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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