Check Out the Tollgate Camp Video!

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Winter Farm Camp: Day 2

The day began with campers zooming into Tollgate with their eyes filled with excitement and wonder for what new adventures day two of winter camp would bring! The blue pepper group started our morning on a high note leading our flag ceremony, where campers worked together to post and raise the flag, as well as recite the pledge of allegiance and the 4-H pledge.

With the fresh snow that the previous night had gifted us, campers were excited to explore the farm using winter recreational equipment such as, cross country skis and snow shoes.

One of the big questions we asked our campers during winter farm camp was “How do animals cope with the cold?”. We talked about how some animals like bears or snakes hibernate in dens or colonies, while some animals like birds and monarchs migrate to warmer areas. Last, we talked about how some animals we still see in the winter are able to “tough it out” through adaptation. Campers were able explore the idea of adaptation when participating in a fun science experiment learning about how Wood Frogs adapt in freezing temperatures so that they don’t freeze and die.

Campers created their own jello “frogs” and designed burrows in the forest to keep their frogs from fully freezing. Campers got creative designing their shelters and weren’t too upset when many of the “frogs” ended freezing. Frozen frogs = bonus snack for them to enjoy!

The campers hunger was curbed during Garden Kitchen time when they got to enjoy a berry banana smoothie paired with a graham cracker for dipping. The smoothie was only the first of the four kitchen recipes the campers would be helping prepare this morning. In addition to the smoothie, campers helped bake corn bread, turned heavy whipping cream into butter by shaking a mason jar, and prepared veggies for our afternoon snack: vegetable stew.

Similar to yesterday, animal chores were a obvious highlight for many of the campers. And since chickens seem to be the #1 pick, the star of the show, and camp highlight, both groups were able to visit the coop for the final day of camp.

To conclude day two of camp both “pepper” groups came together to build a fire and cook vegetable stew. While the stew was cooking campers explored the forest, played in the snow, built shelters in the woods, and investigated the question of “How do plants and animals cope with the cold?”

Campers gathered around the fire to share a bowl of soup they made with their “old” and “new” friends. We reflected together about the highlights and challenges we faced during the past 2 days of camp. The soup may be gone and the 2020 winter camp may be over but the memories, friendships, and experiences made by the campers and staff will last a life time!

Thank you for a successful and fun 2020 Wild Winter Camp!

To view all of the 2020 Winter Camp photos please visit our google photo album.

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Winter Farm Camp 2020: Day 1

Campers celebrated our Michigan winter with gusto on our first day of Tollgate Farm Wild Winter Break Camp. The morning began with flag ceremony which includes the flag raising, the pledge of allegiance, and the 4-H pledge.

Next, we took a wagon ride to the forest to explore our CARES contract and the ideas that lay the foundation for how we care for the farm and each other at camp.

During a visit to Ms. Darby, in the greenhouse, we each made a mini-greenhouse through a project called ‘winter sowing.’

Animal chores was definitely a highlight for many of the campers. Caring for our cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, and rabbits, campers checked to make sure the animals were displaying normal behavior and by feeding them. From harvesting eggs from the chicken coop to giving Colton, our youngest steer, milk were exciting and memorable experiences for all. The blue peppers were thrilled to find a hen in the barn laying on 15 eggs!

We made bird feeders to help care for our resident songbirds in the cold of winter.

Campers set out sardines in an effort to capture some animal tracks and explored the Tollgate forest in winter, including a visit to our partially frozen vernal pool!

Later, campers worked with science and engineering practices to design and build sleds from cardboard, feed bags, and tape. Sledding ensued with lots of fun discoveries about which material provided the most speed.

A pinnacle moment for many campers, garden kitchen included pumpkin pancakes with Tollgate maple syrup and, combing Italian and Greek cuisines, pizza hummus!

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Updates from our Sustainable Agriculture Team

We wrapped up the 2019 season feeling pretty good about the amount of food that we grew and the systems that we created, maintained and/or refined. Our last distribution of the season was the week of Thanksgiving and since then we’ve been enjoying a little down time with family and friends and of course planning and prepping for next year! We also attended the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference in Traverse City and then the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Lancaster, PA with a stop at Gettysburg getting to know our 16th president.

We have a few major projects that we are working on before we can get out into the fields this spring. Our first project was revamping some of our spreadsheets so that they can work easily for both planning and seeding/planting. This excel sheet now shows both spatial data (field and bed placement), quantitative (number of trays, amount of need needed), temporal (when to seed/plant), and descriptive (variety, irrigation and mulch type). While this spreadsheet was time intensive to put together, we are hoping that it will save a lot of time this season and as well as next year as everything is a formula and can be easily updated from year to year. Simplified versions with only relevant info for greenhouse seeding and then another for transplanting and direct seeding are easily generator to view in the field via the Google Sheets App.

After a season of mechanical issues with our Farmall 140 we took it back up to the farmer we bought it from for repair work. Hopefully it will come back ready to work because we are looking to incorporate it much more into our system. We are looking to set it up with discs to open and close the furrow for potato planting, install a simple plastic mulch laying system for cucurbit and solanaceous crops, and install our rolling bed marker. All these things, save opening the furrow, had previously been down by hand. Incorporating the 140 will hopefully save us a lot of time and help us get important crops in the ground much faster!

Remember we still have spots left in our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and you can sign up or learn more here.

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Tollgate Farm 4-H Club: January on the Farm

The Club spent the month of January focused on animal science and community service. We completed an activity on beef, learning breeds, anatomy and care.  Also another ultrasound session was held to use the ultrasound to check on the goats (due in March). 


Sorting seeds for our annual seed give away is ongoing. This project gathers seeds from seed companies and distributes them to school and community gardens.

February Club Activities 

  • Our teens will be going on the road again, visiting a commercial sheep farm, Lauwer’s Lamb in Capac, to participate in lambing.
  • Cherry Slurp Time: We will celebrate Michigan cherries for Valentine’s Day
  • Market lamb projects begin 

Interested in joining 4-H? Contact the Tollgate Farm 4-H Club by email, visit their website,or facebook

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Tollgate Farm 4-H Club is Looking Forward to the Arrival of Lambs and Kids!

Now that breeding season has come to a close, we think that we have 4 pregnant sheep and 7 pregnant goats. This was confirmed by a recent activity using a veterinary ultrasound to confirm pregnancies, a unique experience for our youth members. First our teens learned how to use the ultrasound. To reinforce the learning, the teens in turn showed younger members how to use this equipment. We looked for and found heartbeats, spines and movement, Lambing Starts around Jan 13th!!!

This is one of many educational activities that the club makes possible for its youth showmen. 4-H Livestock and Poultry projects provide great opportunities for youth to learn about animal and veterinary science, as well as animal production practices. There are also life skills acquired through these projects. Youth learn goal setting and problem solving, improve communication skills and gain confidence.

Many think that you need to live on a farm to participate in a 4-H Livestock or Poultry project. However, through the Animal Project Leasing program at Tollgate, youth can work hands on with livestock and poultry at Tollgate Farm, learning and growing. Currently there are still a few market lamb and duck projects available to interested youth ages 8 – 19. To learn more about this program, contact: Mary Hutka or visit our website or facebook.

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