The CSA Field Mystery

There was a mystery in the MSU Tollgate CSA vegetable field recently.  The fabric row covers were torn and some of the irrigation piping had been damaged, almost as if someone (or something!) had been playing with it.  A walk around the field revealed a gap under the back gate that looked like the probable entry point for the culprit.  Fortunately, Tollgate owns a trail camera.  The camera was mounted on a fence post in the hope of revealing the perpetrator(s) of the malicious activities in the CSA vegetable fields.

The picture above were taken with a trail cam looking into the main field from gate at the southwestern corner of the field. Looking at multiple photos we have can identify at least three coyotes living on site. We have known for a while that we had a family of coyotes living at Tollgate (howling when sirens were going off, brief sightings in the hay fields, slaughtered chickens and ducks, etc.), but recently they have become regulars in our main Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) field. In general the CSA crew don’t have a problem with this coexistence as they are great at keeping the rodent population down. Since the coyotes moved in, our vole/mouse population in the field has decreased and consequently we are seeing much less damage from those critters. 


On the other hand, the CSA crew has seen an increase in damage to other supplies such as row cover, drip tape, plastic mulch, irrigation pond liner, etc. In their search of critters for dinner, the coyotes have caused significant damage by chewing through lines and scratching holes. 


The CSA team is currently weighing their options for future seasons as we all navigate coexistence with the coyotes. Some of those options include reinforcing the fence line so they can’t squeeze under it and/or restringing an electric fence along the bottom of the fence to deter them. For the time being we will appreciate these wild beings having a sanctuary in the middle of suburbia and for providing organic pest control!

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Meet Our Volunteers July 2021

Roy Hybl has been working in the MSU Tollgate Demonstration Garden for several years. The Demonstration Garden is the large horticultural planting that circles the main parking lot. It is a BIG garden. Roy has spent many hours pruning, weeding, and mulching, making this area attractive and informative for Tollgate’s many visitors. In 2020, Roy totally renovated the Demo Garden’s irrigation system, all 22 zones! Roy’s energy appears endless. He spends hours working in the garden making it a special place on the farm. Thanks Roy for all of your effort. You have really made a difference!

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Green Science Adventure Camp Thursday-Friday

Thursday:

Welcome to day 4 of Green Science Adventure Camp! We kicked off the morning with inclement weather so went to the Activity Center for shelter and games. We played a few rounds of games and then started our Garden Kitchen Snack for horses. We all took turns cutting fruits and vegetables while talking about food safety and horse diet. The campers did a great job using the knife properly and watching for their fingers.

After the pony snack preparation was complete by the green peppers (Yellow peppers will complete tomorrow) we ventured off to do farm chores. Today was goat milking day for the green peppers! Such exciting and exhausting chaos. Not sure if the weather turned the goats wild, all the Goat-erade they have been drinking, or just our powerful green pepper energy– but it was an experience. Goats escaping left and right, 3 goats attempted to be milked, sweet feed and milk everywhere– A memory for sure! Quite a few campers were excited to attempt to milk, however, I don’t blame the others for not trying this time. Tomorrow we will just visit the goats 🙂 

Chores for the yellow peppers included the ducks and the rabbits plus a bonus visit to the kid goats. As you can see from the pictures below the kids loved the kids 😉

After chores we headed out to the CSA field to learn about tomato trellising from Farmer Darby. We learned about the trellising, pruning, pests, and so much more! The campers were excited to ask really good questions, however, we were all excited to return to the fresh and less humid air outside the tunnels.

After tomatoes with Ms. Darby it was time to explore the pond. We took a hike around the WHOLE Pond, then finished off with some more water creature exploration. The campers found crawfish, nymphs, snails and fish. We also got a brief peak at the famous Tollgate Pond snapping turtle! 

 

Snack time was apples for us and apples and fruits and veggies for the horse. Campers enjoyed their apples but I think the campers enjoyed Friday and Sesame eating their snack more! 

After lunch we learned about the importance of pollinators and how we can help them. Today we made them pollinator hotels. We created two styles: one using tubes from wood straws, bamboo and toilet paper rolls and the other by drilling holes into a log. Both experiences the camper enjoyed. We will be adding these hotels to our garden. 

We capped off the day with more games like Owls and Mice and Poison Dart frog. And then working on our STEAM project: Sustainable Farm. 

Thank you for another great day! See you all Friday! 


Friday:

Happy Friday! Another day of crazy weather, except this time it is lovely cool weather! We started our day with some games and the flag ceremony led by the Yellow Peppers.

After the flag ceremony it was time for chores. The Green Peppers did ducks and rabbits while the yellow peppers did goats and chickens. 

After chores we got to meet up with Ms. Sam and our two ponies, Sesame and Friday, to learn about horse grooming and horse safety. We got to spend quality time learning about what makes a pony a pony, types of brushes, and all about hooves. 

After grooming it was time to play some games. We played Owls and Mice and Where’s my Chicken in the children’s garden. 

After games we went back to the animal barn to grab a yearling goat to take them on a harness walk. No goats loose for the green peppers today! How ever the yellows did have some run loose today, good thing we have gates! 😉 

We added goat saddle packs filled with snacks so that Erma and Delilah (the goats) could carry our snacks  until we could enjoy them at the half way mark. Erma did an amazing job for the green peppers while Delilah was a little bouncy for the Yellow pepper group. 

After lunch we finished our STEAM: Sustainable Farms and had a group presentation. We saw lots of shade in our farms, clean pond water, pathways for humans, and organized areas for animals and rocks. 🙂 

After our STEAM activity it was time to throw our seed bombs from the other day into our old garden bed to be cover cropped. We analyzed the area for where it needed more seeds and threw our seed balls there (best we could). 

Then it was time to complete our camp survey to find ways we can improve for future camps, enjoyed some popsicles, and then reflected. Then it was time to go home. What an amazing week of camp with an amazing group of kids! We hope to see you all again soon! 🙂 

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Green Science Adventure Camp Mon-Wed

Monday:

Happy Monday and welcome to day one of Green Science Adventure Day!

We kicked off the camp week with a Flag Ceremony lead by the green pepper group! The green peppers did an amazing job and will have the opportunity to improve their flag raising skills later on in the week. 

After the flag ceremony we went off to do our morning activities which included Tie Dye, a Wagon ride around the farm, and heading out to the Tollgate forest to learn about animal tracks. In the forest we predicted what types of animals we might find and what animals we might be able to trick into our “trap”. We will update you on our findings later this week 🙂 

In addition to hunting for animal tracks, we also went on a bug hunt. We learned how to identify poison ivy and why we should avoid it, we found some cool creatures like snails, ants, spiders, worms, etc… and we also talked about humans impact on forests. 

After lunch we continued our daily adventures. We went to the Educational Garden to learn about what we grow and what plants need to survive. While we were out there we munched on some fresh lettuce and hummus wraps! They were a hit!

After snacking, we took a trip to Ms. Mister under the magical cherry tree. All the peppers agree that this is the place to be on a long hot summer day! The cool shade and the wet mist blowing down is an experience most of the campers look forward to. In the afternoon we also started our week long STEAM project where we are learning about sustainable agriculture and creating a sustainable farm of our own. We will continue to work on this project throughout the week.

See you all tomorrow!


Tuesday:

We kicked off Tuesday with the Yellow Peppers Leading the flag ceremony. They did an incredible job and were a great example for the green peppers to follow tomorrow!

After the flag ceremony it was time for the morning activities. We started the day with animal chores. The yellow peppers got to take care of the ducks and milk goats while the green peppers got to take care of the chickens and took a quick visit to say hi to the goats! The kid goats were very excited to have human kids in their pen to play with!

We also got to go the Educational Garden where we met up with some the garden volunteers who talked to us about the garden and had us paint garden signs for the food we are growing. Both pepper groups did an amazing job at this. Check out the pictures below to see some of the works of art they made. 

 

While in the garden we also checked out the plants we were growing and did a little weeding and watering. We found some potato beetle pests and were able to successfully remove from our potato plants and feed to the chickens. YUM! 

Another one of our morning activities was fishing where both of the pepper groups caught 4 fish each! It was a HUGE success for how hot the day was. Everyone who fished was amazing at remembering how to be safe and how to maintain a positive attitude. 

Vermicomposting was our next activity! We learned about composting and how worms help us break down food scraps and turn it into nutrient rich soil. Campers got excited to get their hands dirty and dig around to find worms and their eggs. 

Oh no soil erosion! This afternoon we learned about soil erosion and how we can help protect our water using simple nature made materials. We learned how plants, rocks, and materials like mulch and leaves help prevent erosion when properly placed.  We did a filtration experiment to see how clean we could keep our water. 

For our afternoon snack we headed out to the CSA field to harvest some carrots. We wanted to see if Tollgate farm carrots taste different than the farm carrots you buy at the store. The campers say YES they do taste different! Some campers LOVED the farm ones while other preferred the ones from the store. 

We wrapped up the day with some games, our STEAM project and making newspaper pots to grow beans! Another hot fun day, looking forward to what tomorrow brings 🙂 

Wednesday:

Happy Wednesday! Looking forward to some cooler days ahead. 

Today the yellow peppers got to lead the flag ceremony and did an incredible job once again. The flag ceremony is an important tradition at camp because it teaches teamwork, listening, respect and much more! 

After flag ceremony, the morning activities included pollinator seed bombs, pond study, garden time, and chores. 

This morning the Yellow peppers got to care for the chickens and goats while the green peppers cared for the ducks and the rabbits. 

When caring for the ducks we got to change out their pool and feed them collard greens. We enjoyed seeing the ducks fish out the collard greens from the pool. 

After chores we made pollinator seed bombs. During this activity we learned about the use of cover crops in agriculture and how it is a sustainable practice for farms. To do this we mixed compost with clay and water and made balls with oat and pea seed in the middle. We got real messy in the process, but will have a beautiful healthy garden this fall thanks to their hard work. 

Next, off to the garden for snack time and weeding and watering. Todays snack was ants on a log with Sunbutter to replace the traditional peanut butter. Campers were skeptical at first but many asked for seconds, thirds, and fourths after trying. After snack time we put our freshly painted garden signs into their appropriate beds and did some quick weeding. 

After snack its time to cool off at the pond. We did a pond study where we talked about what a healthy water reservoir should look like and how we can help. We also talked about the kinds of animals you might find in a fresh water. After discussing we decided to be explorers and explored the life in our pond. We found snails, fish, crawfish, and lots of water bugs! 

After lunch we headed out to the forest to check out our track traps. The green pepper group had great success with theirs finding raccoon markings and squirrel markings. After checking our trap we followed deer and dog prints along the rivers edge. We found a lot of prints but the mosquitos were so bad we needed to get out the forest FAST!

After the forest we learned about seed and their adaptations. We learned about how some seeds use flight, hooks, taste, and movement to disperse. After learning about different kinds of seed dispersal the campers got to engineer a seed adaptation of their own. The campers got to plan, build, and test their seeds and everyone did a great job at dispersing their seeds! 

We started building our STEAM: Sustainable farm projects, and got a surprise visit from Farmer Gwen to show us the frogs their found in their water reservoir.

Too soon the lighting got too close so we needed to head indoors. 

Inside we had a snack, play games and reflected until it was time to go home! Looking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow. Fingers crossed the weather cooperates!

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MSU Tollgate Farm 2021 Lamb Sale

In farming, the only certainty is uncertainty. Bad weather, disease (animal or human), medical emergencies, market shifts can all crop up at any time necessitating a shift in how a farmer must run their operation. This was certainly the case when the COVID-19 hit. With limited income from educational programs our livestock program was faced with the stark reality that most farmers deal with everyday: the livestock had to earn their keep. Now, this is not to say that the animals at Tollgate don’t work hard: they do. However, production had never been a priority, much less a financial necessity until COVID-19 happened.

We needed our animals to be able to support the cost not only of themselves, but of the rest of their flock/herd. This meant we needed to get the most “bang for our buck” in terms of inputs (feed, medicine, time) but also profit. We needed a good market and special customers who were willing to pay for fresh, locally produced and ethically-raised meat from our flock of sheep and boy-goats. A relationship with Chef Ken at Toasted Oak has provided this for us over the last year, and we could not be more grateful. The team at Toasted Oak really honors us and our livestock with the food they create for their patrons. The team prioritizes a low-waste cooking style that starts with being willing to elevate uncommon meats such as mutton (older sheep) or goat and often wasted cuts such as offal (organ meats) to center stage within their dishes. 

Now, we would like to give our Tollgate Farm family the chance to bring some of our meat home to your kitchen! As part of our efforts to make our flock of sheep the most efficient at their job, we are moving away from the Suffolk breed towards a cross-bred dorper flock. This means keeping the best genetics from our Suffolk ewes: good moms, beautiful conformation, fast growth, etc and adding in new dorper genetics to add and strengthen these traits. We recently purchased 3 dorper-cross ewes to add to our flock, which means that it was time for 3 ewes with traits we don’t want in our breeding program to go to the butcher. It is the meat from these sheep (2 yearling lambs and 1 mutton) that we are now offering for sale by the cut through our farm store! While you are there, don’t forget to check out the soaps our 4H club makes by hand with milk from our herd of toggenburg goats!

If you place your order by Tuesday morning, all farm store purchases can be picked up from 4 – 6:30 PM every Wednesday in the pavilion.  If you have any questions about pickup, please contact tollgatefarm4h@gmail.com. Thank you for supporting our livestock program!

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