Fair 2020
  • Tollgate Farm Videos featured on DPTV’s Camp TV
  • Tollgate CSA: Distributed produce for 30 weeks or 60% of the year, and provided a total of 4510 shares during those 30 weeks, serving roughly 250 families between the two sessions. Sold 26 Thanksgiving Boxes filled with local products. Raised $1300 for the Sustainable Agriculture Program.
  • New CSA Field fenced and ready for next season
  • Collaboration with Sunflour Bakehaus in Farmington, MI on Thanksgiving box baked goods and cookies for Holiday Lights at the Farm
  • Virtual School Garden Series: In conjunction with Community Food Systems included 440 registrants
  • Seed Distribution: 140 seed kits mailed, and 3,500 participants impacted by distribution 
  • Meat Sales to Toasted Oak Grill and Market in Novi, MI
  • Collaborative Teacher Support Network: Peer to peer networking and idea sharing to support educators
  • Tollgate Presentation at Innovation in Education STEAM Conference
  • Tollgate Virtual Farm Tour about COVID-Response for Farm-Based Education Network
  • Tollgate Virtual Farm School:  Interactive weekly STEAM series: Follow the Nutrient Trail and the Secret Life of Trees: 25 weekly programs for 400+ kids including blog, farm videos, and journal pages
  • Tollgate Videos – We Miss You video in spring and Tollgate: A Learning Community in fall
  • Tollgate Surveys: educator survey and home-based learner survey
  • MSU Extension Action Team #5 – Tollgate supported this projects to compile educational resources on a central website and distribute and analyze surveys
  • Volunteer Selection Process: 200+ volunteers eligible to volunteer at Tollgate in 2021
  • Giving Tuesday Campaign: Our $5,000 campaign for our Access for All Educational Program Fund was 75% funded.
  • PAR Garden: Roughly +1,000 lbs of produce donated to Feed the Need Novi
  • Horse Barn Expansion Completed
  • Silver Appleyard Ducks: Flock expanded to 7 ducks
  • Toggenburg Goats: 14 kids born in 2020
  • Suffolk Sheep: 8 lambs born in 2020
  • Holiday Lights at the Farm Sponsored by ITC and Vibe Credit Union: 1649 cars, 1198 cookies, 933 cups of cocoa, 5 sponsors, 19 decorators, 270 boxes of cheese sold, $11,000 raised for agriculture education
  • Started the new MSU Tollgate Farm Store: Selling produce, pumpkins, corn stalks, honey, Tollgate 4-H Club products, MSU dairy store cheese, and holiday wreaths
  • Virtual Mornings on the Farm: 4 Sessions
  • Nursery Volunteers Fall Plant Sale: Revenues over the two days totaled $1700
  • Hay Harvest/Sales: Sold roughly 1000 bales and grossed about $3000 for the Tollgate livestock account.  Additionally, we retained about 650 bales of first and second cutting for use on the farm to feed our livestock.
  • Purchased and Installed New Cherry Tree Surrounds in the Sakura Garden 
  • Continued care of gardens (horticulture and educational) by garden volunteers
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Sustainable Agriculture Team: What is Season Extension?

In farming, season extension refers to anything that allows a crop to be grown beyond its normal growing season. Often season extension in colder climates such as ours is achieved through additional protective structures over the crop. And these structures can vary from simple metal hoops and layers of row cover such as we have pictured above to a permanent hoop house structure, pictured right. This hoop house belongs to a farmer friend of ours near Lansing.

For farms that don’t have access to hoop house structures or for home gardeners, metal hoops and row cover offers a much cheaper, though not as effective solution to extend your season further into the winter. This solution cannot protect from extreme temperatures as each layer of row cover only adds a few degrees and the hoops cannot handle a heavy snow load but for early winter it offers a great solution. We currently have our last planting of salad mix, kohlrabi and beets under row cover. Depending on the variety, lettuce plants can survive down to 15 F! We have ours snug and protected with several layers of row cover.

Farmers that invest in a hoop house structure have the ability to grow through the winter. Many find that the ability to have a continual harvest makes the cost of a hoop house well worth it! One day we would love to add a hoop house to the farm so that winter growing is much easier, but until them we will rely on our farmer friends with hoop houses for tender greens this time of year and continue to plant only cold hearty crop that will thrive with only a few row covers to protect them.

Look for more updates and information from our Sustainable Agriculture team in the next newsletter. Interested in signing up for the Summer CSA? More information is coming in early 2021!

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Meet our Staff and Volunteers December 2020

For Kathy, volunteering at Tollgate is a true source of joy. She believes for most, upon arrival, there is an instant sense of coming home. Faces soften, smiles light up, and tensions seem to melt while visiting this safe oasis in the middle of a rushing world.Kathy has volunteered at Tollgate’s summer camps and she believes that allowing children the chance to literally reconnect to the Earth and each other is imperative for healthy, happy minds. At these summer camps, Kathy has helped in the Edu-Garden and also lead yoga sessions with campers. During the COVID-19 pandemic she helped with virtual yoga sessions for our free online summer camp. When we began virtual educational programming from the farm, she was happy to step in and help with filming. Although the farm has been impacted hugely by COVID-19 in the areas of staffing and revenue, Kathy still sees boundless determination and dedicated effort to stay productive. Kathy encourages anyone with a desire to volunteer at Tollgate to find the area of most interest and give it a try – there is a place for everyone. The staff is incredibly gracious and open to ideas and suggestions. We are all hoping the farm may return to normal operations and re-open to the public in the not too distant future; but until then Kathy encourages everyone to consider some tiny way to contribute to sustaining this precious gem. Thank you Kathy for all that you do for the farm!

Katie joined the CSA crew during the summer of 2019 as an apprentice and jumped on board again summer 2020 when we had to postpone our apprenticeship program due to COVID-19. In addition to working hard out in the field with the Sustainable Agriculture team, she also coordinates the Evenings in the Garden series. This series began as an in-person opportunity but switched to virtual in the spring with COVID-19. Katie worked hard to recruit new speakers and pivot to a virtual format. And she does all of this while pursuing an Environmental Science degree at the University of Michigan Dearborn! In her free time, you’ll most likely find her exploring and learning in the great outdoors, splitting and repotting her plants, playing with her dog Millie, or getting in touch with her creative side with a new art project she has planned. Katie’s bubbly personality and a passion for learning and teaching others are just two of the many reasons why we love to have her as a part of our team! Thanks for all you do Katie!

Sam first joined the Tollgate team as a 4-H AmeriCorps member in Fall of 2018 and is currently serving a “second term” as the farm’s interim livestock manager. Sam grew up on a hobby farm and spent ten years breeding and showing dairy goats. When she arrived at Tollgate, Sam was thrilled to meet the Toggenburg herd and jump back into the dairy goat scene. She loves sharing her knowledge of livestock husbandry with folks of all ages and backgrounds – from youth, to parents and even fellow staff. As a 4-H alumnus, Sam also loves working in the barn and going to livestock shows with the Tollgate Farm 4-H Club. Her favorite time of year is birthing season, and some of her most cherished memories are the times when new people get to experience the joy of welcoming a healthy new lamb or goat kid to the Tollgate family. Sam is also a M.S. student at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability with a focus on environmental justice where she works within a collaboration of Anishinaabe, BIPOC, and allied community members to create sovereign, decolonial, sustainable food systems, environments, and communities. Despite her busy schedule, Sam is always there to help out Tollgate. We are so grateful for her expertise and the passion she brings to every project on which she works. Thank you for all you do Sam!

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MSU Tollgate Farm Adapting to Meet Our Educational Mission Through Virtual Programming

How is MSU Tollgate Farm adapting to meet our mission through educational programming during these difficult times? In response to school closures and safety restrictions caused by the pandemic, we knew we needed to try to help teachers and families by providing students with an opportunity to still connect to and learn from the place called Tollgate Farm. Tollgate has recreated school and community programs in an interactive virtual format bringing the farm to students in new ways. One of these programs was a series called The Secret Life of Trees which met for five weekly 45 minute virtual interactive sessions filled with experiential learning and connection for area kindergarten students. We visited students from the arboretum, the forest, the orchard, and the great Dawn Redwood tree shown above.
Aligned with ELA, mathematics, and Next Generation Science Standards, this series and our Follow the Nutrient Cycle series, encourages students to explore the natural world to see and experience science phenomena happening right around them.

Area Novi kindergarten teachers provided input in the design stages of the original in-person kindergarten Trees program, and this fall these strong teaching teams allowed their students to visit us on their asynchronous days to explore the amazing world of trees. Farm is grateful to the Novi Educational Foundation for making it possible through a grant for 21 Novi kindergarten classes to take part in The Secret Life of Trees. Thank you, also, to the Novi Community School District and Emily Pohlonski, Science Coordinator for the Novi community schools, for helping to bring this opportunity to students. Educational Leader Jenny Speyer, Day Camp Coordinator Sara Mund, and Education Coordinator Ellen Koehler worked over the summer months to pivot the in-person educational farm visit to the fun, engaging online sessions accompanied by The Secret Life of Trees blog, follow-along journal pages, videos recorded on the farm, and plenty of hands-on activities for students. This deep extended learning would not have been possible without the help of staff member Carmen Hamilton and volunteers Dawn Snook, Kathy Begin, and Marilyn Schulte, who helped with broadcasting and monitoring groups of share, eager, and happily engaged students. Tollgate is so grateful for the opportunity to carry out the Tollgate education mission in these ways!

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