Cooking with Future Farmers

Last week NJA staff came in from a cold and rainy February day to enjoy not one but six hot meals at the Salem County Future Farmers of America (FFA) Jersey Fresh Cook-off! The event was just one of many FFA events taking place nationwide, as chapters across America celebrated National FFA Week with events showcasing the talents of teens planning careers in agriculture. Salem County Career and Technical High School students collected donations of locally sourced ingredients from nearby producers and teamed up with classmates to put their culinary skills to the test. NJA Stewardship Project Director Jean Lynch and Stewardship Specialist Brittany Dobrzynski served on the panel of judges. 

In addition to tasting delicious meals that the teams created on the spot from limited available ingredients, judges enjoyed hearing about the projects the students are working on and received a tour of the new greenhouse, hand-built chicken coop, and vegetable gardens. 

Congratulations to Team 5, who won the competition with their meal of black duck with rice, venison meatballs in tomato sauce, salad dressed with pickle juice vinaigrette, and blueberry smoothies. Each team did a great job coming up with creative and delicious entries. 


 

In recent months NJ Audubon’s Stewardship staff have begun partnering with the Salem County Chapter of the FFA. In November, FFA members worked hard on an NJA project that is enhancing a riparian buffer with tree plantings at the Salem River Wildlife Management Area. Trees were planted to protect the adjacent Mannington Meadows wetland complex from agricultural and stormwater runoff. Students viewed this opportunity as a great community service project (this state land is open to the public for year-round enjoyment), and they also learned about NJA’s land stewardship initiatives, including stewardship techniques that they can apply on their own properties.

In January, Salem County FFA invited NJA staff to present on Agricultural Best Management Practices. Students learned about several techniques to improve water and soil quality and address resource concerns on their current, future, and neighboring farms. Some of these are traditional practices that had diminished in use, such as the use of winter cover crops. Some, such as grassed waterways to stabilize eroding gullies, or upgraded irrigation equipment to save water, rely on engineering and technological advances. Students have increased their knowledge of specific tools and techniques that support sustainable farming practices and have advocated  these practices to their families and neighbors. Participants learned to look for further technical support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and programs like NJ Audubon’s Kirkwood-Cohansey Small Grants Program, funded by the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

With new research and technology, agriculture is constantly changing. Sharing information about sustainable agricultural practices can lead to benefits such as providing plentiful clean water and reducing our carbon footprint. These kinds of benefits are also advocated with the Jersey Fresh Cook-off. By opting for local ingredients, we support our local economies, reduce the fossil fuels that would have been used shipping foods cross-county and we can appreciate the variety of ingredients we can grow (or fish or hunt) in our own backyards.

NJ Audubon staff  work with a wide variety of landowners throughout the state. We know that the conservation work does not simply stop once a few acres of wildlife habitat are created or enhanced, or when we work with a farmer to test out cover crops. Long after a project is finished, what we hope will remain is an enhanced understanding of the needs of wildlife and natural resources and how those needs can often be integrated into a farm’s operations. Partnering with FFA is an investment with high return value. By working with our future producers we are creating a pathway for sustainable farming practices to become the new norm. By encouraging conservation-minded farming practices and accountability for conserving wildlife habitat, we support a community of land stewards who sow great benefits on the land.

 

Written by Brittany Dobrzynski
Photos by NJA staff