At Tollgate, you’ll often hear the question posed, “Do you know where your food comes from?” Utilizing the farm as the ‘place’ of place-based education, Tollgate programs promote understanding of the importance of agriculture in our daily lives as they increase learning outcomes, community connections, and appreciation of the natural world. With the farm as a living laboratory, Tollgate meets its mission through experiential place-based education about sustainable agriculture, community food systems, and natural resources.
But what exactly does the term place-based education mean? David Sobel, author of Place- and Community-based Education describes place-based education as “an approach to teaching and learning that starts with the local and addresses two critical gaps in the experience of many children now growing up in the United Sates: contact with the natural world and contact with the community. It offers a way to extend young people’s attention beyond the classroom to the world as it actually is, and to engage them in the process of devising solutions to the social and environmental problems they will confront as adults.”
Ellen Koehler, Tollgate Education Coordinator since 2016, is passionate about deepening the learning that takes place at Tollgate through placed-based agriculture and environmental education. Collaborating with staff, schools, and partner organizations, Ellen works to create positive change in our local communities and meet the needs of learners through research-based content and methods. When learners visit the farm, they not only explore science phenomena; they begin to investigate how they can make a positive difference in the world around them.
As part of a strong Tollgate team, Ellen designs, develops, and delivers meaningful educational programs for adults and youth; plans educational community-building events; and furthers diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the farm. In addition to spearheading the financial aid process at the farm, Ellen leads programs for school and community groups, leadership development and specialty camps for teens, an environmental leadership youth council, a series for home vegetable gardeners, and a professional development series for educators about culturally responsive place-based education.
Ellen has continued her educational leadership studies through a mix of coursework and field-based practicums at the University of Michigan and Antioch University of New England. She has had the opportunity to collaborate widely with educators across the globe who inspire learners through place-based education. Ellen serves on the Trainer Bureau for the North American Association of Environmental Education and is a Certified Environmental Educator. In 2021, Ellen earned her Master of Education with concentrations in place-based education, sustainability, and equity.
At Tollgate, we help youth and adults understand where their food comes from and so much more. As Tollgate’s new MSU Place-Based Extension Educator and in her new role as Education Manager, Ellen plans to continue to collaborate with colleagues, schools, community partners, and learners themselves to build healthier communities through authentic meaningful place-based teaching and learning.
‘Our true destiny…is a world built from the bottom up by competent citizens living in solid communities, engaged in and by their places.’ – David W. Orr