Minnesota's Thanksgiving turkey, a handsome bird named Harold, posed for photos and met with Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and the press Wednesday in front of the State Capitol.
Unlike many of his predecessors, the fluffy white turkey will be spared — and retire to a hobby farm in Paynesville, Minn.
In past years, the turkey lucky enough to meet the governor was no luckier than his fellow brethren after its big day. "We don't raise the turkeys to be pardoned," a former Minnesota Turkey Growers Association president told the Star Tribune in 2019.
The turkey presentation with state leaders and the growers association comes a year after the annual ritual was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic was still front of mind at this year's presentation as state leaders recalled the early days of the pandemic when food supply was a major concern. That's when farmers and growers stepped up to ensure there was enough food to go around, Walz said.
Minnesota produces more turkeys than any other state and Walz thanked the growers for their work in a billion-dollar industry that employs thousands of Minnesotans.
"Many our producers are truly family farms, generations of family farms that make a difference," he said.
A table decorated with whole turkeys and typical grocery store products, including ground turkey and turkey sausage, sat just feet away from Harold and Gilbert, another turkey from River Farm who was not lucky enough to meet the governor but will live out his days in Paynesville, too.
"Chances are if you're eating turkey across this country, it came from Minnesota," Walz said to cheers from the growers.
Hunger continues to be a concern for many families, with rates of food shelf use rivaling that of last year, said Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions, a nonprofit that addresses food insecurity in Minnesota.
Flanagan said 449,000 Minnesotans use benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
"My family growing up relied on SNAP and local food shelves, and I want Minnesotans to know there's no shame in asking for help," Flanagan said.
The Turkey Growers Association presented a $10,000 check to Hunger Solutions.
Flanagan encouraged Minnesotans in need to see what benefits they qualify for at mnbenefits.mn.gov. Find a free meal on Thanksgiving here.