Families looking for a unique setting for their child’s summer camp need look no further than the MSU Extension Tollgate Farm and Education Center.
This working farm, which boasts 11 sheep, eight goats, four horses, sits on 160 acres in Novi, Michigan. Tollgate camp provides youth ages 6-19 the opportunity to experience agriculture and natural resources hands-on in the farm setting. Significant value is placed on the 4-H experiential learning model of “Do, Reflect, Apply,’ and campers experience the 4-H focus on head, heart, hands and health.
Michigan State University Extension operates camps at Tollgate from June 24-Aug. 23. “In our eight weeks of summer, we have 16 different weeklong camps that will take place at the farm,” says Michael Mathis, director of MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center.
Camp offerings range from horse camps to adventure camps to the new Red Planet Survival Camp, which Mathis says is like the movie The Martian – where campers must learn how to survive on “Planet Tollgate.” This camp blends science and some tech, engineering, and makerspaces.
Other themes include animal camp, food camp and water camp. New this year is a special Time Travelers Farm Camp with a focus on homesteading skills and those who lived on the land long ago. Returning for its second year, Eco-Warriors focus on sustainability and how kids can make a positive difference in their environment.
All camps at Tollgate have a heavy science focus, Mathis adds, and give kids the chance to explore the world around them while learning new concepts which they can apply in the classroom come next school year. Campers get a better idea of STEM concepts, the process of science, social and emotional skills, and leadership opportunities, all while having fun and making new friends.
While each camp features a different theme and caters to a different age range, a typical Tollgate farm camp day will include making nutritious snacks in Garden Kitchen, caring for farm animals, sowing and harvesting in the garden, engaging in a creative week-long STEM project, and investigating the natural world of field, forest and pond. Depending on the camp week, other activities include canoeing, fishing, horseback riding or archery.
“We do a variety of things, but we focus on agriculture and food – and where our food comes from,” Mathis says. “So a staple of our camps is, twice a day, our campers cook healthy snacks.”
New this year are Tollgate’s teen specialty camps, which offer exciting new challenges for the slightly older camper. Vet Science, Eco-Challenge, Outdoor Adventure Challenge, and Winged Wonders have traveling components and the chance to interact with experts from the farm, from the community, and from campus.
An integral part of Tollgate Farm Camp is its Stewards Teen Leadership Program. Stewards (ages 15-19) and Stewards-in-Training (ages 13-14) enrich, mentor, and lead campers while gaining valuable leadership and life skills themselves. In a positive educational environment, teens experience the responsibilities associated with potential career paths before entering college
“4-H is what’s so important to us,” Mathis says. This shows in everything they do at MSU Tollgate Farms – and explains why the majority of participants are returning campers from previous years. Tollgate education staff strives to provide a fun experience for campers, but there’s a lot of thought and best practices put into each activity, he adds.
Camps run 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Registration for summer 2019 is underway. Most camps fill by March, so Mathis says to be sure to register ASAP. There is a waitlist for those who miss out on registration.
For more information on camp offerings at the MSU Tollgate Farm, visit the camps page on Tollgate Farm’s website.