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MSU Tollgate Farm adapts programs to serve community
Published: 5/7/2020
MSU Tollgate Farm finds itself in uncharted territory as we navigate the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michigan State University took the proactive step of postponing, cancelling, or moving online all programming until September 1. Additionally, the farm is closed to the public, with only essential employees onsite to care for livestock and to do spring planting.

Despite these challenges, the MSU Tollgate team is doubling down on our mission of providing excellent agriculture, natural resources, and horticulture education. We have many opportunities for youth and adults to continue learning and having fun. Below you will find examples of how the MSU Tollgate team is adapting to address community needs presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. We will need the help of our community and stakeholders to continue this work. As you read please consider how you can donate your time or financial resources to support our efforts.
Support MSU Tollgate Farm with a Charitable Donation
Subscribe to the MSU Tollgate Farm Monthly Newsletter
Questions about how to support MSU Tollgate Farm? Email Mike Mathis at mathismi@msu.edu.

Continuing our Summer Camp Traditions 
Every year MSU Tollgate hosts eight weeks of summer camp filled with 16 uniquely-themed, week-long camps. Although we aren’t able to host our typical camp on the farm this summer, we will be hosting a free virtual summer camp that will bring the farm, friends, and fun to the comfort of your home. This virtual camp platform will be filled with themed weekly activities, videos, excursion ideas, and so much more! This won’t be able to replace our usual summer camp; however, it will help us keep connected, learning, and exploring together.  

MSU Tollgate Summer Camp Family and Community Needs Survey

In addition to our free virtual summer camp, we are in in the process of creating “Camp in a Box.” These themed boxes will be packaged and delivered directly to your home and will include easy to follow camp activities, activity materials, and fun MSU merchandise! Registration will be opening soon for Camp in a Box.

Questions? Email Sara Mund at mundsara@msu.edu.

Financial Aid Efforts Increase Due to Covid-19
As our community responds to the novel coronavirus, MSU Tollgate is preparing for demand to increase for financial aid. The farm’s financial aid committee is tasked with distributing financial aid so that as many youth and adults as possible have the opportunity to attend our programs regardless of income level. As we look ahead to the 2020/2021 program year, we continue to search for additional funding. Our financial aid committee and a new Special Projects Committee will be working to secure additional support for financial aid.

Donate to MSU Tollgate Educational Programs

Easy At-Home Activities for Youth 
MSU Tollgate team members are continuously adding simple at-home activities that inspire creativity, exploration, and science to our Experience Tollgate Blog. We understand that it can be difficult for parents to home-school their children at the same times as working from home. Our team of highly skilled and experienced instructors is here to help. 

Remote Teaching and Learning Experiences for Formal and Non-Formal Educators  
MSU Extension is able to further fulfill its mission to improve people’s lives by bringing knowledge and resources of the University to the community through Tollgate Farm's learning experiences for teachers and students. Tollgate offers a unique opportunity to explore agriculture and natural resources with inquiry learning and a place-based education focus. As a means to better serve teachers, students, and school districts during this time of remote learning, Tollgate has requested teacher input on the types of student and teacher learning opportunities that would be most helpful and will offer a variety of remote learning opportunities for students. 

Tollgate 2020 Teacher Needs Survey Here
Reserve School-to-Farm Visit for the 2020/2021 School Year Here

School Garden Virtual Learning Series
Join us for a series of free school garden virtual education sessions! This series of four interactive, educational garden sessions will be offered every other Wednesday starting May 6 through June 17, 2020 at 10am. By registering for the entire series, you will be able to attend each session using the same link.
  • May 6 at 10am: Cool Kid Plants: Plants Every Kid Should Know and Grow with Norm Lownds. Are you looking for kid tested and approved plants for your school or home garden? This session will highlight a number of interesting, easy to grow plants that engage kids and get them growing!
  • May 20 at 10am: Pollinator Gardening with Children with Ellen Koehler. What are pollinators, and why are they important to us? How can we help pollinators? School and community garden leaders join us to explore ideas and resources for place-based learning about plants, pollinators, and pollination.  
  • June 3 at 10am. Planning the Fall School Garden with Kristine Hahn. Learn about the best crops to grow and some important considerations when planning a Fall school garden in the narrow window from September - November. 
  • June 17 at 10am. Cover Crops for School Gardens with Will Jaquinde. Between social distancing and limited access to schools, cover crops are a low maintenance option to control weeds, improve soil, attract beneficial insects and more! Learn the basics on how to plant and manage cover crops to get the most out of them for this season and beyond.
School Garden Virtual Learning Series Registration

Please contact Kaitlin Wojciak (kaitwoj@msu.edu) with any questions.

Teen Stewards Programming Continues Online 
Each summer MSU Tollgate hosts 60 to 70 teenagers in our stewards and stewardess-in-training programs. These individuals volunteer to support our summer camps and at the same time participate in mock job interviews, leadership training, and career exploration. MSU Tollgate Farm thanks each of our stewards and stewards-in-training who give so much of themselves to help make our summer camps the best they can be. They are a large and important part of our farm camp community. To stay connected with our amazing stewards and to introduce youth voice into our summer online leadership sessions, we have been hosting online listening sessions. Check out our Stewards video here.

Stewards and Stewards-in-Training Feedback Survey

Questions? Email Ellen Koehler at koehle43@msu.edu.

Essential Employees Caring for the Farm
The operation of any farm takes a tremendous amount of work, MSU Tollgate Farm is no different. A core group of essential MSU employees have been maintaining the property, caring for livestock, and executing spring planting throughout the pandemic. 

Springtime at MSU Tollgate farm means lots of new life and livestock. Our sheep lambed in January and our four bred ewes added six lambs to the flock. Seven of our Toggenburg dairy goat does gave birth to fifteen kids. The does are milking out 70-75lbs of milk daily and their kids are growing like weeds. We’ve hatched out some chicks including Black Copper Marans. These chicks mature to lay beautiful, very dark brown eggs, and they have feathers on their feet. We hope to successfully incubate and hatch heritage Silver Appleyard ducklings from our own breeding stock. The essential staff here at the farm have been working tirelessly to continue to provide excellent care for all the animals. We sorely miss the participation of 4H youths and volunteers during this time. The essential staff are dedicated to ensuring the health and success of all the animals so they can support future educational programs and activities.

MSU Extension Seed Distribution           
Due to the generosity of the seed companies below, the Tollgate Farm 4-H Club was able to distribute seeds to over 55 school and community gardens. In response to COVID-19 and the increased interest in growing vegetables, Tollgate and Community Food Environment Institute of MSU Extension mailed thousands of remaining seed packets and MSUE beginning gardening basics to new and existing school and community gardeners throughout SE Michigan and beyond. Seed kits were shipped to  125 school and community gardeners with over 2,700 youth and 350 adults who will be impacted as they learn to grow their own food this summer and fall.

Thank you to the donors who made these efforts:

MSU Tollgate is located at 28115 Meadowbrook Road, Novi, MI 48377. Contact us at tollgate@msu.edu.