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 36-pound bird will feed an estimated 80 people. In all, the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association will be donating more than 10,000 pounds of turkey to Hunger Solutions Minnesota for distribution to area food shelves this holiday season.
The donation was particularly welcome this year, as charities brace for Congress to cut billions of dollars in food stamp aid out of the federal farm bill. The program feeds one out of every 10 Minnesotans — more than 500,000 adults and children.
Dayton called the prolonged budget wrangling over the federal farm bill “cruel.” The federal cuts, he said, “are going to be beyond our capacity — or any state’s capacity — 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.”
Vivaldi and John Mayer
Minnesota produces more turkeys than any other state in the nation.
So when the White House put out a call for the most photogenic, pardonable turkey in the land, the Burkel family of Badger, Minn., set to work.
John and Joni Burkel and their five children groomed a group of their birds for the big day. They played them soothing Vivaldi and John Mayer tunes. They got them used to being handled and photographed. They even subjected the turkeys to recordings from high school girls’ volleyball games, to get them used to crowds and commotions.
The two best-looking, best-behaved birds are on their way to Washington, D.C., where they will check into a suite at the Willard Hotel and visit the White House on Wednesday for their official pardon. The duo then will head to Florida and serve as grand marshals at a Disneyworld holiday parade before retiring to live out the rest of their charmed lives on a farm.
The third-place bird? Well, at least he got to meet the governor.
On Monday, Dayton surveyed No. 3, who was in a secure location next to the podium. “That’s a solid cage,” Dayton said, complimenting the turkey growers.
In some states, including neighboring Iowa and North Dakota, governors pardon a turkey for the holiday. In the Minnesota governor’s office, the focus is on containment.
Two years ago the donated turkey, Ted, of Willmar, made a break for it. In 2004, the chosen bird flailed in Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s arms like a berserk ceiling fan.
But the 2013 bird stood calmly in his crate, blinking at photographers and sitting quietly while the governor patted his white feathers.
He had style, he had grace. What he didn’t have was a name.
“If you name them, you can’t, well …” Dayton said. His family made that mistake with a couple of Maine lobsters once and ended up releasing their dinner into the ocean. “We couldn’t eat ’em after we knew ’em.”