Volunteer Spotlight: Kathryn Fitzpatrick

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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Sustainable Agriculture Team Update July 2020

Beets and Swiss Chard

This year our chard and beets have had more insect damage, holes, than previously. We are dealing with a new pest, the spinach flea beetle, Disonycha xanthomelas. While we have had some small amounts of damage from this pest in the past, it wasn’t enough to merit investigating or investing in control measures.
This year the damage is many times what it was in the past. We are finding multiple larvae on every plant, which indicates there are many adults present as well. The adults are a small black beetle with a red head less than a quarter inch in length. Like their name suggests, this family of beetles are very strong jumpers, and will jump up to a foot in response to being threatened.
We have some theories about why the damage is so bad this year, and why it came about so suddenly. We think that the beetles were feeding on weeds somewhere in the area and their food supply was disturbed, either due to construction or other causes. This caused them to migrate to our plot, leading to sudden and large amounts of damage. 
While the damage is unsightly, it won’t cause you any harm! Greens that are a bit rough can be cooked for better presentation.
Farming is full of these kinds of unexpected challenges. Our next step is to decide what the best way to control this new pest is for our future chard and beet crops.

Squash Blossom and Squash Bee

A squash flower being pollinated by a bee called Peponapis pruinosa, commonly known as a Squash Bee. These bees specialize in pollinating flowers in the cucurbit family: winter and summer squash, melons, cucumber, and pumpkins. While lots of insects pollinate squash including honey bees, beetles and flies, the Squash Bee is a dedicated pollinator of cucurbits and is much more effective then other insects.
Cucurbits are monoecious meaning that each plant produces both male and female flowers. Both flowers produce nectar to attract the bees, but the male flower produces pollen and the female flower receives it. The bees will visit many flowers in search of nectar while also collecting pollen from the male flowers on their bodies and transferring it to the female flowers. To fully fertilize the female flower, it needs to be visited by a pollen-laden bee as many as twelve times!

Female flower (top) producing squash and male flower (bottom) producing pollen

Depending on the conditions, incomplete pollination can be fairly common and noticeable in the squash. Some of you might have noticed a taper on the ends of your squash (picture example below). This is a visible sign of incomplete pollination. While completely edible the plant couldn’t finish the squash’s development because of the lack of pollen. This occurred because we pulled our protective row covers off our summer squash a bit too late resulting in some of the squash starting to develop despite squash bees being unable to access the flowers. Now that the row cover is off and the bees have full access to the flowers we shouldn’t see much more of that!

Tune in next month for more on what’s happening in the fields!

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Meet our Staff and Volunteers July 2020

Rachael Moran: Place- Based Livestock Instructor

Rachael Moran has been the Livestock Instructor at MSU Tollgate Farm since April of 2019. She works diligently to provide excellent care for all the animals on site as well as to support educational programming, day camps, and the Tollgate 4H club.

Rachael has experience with all kinds of livestock but is most passionate about horses. She was a very active United States Pony Club member growing up and enjoyed participating in eventing competitions with her thoroughbred, Sport. She also loves driving horses, especially draft horses! Before joining the Tollgate team, Rachael was a teamster and drove teams of draft horses for Wolcott Mill Metropark. Thank you for all you do for our livestock and visitors Rachael!

Wayne Watson: Maple Sugaring Volunteer

Wayne has been a tireless volunteer for Tollgate’s maple syrup and garden programs for many, many years. Wayne does all of the little, and not so little, things necessary to keep the maple syrup project running smoothly. He helps cut firewood and is one of the key volunteers who maintains the maple sap collection system. Although over 80, Wayne’s dynamic energy amazes all who know him. He is one of the many volunteers who are key to Tollgate’s success. Thanks Wayne for all that you do for the farm!

Will Jaquinde: Sustainable Agriculture Instructor

In 2016 Will Jaquinde joined the Tollgate team and created the sustainable agriculture program, including managing the CSA and developing the apprenticeship program. Today the sustainable ag. program has seen tremendous (sustainable) growth and continues to add new elements, including a farm incubator, farm to table events and more. A native Michigander, Will completed his grad degree at MSU in the department of Community Sustainability and looks forward to continuing to support small and beginning farmers with MSU Extension. Thank you Will for all you do at Tollgate!

Mary Hutka: Tollgate Farm 4-H Club

Mary Hutka has been the leader of the Tollgate Farm 4-H Club for more than 10 years and a recipient of the 4-H Excellence in Agriculture Award. The Club provides opportunities for youth to participate in farm animal care, garden work, soap making, to raise funds through farm stand sales, and to help with events like Pumpkinfest and Maple Sugaring. Club youth have also been awarded MSU Pre-College Scholarships and Michigan State Fair Urban Farming Scholarships. Mary has encouraged youth members to participate in Oakland County and Michigan State Fairs and developed a leasing program to support youth competing in livestock showmanship at these fairs. Before the stay home, stay safe order, Mary spent many hours on the farm leading Club events and helping care for Tollgate’s livestock. Now that screened volunteers have returned to Tollgate, Mary has once again generously volunteered to help. Thank you Mary for making the Tollgate Farm 4-H club such an enriching opportunity for youth!

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Donations and Volunteer Opportunities

Tollgate is a local learning community, and the Tollgate Education Team has put together the following wish list for some important supplies and volunteer needs for our upcoming place-based education programs and camps. Please contact Ellen Koehler if you have any of these items to donate or are interested in volunteering.

DONATIONS (Please only gently used or new condition):

  • Microscopes, stereoscopes especially that link to large screens/screens
  • Science gauges to test water and soil quality, light meter
  • I-pads, multiple
  • Data plan for I-pads
  • Telescopes, 2 high quality telescopes for youth
  • High quality children’s literature specifically from ‘What’s In The Library?’ book-list (farm, nature, sustainability, DEI)
  • Tents for camping, 3 – 6 person
  • Camping stoves
  • Carding machine for history of wool processing programs
  • Dry erase board, multiple sizes
  • Children’s garden gloves
  • Child sized wheelbarrows, garden tools (high quality, for early elementary)
  • Enviroscape watershed model
  • Dog or cat crates, large for traveling animals
  • Baby fences for animals
  • Kitchen blender
  • Crock pots
  • Clean, empty glass baby food jars
  • Clean, empty 1 gallon transparent milk jugs (for mini-greenhouses)
  • Empty 2 liter pop bottles (for rain gauges)
  • Large cardboard boxes
  • Outdoor children’s clothing (gloves, coats, jackets, hats, socks, etc.)
  • Rain gear or ponchos (all children’s sizes)
  • Warm snow boots (all children’s sizes)(used is fine)

Volunteers to:

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Volunteer Process During Covid-19

Interested in volunteering at Tollgate? Both certified Extension Master Gardeners and Non-Extension Master Gardeners must first complete our Volunteer Selection Process at https://msu.samaritan.com/custom/502/#/volunteer_home

Make sure you have the following information correct when you apply:

  • Volunteer type: GOLD 
  • Program area: Choose one:
    • EMG: Extension Master Gardener
    • Non-EMG: Agriculture and Agribusiness
  • Primary County: Oakland, Wayne, Macomb
  • Specific Event: Tollgate
  • Staff Member: Choose one:
    • EMG Oakland: Lori Imboden
    • EMG Wayne: Dierdre Hope
    • EMG Macomb: Karen Burke
    • Non-EMG: Carmen Hamilton

Once you have entered all your required information into the Volunteer Selection system an MSU Tollgate staff member will reach out to you about completing a brief interview. Interviews will be conducted by one of the following staff members; Roy Prentice, Ellen Koehler, Carmen Hamilton, or Mike Mathis. After the interview you will be asked to confirm with Roy Prentice or Ellen Koehler your intent to work on an approved Extension Master Gardener project or Non-Extension Master Gardener project. MSU Tollgate Farm staff will provide you with written permission to visit the farm. You will also be asked to sign a Safety Guidelines form and return this to our staff and the Consumer Horticulture Team member for your area.

We appreciate your willingness to volunteer at MSU Tollgate Farm and thank you for beginning this new process of volunteer selection. Volunteers are the most essential partners we have in MSU Extension and they create life-changing experiences and provide millions of dollars in added value in our communities.

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