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Minnesota continues grand tradition of not pardoning turkeys

  • Blog Post by:
  • November 25, 2013 - 3:39 PM

Some states pardon a turkey at Thanksgiving time. Not Minnesota.

Minnesota invites a turkey to the State Capitol, then looks around to see who needs a good meal.

"He's going to go to the St. Paul Salvation Army," Gov. Mark Dayton announced Monday morning, nodding down at the huge white bird eyeing him from a cage next to the podium.

The turkey is one of several the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association will be donating this holiday season. Dayton estimated the 36-pound bird will feed 80 people.

The donation is timely this year, as the state's food shelves brace for a cut in federal food stamp assistance, and possible deeper cuts to come as congressional negotiators debate billions of dollars in cuts to the program's funding in the Farm Bill.

The ongoing uncertainty around the Farm Bill is "cruel," Dayton said.

"They're taking away from the neediest people in the nation," he said. "These federal cuts are going to be beyond our capability, or any state's capability to absorb and make up the difference. It's a very, very difficult time for farmers...as well as food recipients. It's a cruel way to treat them in the holiday season."

One out of every 10 Minnesotans -- more than 500,000 people -- receive some form of federal nutrition assistance.

Minnesota is the nation's largest turkey producer. The association plans to donate enough turkeys to feed 12,500 people.

"That's a solid cage," Dayton complimented the turkey growers. Two years ago, the donated turkey made a break for it, but the 2013 bird stood calmly in his crate, blinking at photographers and sitting calmly while the governor patted his white feathers.

That's because this year's bird has been through turkey pardon boot camp. The Burkel family of Badger, Minn., raised the two birds that are heading to Washington, D.C., for an official presidential pardon this week. The family -- John and Joni Burkel and their five children -- groomed a group of their birds for the big day: playing soothing Vivaldi and John Mayer, getting them used to being handled and photographed, and even playing recordings from high school girls' volleyball games to get them used to crowd noises.

The two best-looking, best-behaved birds were sent to Washington, where they will check into a suite at the Willard Hotel, visit the White House and serve as holiday parade marshals at Disney World before retiring to a petting zoo. The third runner up? Well, at least he got to meet the governor.

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