Families pick out pumpkins from the pumpkin patch at MSU Tollgate Farm during a past Pumpkinfest in Novi.

Families pick out pumpkins from the pumpkin patch at MSU Tollgate Farm during a past Pumpkinfest in Novi.

Photo provided by Pat Beck

Pumpkinfest to return to MSU Tollgate Farm for 7th season

By: Jonathan Shead | Novi Note | Published September 22, 2021


NOVI — Break out the sweaters, light up those apple-scented candles and get ready to search for the perfect pumpkin because fall has officially arrived, and MSU Tollgate Farm’s annual Pumpkinfest will return 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 2-3.

“I’m excited to have folks return to the farm in person for such a happy event. One characteristic of this event is people are just here enjoying the farm, and everyone seems to be happy to be here. To have that, and offer a place for everyone to come celebrate fall on the farm, it’s very important to me,” MSU Tollgate Farm Education Coordinator Ellen Koehler said. “I’m also very motivated to help support the education that is here and make that education accessible to everyone.”

Though the festival has been around for the past eight years, this is only its seventh season running. The event was canceled in 2020.

During the festival’s inaugural year, Koehler said, only about 300 attendees came. The next year, however, “There was a big change.” As many as 5,000 people attended Pumpkinfest’s second year, which Koehler attributes to changes in planning and a larger effort to make connections in the community.

“We’re very excited to be able to offer this festival for the community. We have so many ties to the community. I think people have been waiting to be able to go outdoors (and) enjoy the fall colors, and be on the farm,” she said. “We’re that gathering place for them.”

The festival’s 2021 return comes with some changes in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first of which is that the festival will be predominantly outdoors this year.

“Everything is outdoors, but our concessions will be in our open-air barn, and that is the one area, or restrooms, where we ask folks to mask up,” Koehler said. The farm has also boosted the number of wagons available to take patrons to the pumpkin patch so that riders could be more spaced out during their trip.

Outside of added pandemic safety protocols, Koehler said much of the festival should look the same to those who have visited before.

“We do have some iconic farm, and Pumpkinfest, activities returning this year,” Koehler said, including catch-and-release fishing at the pond dock; a Wacky Water Critters program, where youth can study the pond and search for macroinvertebrates; the pumpkin patch and wagon rides; a straw maze; a cow eye dissection workshop; and a bounce house.

The festival also will feature a number of farm animals, which the farm shares with its 4-H club, as well as horse shows, live music in the pavilion, and taekwondo and drawing demonstrations.

Educational opportunities will be on tap at this year’s festival, including MSU Extension’s Bug House and 20 other exhibitors that will be located under the “discovery area,” Koehler said.

“There will be educational exhibits from historic commissions, sharing historic toys; we have 4-H sharing the opportunities through 4-H; (and) we have garden activities,” she added. “I think, at this point, we have 20 educational exhibitors. Each of those tables will have some type of interactive component.”

Those who attend Pumpkinfest are helping MSU Tollgate Farm give back to the community even further through the event.

“It’s through this program that we’re able to provide financial assistance to struggling schools, families or individuals to participate in the programs,” Koehler said.

“The proceeds from this event benefit or support the educational programming of the farm and our financial assistance program.”

For presenting sponsor Vibe Credit Union, giving back is why the credit union continues to partner with the farm’s festival. “Giving back to the community is one of our core principles, and MSU Tollgate Farm is one of our favorite partners,” Vibe Credit Union Marketing Manager Linda Smith said in an email.

The credit union has sponsored the event since 2016, Koehler added. Additional sponsors include Ascension Health, the Goddard School of Novi and more.  

The festival takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to set up and pull off, Koehler said, which has at one point included up to 200 volunteers working alongside part-time and full-time staff. This year’s festival is still seeking volunteers to sign up and help.

“This year, we are still searching for additional volunteers, but we have folks who are dedicated to coming and helping with this event. It’s like a large community. That’s what I’m excited about: getting the community back together again,” Koehler said.

For more information, visit canr.msu.edu/events/msu-tollgate-farm-pumpkinfest-october-2021. To volunteer, visit signupgenius.com/go/4090f49aba82ba7ff2-pumpkinfest5.