Explore Farm to School at Tollgate Education Farm Center

Educational site in Southeastern Michigan offers youth the opportunity to experience farm to table in action.

Photo by Maddie Judge, MSU communications intern at Tollgate
Photo by Maddie Judge, MSU communications intern at Tollgate

Interest and awareness about our food system and healthy eating is on the rise. Fortunately, opportunities for youth to learn more about these topics are also abundant. Many parents are interested in providing their children with spaces and activities to learn more about food, where it comes from, healthy (and fun) eating, farming and our food system at large.

Southeastern Michigan is home to an educational site that strives to provide programs on these topics and additional related ones. MSU Tollgate Education Farm Center focuses on food, farming and environmental education. Many of the programs offered at Tollgate are designed to experientially trace food and agricultural products from their life on the farm to the point at which we consume it or use it. 

All of Tollgate’s programs aim to get youth participants interacting with the farm, their food, and ecological systems. The programs are designed age appropriately and expose youth to a functional farm, growing their own food and caring for animals. The experience helps close the food system loop by incorporating food from the farm for snacks, which the students often prepare. Furthermore, many programs discuss composting and how to turn food ‘waste’ and manure into a soil supplement for the farm to grow healthier and more nutritious food. 

Programs are offered year round at Tollgate. There are even programs in the winter, including a complete tour and experiential activity on how to maple sugar in March. Although a number of visitors brave the cold to see Michigan’s food system in action, the bulk of young visitors come to the farm during the summer months for a series of week long day camps. These camps highlight topics such as animals, bugs, water, soil, and food. The staff at Tollgate also travels to different locations, to provide a similar, but more contained, versions of hands-on activities off-site. 

All of Tollgate’s camps and programs demonstrate the three facets of Farm to School by exposure to farming, including season extension, nutrition education, and sourcing as much local food as possible for snacks and meals. Many schools and classrooms interested in Farm to School bring their students to Tollgate for field trips or day long programs, connecting the food with grade level content standards with a recent focus on the Next Generation Science Standards

When implementing or growing your farm to school program, support from your local school community is critical. Students are the greatest asset to creating change through positive participation. For local procurement in particular, tying nutrition and food education with serving local food can increase lunch participation when local foods are served in the cafeteria, which may assist with a potential increase in cost or the effect of offering new menu items. By visiting the farm the students are more likely to connect to local food and value a local procurement program.    

To see a complete list of activities, programs and events hosted by the staff at MSU Tollgate Education Farm Center, visit their website.                

Michigan State University Extension supports Farm to School efforts around the state, to encourage healthy students and abundant opportunities for Michigan producers.

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