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Americana partnership with Michigan State University endures for more than 30 years

by Kathryn Buckner
Monday, June 3, 2019

People often ask Americana staff and trustees about the partnership that exists between the Foundation and MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center. In 1987, the Foundation’s founders - Adolph and Ginger Meyer – gave Michigan State University 60 acres of their beloved Tollgate Farm located within the city limits of Novi, Michigan along with a significant grant to cover site development and renovations. The Foundation retained nearly 100 acres of Tollgate consisting of pasture, wooded areas, and working lands, which Americana now leases to MSU for demonstration, education, and research projects. Americana’s office is in the original farmhouse on the farmstead. The founders were committed to protecting farmland, which they considered to be our country’s most valuable resource, from urban sprawl and development.

MSU’s use of Tollgate Farm for educational programming advances the founders’ purpose and celebrates America’s agricultural heritage. MSU Tollgate Farm offers children, families, and adults that live in areas that have become increasingly urban an opportunity to enjoy unique, hands-on agricultural experiences. Educational programming at the Farm includes 4-H youth programs, homeowner horticulture, school field trips, food systems education, farmer training, Master Gardener classes, and immersive agriculture and nature-based summer camp and pre-school programs. Students, campers, volunteer gardeners, and other visitors experience farm animals, the joys of gardening, and walks in the woods. The facility even has a conference center that is used by MSU Extension but can also be rented by businesses and the community.

MSU estimates that Tollgate programs attracted more than 20,000 participants in 2018. Almost 7,000 school children from across southeast Michigan came for field trips. In the spring, more than 50 volunteer “Edu-leaders” demonstrated maple-sugaring to nearly 1,500 visitors. More than 120 shareholders enjoyed fresh vegetables that were organically grown in the farm’s community-supported agriculture program. Pumpkinfest, an annual fall event, attracted more than 2,000 people to the farm over one October weekend.

Over the years Americana has supported the use of MSU Tollgate Farm for agricultural education through additional grants. In 2018, for example, Americana helped to support two educational positions that enabled MSU Tollgate to host more than 500 summer campers – the most successful year yet – and more than 75 pre-school children in the popular Farm Sprouts program. Americana grants have enabled MSU to provide financial aid to children who might not otherwise be able to participate. And Americana grants have contributed to repairs and significant upgrades of the buildings and other improvements on the farm property to ensure safe and accessible facilities for farm programs. In all, since 1997 Americana has awarded more than $2 million in additional grants for facilities maintenance and upgrades and to support MSU’s high-quality Tollgate programs.

Americana applauds MSU Extension’s research-based approach to educational programming and its commitment to providing opportunities for children, families and adults in an increasingly urban area to learn about American agriculture through hands-on experiences. The MSU-Americana partnership reflects mutual commitment to MSU’s mission of teaching, demonstration and research and the Foundation’s mission of supporting sustainable growth and development of American agriculture and community food systems, the conservation and preservation of our natural resources, and the protection and presentation of expressions of America’s heritage. Find more information about MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center here.