Mid Winter Break Camp 2013 – Day 1

It’s a new year, my lovely little Peppers!

It was wonderful seeing all of your smiling faces today, and what a way to start off our youth camp season, here at Tollgate Farm! My name is Murphy the Calf, and I will be reporting to you folks at home throughout my first year living on the farm. Everyone has been so warm and caring, and I am so excited to grow up among such great friends. Currently, I have to share my room with a few geese and chickens which can be a little noisy at times, but you get used to it.  Like Sydney said today, “We need to get some duck tape!” These little Peppers are so clever!

The day started off like all great days should, with arts and crafts! The glue was promptly being applied at 8:45 and the Peppers were pasting before Miss Mandy, Miss Rachel and Mr. Alan knew it! Looking around the room, I saw so many mosaics of pictures and creative designs made out of different kinds of dried beans and rice. The garbanzo beans were a camp favorite.  Our Yellow Pepper, Andrew, even exclaimed, “Let’s make some hummus!” after realizing what the tasty beans have become famous for.

Ava had quite the selection of dried beans

Alana's beautiful pattern

As the glue dried, the Peppers began to bundle up for their first trek outdoors. The Peppers were so excited to meet new friends, catch up with old friends and split up into groups.  Counselors were introduced and games were started! There’s nothing better than a quick little game of People-to-People to get to know your peers and learn about your surroundings. Once campers caught on to the idea of the game, Timothy pulled out a stumper with, “Shin to Shin!” My little Yellow and Orange Peppers began laughing and learning so quickly, they almost forgot how cold it was outside this moo-rning!

Orange and Yellow Peppers working together!

From inside my barn, I could hear tiny boots clomping on the gravel outside and knew it would soon be my turn for some well-earned attention. First, the Orange Peppers had to prepare my breakfast! They took turns adding formula, mixing in the warm water and funneling my milk into my big bottle. I’m an energetic, young calf and if I want to grow into a big strong bull I need all the nutrients I can get!

Making sure all the formula gets into the bottle

Once inside my barn, the Orange Peppers each got a chance to hold my bottle as I was feeding. I will admit, I did get a little excited a few times (m-oops!). The milk just smelled so yummy; I had to sniff my way around until I found it! All my little pepper friends were so kind and patient though. I loved it when Aaron and Chloe took turns petting my back as I finished eating. It kept me feeling calm and cared for and I loved all the affection!

After finishing animal chores, the young campers were rewarded with a delicious hearty snack.  It was time for butternut squash pancakes! What a treat! From a distance, I could see my friends scrubbing their hands in a frenzy to start prepping for their first Garden Kitchen recipe.  After slicing enough squash, some of my Yellow Peppers realized they had never tried raw squash before. Those adventurous Peppers decided to take a sample of this main ingredient and came up with some great comparisons. Ava thought, “It tastes like a cucumber, but it’s sweet!”  While other campers claimed it tasted like carrots, another sweet orange veggie.

The Daredevils trying the raw squash! I think Chloe likes it!

I think Chloe really likes it!

Teamwork was the key ingredient in the pancakes: Sarah was the stirrer, Alana mastered the measuring, Andrew cracked the eggs (and Mr. Alan picked out the shells). The end result was fluffy orange colored pancakes that made the room smell like a cinnamon stick! So mouth-watering!

Sarah made sure everything was mixed up

Next up, my lucky little Peppers got to embark on a brisk hayride…or is it straw-ride? Miss Mandy informed them all about the difference between the two commonly misused words. Hay is green and is used to feed some of the animals at Tollgate Farm. Straw is a golden color and has a hollowed out center, just like a straw you would use in a juice box. One camper suggested calling it a “Hey-ride” because we are saying, “Hey!” to nature.  Great ideas, my sharp little Peppers!

There's so many things to look at on the farm!

After a quick lunch those crafty campers were back at it. They took a time-out from the outdoors to tell imaginative nature stories while fashioning newspaper pots for tiny seeds and made hot cocoa.

Both Pepper groups were excited for their hike today. The Orange Peppers headed out first in hopes of tracking something (anything!) in the forest. A few small tracks were spotted, but it was the Yellow Peppers that had better luck on their hike. Lucy would later recall spotting evidence of lots of squirrels and woodpeckers, different tracks from deer, large rabbits and even tractors and people! Neat stuff, amigos!

Yellow Pepper hike

Lucy and Andrew


The second installment of Garden Kitchen highlighted the sweet potato, a personal favorite of all my chicken friends. All Peppers had to decide between a salty or sweet taste profile for their sweet potato fries.  Some Peppers decided on salt, black pepper and a little onion powder.  Others went with cinnamon and honey. I don’t know about you, but both sound delicious to me!

So many sweet potato fries!

A perennial favorite of campers here at Tollgate Farm is the Wrens and Jays game. The game is based off of the relationship that these two birds have in nature. The Wren is a smart, crafty bird that has to find a way to feed her babies without leading the Jay to her secret nest. One Jay is picked from the (pickled) Peppers and the rest are Wrens.  The Pepper-Wrens have to choose a place for their nest and successfully bring food to it without being spotted by the Pepper-Jay. I was out of breath watching all my speedy Peppers flying around like wild birds.

The day concluded with lots of pooped Peppers sharing their thoughts. My Pepper friends recalled their favorite activities, what they learned about nature and what they were anticipating for the days to come. I had such an amazing first day of camp and cannot wait to have all my Peppers back again.

Until next time,

Murphy the Calf

Today’s Recipes

Squash Pancakes

  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 3/4 cup rice flour (7/8 cup rice flour for each cup of white flour)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon, plus a pinch, salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil for frying


  1. Get a thick bottomed skillet. Cast-iron skillet or titanium non-stick pan
  2. Put all ingredients into a food processor: squash cubes, flour, sugar, butter, eggs, salt, vanilla and cinnamon.  Process about one minute, or until squash is liquified.  No lumps.
  3. Melt 1 teaspoon of oil on the skillet over medium low heat. When the pan is hot, pour 1/4 cup batter onto the skillet for each pancake. Cook pancakes until you see steam bubbles appear on the top side,and underside is golden brown. Flip them carefully with a spatula and finish cooking on the other side. The batter is delicate, but will hold together nicely when cooked. if the pancake seems too soft, let it cook a bit longer to firm up before you flip it. When underside is golden brown, transfer pancake to a serving plate and cover with a cloth to keep warm.


Sweet Potato Fries

  • 4 medium sized sweet potatos
  • olive oil
  • seasonings and spices


  1. Preheat toaster oven to 425 degrees F
  2. After punching holes in the sweet potatoes with forks, microwave them for 10 minutes.
  3. Slice carefully into fry-size pieces.
  4. Drizzle tray with oil, place fries on tray drizzle with oil on top as well
  5. Add your favorite seasonings and spices: salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder or honey!
  6. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until fries are darker in color and crispy around the edges.
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6 Responses to Mid Winter Break Camp 2013 – Day 1

  1. Kathe Hale says:

    Awesome and so creative! Will there be new info and pics on the facebook page?

  2. Liz Drotar says:

    I love Murphy’s blog and the photos!

  3. Julie Urbaniak says:

    Great pictures! My daughter is having a wonderful time!

    • TollgateProgramsMSU says:

      We’re glad you like them, Julie; thank you! It’s our privilege to be able to share these wonderful moments with all our Peppers, families and friends. There’s more to come tomorrow!

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