Venison jerky with watermelon salsa latest field days treat

24 Feb 2020, 11:06 AM

Venison jerky with a watermelon salsa will be this year’s wild food treat to be given away by the Northland Regional Council (NRC) to attract visitors to its marquee at the upcoming Thursday 05 to Saturday 07 March Northland Field Days.

A joint creation by the NRC, NorthTec Level 4 cookery students and their tutor Hughie Blues, the council expects to give away about 1000 portions of jerky over the three days of field days from the council’s usual location, site 251 on ‘Tokoroa Road’.

Council Chair (and Kaipara constituency representative) Penny Smart says over the past few years the council has transformed a variety of pest animals, plants and even insects into an array of edible treats all designed as a fun way to spark added public interest in its broader work at the Dargaville event.

Last year’s giveaway was a ‘sticky pulled wild pork hawker roll’ but previous offerings have included rabbit rissoles, burgers, pies and pate all made from possum, wild pork, venison and goat meat pies, rabbit sausages and even ice cream made with wasp larvae on one occasion and wattle seed-flavouring on another.

Chair Smart says the NRC has been successfully collaborating with the hospitality students for field days for several years now and is pleased the two organisations will be working together again this year, a sentiment echoed by NorthTec’s Lisette Buckle.

Ms Buckle, NorthTec’s Pathway Manager- Hospitality, Tourism, Hair and Beauty, says the field days are a great opportunity for chef tutor, Hughie Blues and his Level 4 students to engage with the public and show off their culinary skills.

“With the prevalence of wild foods and alternative protein sources, this is a wonderful way to display diverse, tasty dishes whilst highlighting the issues pests pose for our native fauna and flora.”

Chair Smart says about 30kg of wild venison will be used for the jerky, the meat sourced from Blenheim company Premium Game because there’s no local venison stock “and council’s obviously keen to see that remain the case!”

Vivienne Lepper, the regional council’s Biosecurity Manager - Incursions & Response says three deer species – red, fallow and sika – are currently found in Northland, but until relatively recently the region had been deer-free.

“Both red and fallow deer are farmed, but sika deer are only here as a result of illegal releases.”

Ms Lepper says 30 years ago there were no known feral deer in the region, but they’re now thought to be living in the wild in at least eight separate locations, three sourced from illegal liberations and five from farm escapes.

“While overall numbers are still not huge – probably just a few dozen – feral deer are very much unwanted here and an issue because they’re ‘selective’ browsers, targeting particular forest species over others. This can significantly change a forest’s make-up with associated negative impacts on the fauna that rely on those plants.”

She says as well as destroying the understorey of native forest by browsing, grazing, bark stripping and trampling (which can all increase soil erosion) feral deer can also damage crops and exotic forests and have been implicated in the transmission of bovine tuberculosis.

“Similarly, our kauri forests are already at risk from kauri dieback and wild goats and pigs – and in some places wild cattle – are adding to that pressure; we don’t want another large hooved animal like deer spreading soil and disease through our forests.”

Ms Lepper says unlike many other pest animals, Northland is a unique and relatively fortunate situation with deer in that there are still very low numbers in Northland.

“We have a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to eradicate deer to protect our ngahere (forests) for future generations.”

Attempts by authorities and stakeholders to tackle the wild deer problem have faced significant challenges, including ongoing escapes of farm animals and unfortunately, ongoing illegally releases by those keen to hunt the animals.

Ms Lepper says legally, “anyone who sees or suspects the presence of any feral deer in Northland, must immediately report the sighting to Northland Regional Council”.

She says council staff hope to use the venison jerky as a good way to draw attention to the feral deer issues the region is facing.

Meanwhile, Chair Smart says for anyone keen to try some of the venison jerky, the best time to visit is around 10.30am, 12.30pm or 2.30pm each day.

She says aside from the venison giveaways and associated feral deer messaging, the council will also be providing information and advice on various other aspects of its work. This includes coping with drought, best practice land management, improving water quality, eradicating pests, controlling weeds, protecting kauri and information on the Northland Water Storage and Use Project.

“Specialist council staff across a range of fields will also be available to offer advice or chat about land and other issues people may have and several councillors also plan to attend.”

Vivienne Lepper, Biosecurity Manager - Incursions & Response, left, and student chef Liam Dinsdale at NorthTec.

Vivienne Lepper, Biosecurity Manager - Incursions & Response, left, and student chef Liam Dinsdale at NorthTec honing their skills for the upcoming Northland Field Days. The regional council and NorthTec are joining forces again to produce a wild food giveaway for the field days; this year’s offering will be venison jerky with a watermelon salsa.