Recently, I was invited to help program staff members and building management personnel at the Tollgate Farm Education Center through a strategic planning process. Jointly held by the Americana Foundation and Michigan State University, the Tollgate Farm Education Center is an incredible resource for food and farming education in an urban setting. As I see it, Tollgate is poised to teach the basics of urban agriculture and food-systems management for greater community resilience across Southeast Michigan.
Hemmed in by the 12-Oaks Mall, the City of Novi, all that Oakland County sprawl, there’s a 160-acre farm that dates back to Michigan’s beginnings. Moving to the property in 1836, John Basset later built the farm house that still stands on Meadowbrook Road at the Tollgate Farm Education Center. Adolph and Ginger Meyer bought the farm in the 1950s and preserved it as a working farm and educational resource held in trust by the Americana Foundation.
Thanks to an unusual partnership between the Americana Foundation and Michigan State University (MSU), the bucolic and picturesque Tollgate Farm Education Center remains an important historic resource for people throughout Michigan. Tollgate now offers a variety of facilities, programs and support to an array of groups, including a 4H youth group, science and farming summer camps for youth, bee-keeper education and catered business group meetings.
Alan Jaros is the new director for educational programming under Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) at Tollgate. Hitting the ground running, Alan has been pushing to build urban agriculture training opportunities, enhance educational resources on site and increase visitation. All of which add new demands on the facilities and staff members and requires inter-organizational and inter-agency cooperation.
Thankfully, his colleagues at MSU, the Americana Foundation and a number of community-based organizations have agreed to join Alan in a discussion about the future. And all agree that Tollgate is a critical resource for natural resources, agriculture, and food-systems training in Southeast Michigan. With some work and thoughtful dialogue, there will soon be a plan for coordinated action that provides a clear vision and achievable goals for immediate and long-term development of Tollgate Farm Education Center
A Note on Facilitators
Sometimes long-standing and mature organizations need to occasionally to re-evaluate their mission and goals, assess progress, and consider changing conditions. Facilitated discussions can help managers and program staff reaffirm effective relationships and respond creatively to the opportunities emerging from change.