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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

Northern Bobwhite Persist in the Snow!

On Wednesday January 27, 2016, just 4 days after the blizzard that dumped over 20” of snow in the Pinelands, NJ Audubon staff and research partners were able to verify that all radio collared Northern Bobwhite are doing well following the blizzard.

Using telemetry the radio collared birds were tracked and found to be alive and part of larger coveys that included other quail from last year’s broods. The quail were found to be utilizing cover provided by young pines in areas where forestry had occurred. The young pines were bent and bowed by the snow creating a home farm snow (PARKE)(patchwork of “lean-tos” that blocked out drifts, created pockets of bare ground and seemingly provided both shelter and areas to forage. The cover provided by the young pines appears significant as research staff found other birds, including several Mourning Doves and a Pine Warbler, frozen solid, with no signs of mortality due to predators, under deadfalls and brush piles that were exposed in open field or edges where snow drifts were able to accumulate.Quail tracks in snow 1-27-16 at home farm PIC site(PARKE)

Climatic factors such as serve weather events (snow, drought, floods, etc.) influence the Northern Bobwhite’s annual survival and can be devastating to Bobwhite populations, especially where quail habitat is of low quality. Even in areas of high quality habitat, severe climatic factors may reduce populations to a dangerously low level. However, the Bobwhite is a survivor, a resilient species that with quality cover to meet their habitat needs, the Bobwhite’s potential for reproduction allows the species to recover.

The Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative in NJ is dependent upon: (1) areas of high quality habitat and (2); the translocation of true wild birds, not pen raised, with both factors providing significant advantage in the face of severe storm events. The release site at Pine Island Cranberry has been stewarded through the implementation of a Forest Stewardship Plan, creating patches of young forest habitat suitable for quail and rich in cover and food resources. In addition, the wild birds are known to more quickly adapt and yield offspring that also exhibit innate survival instincts.

Fossil records show that quail-like birds existed at least a million years ago, but their appearance in most of the northern states across their range probably did not occur until sometime after retreat of the last glacier, approximately 10,000 years ago. Over the last 10,000 years serve storm events obviously have occurred and through it all the Bobwhite has persisted.

quail flush jan 27 2016While we still have a bit of winter to go, seeing that the quail have made it through this first significant weather event since their release in NJ, helps to reinforce the message that more people need to recognize, the need for more active stewardship and management of land to produce high quality wildlife habitat. Years of fire suppression and an overall lack of disturbance have left the forest of the pinelands overstocked, and devoid of resources that Northern Bobwhite and other birds and wildlife typically rely upon. With stewardship and management high quality habitat can be created, yielding a diversity of native species and providing the ecological services that these habitats historically and naturally provided. Native species, including the Northern Bobwhite, all provide ecological, historical, esthetic, recreational, scientific and educational value and are so important to maintaining a stable ecosystem for generations to come.

To see project researcher Kaili Stevens tracking the Bobwhite at Pine Island on January 27, 2016 and see one flush watch the video that is on our Quail Update Page.  Click here for Video

For more on the Quail Project see NJ Audubon's Quail webpage http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionConservation/StewardshipInAction/NorthernBobwhiteRestorationInitiative.aspx

Photos By John Parke.  Video By Kaili Stevens