2020 MS Farm Sprouts – Week #1 Wednesday PM

We’re kicking off Farm Sprouts one week late on account of a snowstorm, meaning the full month of March is now dedicated to the maple sugaring season! What began years ago with a handful of dedicated volunteers and a makeshift shack that has now become a full maple sugaring operation with a whole crew of amazing volunteers, education programs, a public event, and gallons of fresh maple syrup. Farm Sprouts were welcomed as a part of this sweet community and will be contributing in countless ways, including doing the very authentic work of sap collection, the very task everyone is thinking about at the farm this time of year!

Upon arrival, Farm Sprouts signed in and voted for beech or maple trees. Tree identification is an important and valuable skill, especially as sugar workers. Today we worked to develop our science and engineering practices in a number of ways, by sharing our previous experiences either with maple sugaring or in the forest, making observations to notice patterns, and by collecting and recording those observations. Each week, we will be growing in our understanding of life’s cycles and the earth’s systems, including local weather conditions and patterns over time. We’ll note the temperature, conditions, and whether or not the sap is flowing. We wonder what makes the sap flow? How do we tap a sugar maple tree? So that we don’t harm it? Why do we only collect sap in the spring to make maple syrup? So many questions to investigate! Outdoor learning and engaging in really meaningful, authentic work can provide opportunities for BIG learning! Our big question for the season is: How does sugar maple sap become maple syrup for pancakes? During our last week, we’ll celebrate our hard work and effort (and all the fun we had together) with a much anticipated pancake feast with fresh maple syrup.

Compared to last week, we definitely felt a shift in the weather as Michiganders. Farm Sprouts noted several signs of spring, including bird songs, melting snow, warmer temperatures, and sprouts! In the sugar bush, we toured the sugar shack, enjoyed a popcorn and maple syrup snack (a Farm Sprouts tradition), identified sugar maple and beech trees (the two dominant species in our Tollgate forest), chose a sugar maple to tap, and explored the forest. Inside the shack, we enjoyed the steamy feel of the shack, the sweet smells, and amazing science and engineering of the evaporator at work, boiling the clear sap from the trees into the sticky, amber-colored syrup we love so much. We got to know the trees with all of our bodies, giving them hugs and cheek rubs to get to know the feel of the bark. We could feel the warmth from the sun on the trees and located beech and maple leaves at our feet.

On our journey to and from the sugar bush and into the barns, we visited our animals, including our lambs, and stopped by our greenhouse, where our Sustainable Agriculture team has already begun work in preparation for the growing season and their incredible C.S.A. program. Onions are sprouting and Ms. Darby had kindly started us some pea shoots for our snack on our third week. We love our collaboration with our farmers and that the farm is already coming to life in early March!

We closed with our Farm Sprouts goodbye. We look forward to seeing you all on the farm next week!

“There is always an adventure waiting in the woods.” – Katelyn S. Bolds

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2020 MS Farm Sprouts – Week #1 Wednesday AM

We’re kicking off Farm Sprouts one week late on account of a snowstorm, meaning the full month of March is now dedicated to the maple sugaring season! What began years ago with a handful of dedicated volunteers and a makeshift shack that has now become a full maple sugaring operation with a whole crew of amazing volunteers, education programs, a public event, and gallons of fresh maple syrup. Farm Sprouts were welcomed as a part of this sweet community and will be contributing in countless ways, including doing the very authentic work of sap collection, the very task everyone is thinking about at the farm this time of year!

Upon arrival, Farm Sprouts signed in and voted for beech or maple trees. and got to work painting our classroom sugar shack. Tree identification is an important and valuable skill, especially as sugar workers. Today we worked to develop our science and engineering practices in a number of ways, by sharing our previous experiences either with maple sugaring or in the forest, making observations to notice patterns, and by collecting and recording those observations. Each week, we will be growing in our understanding of life’s cycles and the earth’s systems, including local weather conditions and patterns over time. We’ll note the temperature, conditions, and whether or not the sap is flowing. We wonder what makes the sap flow? How do we tap a sugar maple tree? So that we don’t harm it? Why do we only collect sap in the spring to make maple syrup? So many questions to investigate! Outdoor learning and engaging in really meaningful, authentic work can provide opportunities for BIG learning! Our big question for the season is: How does sugar maple sap become maple syrup for pancakes? During our last week, we’ll celebrate our hard work and effort (and all the fun we had together) with a much anticipated pancake feast with fresh maple syrup.

Compared to last week, we definitely felt a shift in the weather as Michiganders. Farm Sprouts noted several signs of spring, including bird songs, melting snow, warmer temperatures, and sprouts! In the sugar bush, we toured the sugar shack, enjoyed a popcorn and maple syrup snack (a Farm Sprouts tradition), identified sugar maple and beech trees (the two dominant species in our Tollgate forest), chose a sugar maple to tap, and explored the forest. Inside the shack, we enjoyed the steamy feel of the shack, the sweet smells, and amazing science and engineering of the evaporator at work, boiling the clear sap from the trees into the sticky, amber-colored syrup we love so much. We got to know the trees with all of our bodies, giving them hugs and cheek rubs to get to know the feel of the bark. We could feel the warmth from the sun on the trees and located beech and maple leaves at our feet.

On our return to the farm, we visited our lambs and stopped by our greenhouse, where our Sustainable Agriculture team has already begun work in preparation for the growing season and their incredible C.S.A. program. Onions are sprouting and Ms. Darby had kindly started us some pea shoots for our snack on our third week. We love our collaboration with our farmers and that the farm is already coming to life in early March!

We closed with our Farm Sprouts goodbye. We look forward to seeing you all on the farm next week!

“There is always an adventure waiting in the woods.” – Katelyn S. Bolds

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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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