Cooking with a Purpose: county says competition makes them more effective ag advocates

The link between agriculture and food ought to be obvious, but to many consumers, it’s not obvious at all.

That’s why Jay County Farm Bureau decided to sponsor a barbecue contest during last year’s Jay County Fair and why it is sponsoring it again this year.

“We were looking for something that would let the community know what Farm Bureau does and what the farmers do,” said Connie Muhlenkamp, Jay County education and outreach coordinator. “We thought this was the perfect opportunity.”

Early on it was decided to make the event as representative of Jay County agriculture as possible, so all nine of the livestock species raised in the county – beef, chicken, turkey, pork, goat, rabbit, duck, lamb and veal – were part of the contest. Organizers also decided to offer a “farmer’s market” – a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that competitors could use when making their dishes, as well as cheeses, milk, sour cream, eggs, honey, corn oil and various breads and wraps.

All of the work organizing the competition was done by county board members. Among the many individual tasks done in preparation were: getting the approval of the fair board; talking to an experienced barbecue competitor to make sure Jay County was structuring the contest correctly; purchasing the necessary equipment (prep tables, plates, aprons and wash basins); stocking the farmer’s market; purchasing cuts of meat; and publicizing the contest through radio ads, flyers and in-person appeals to encourage community groups to compete.

“Wow, did they do a lot of work,” Muhlenkamp said of her fellow board members.

July 10 was contest day with 11 teams competing. Teams were given an hour to set up their area and get their grills hot and then 40 minutes to prepare a main dish and two side dishes using a designated meat and anything they wanted from the farmer’s market. To add an extra layer to the competition, the teams didn’t know which of the nine meats they would be grilling until just before the contest started.

Taking first prize was a team of bus drivers for the Jay County school system, while second prize went to the vocational agriculture teachers.

In all, the county spent $2,016 on the contest. However, since items such as prep tables and dishes will be used again, Muhlenkamp estimated that the cost in 2019 will be around $1,000, which will be used primarily to cover the prize money and the food.

From the county board’s perspective, the event was a great opportunity to educate the public indirectly through the farm commodities and products used in the contest and directly through the trivia questions that audience members were asked while the contest was going on.

Perhaps even more important is the overall effect on Jay County Farm Bureau, Muhlenkamp said.

“The success we had with this project and the positive feedback from the community has pumped us up to do even more,” she said.