No pardon for Minnesota turkey, but a moment in the spotlight

Two people take selfie photo
Gov. Tim Walz and Sen. Aric Putnam, DFL-St. Cloud, take a selfie photo with Thanksgiving turkey at the Minnesota Capitol in St Paul, Tuesday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Turkey producer Peyton Linn hoisted the 38-pound turkey from his cage under a table and placed him before a crowd of state leaders and agriculture officials.

The 18-week-old turkey raised in Melrose spent his life in a barn with about 10,000 other turkeys but now is set to enjoy a life of relative solitude on a hobby farm in that area. The bird didn’t get a state pardon, like several fowl friends around the country, but he got a moment in the spotlight.

A Thanksgiving turkey is seen
A Thanksgiving turkey is seen during a press conference at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul Tuesday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

For years, governors and ag leaders have highlighted one lucky bird each year in an effort to brag on Minnesota’s top-in-the-nation turkey production industry. Minnesota producers grow more than 40 million turkeys a year, right around the same number that Americans consume on Thanksgiving. And that results in roughly $775 million annually in gross sales.

“I think it bears repeating every time, Minnesota is the leading turkey-producing state in the nation. Twenty percent of households across the country will be getting their turkeys from Minnesota,” Gov. Tim Walz said, after referring to the turkey as a “handsome devil.” 

“(It’s) a major economic driver from Minnesota, a major employer from Minnesota, and an opportunity, as I said, once again, to make sure that Minnesotans across the state are food secure on Thanksgiving.”

Tim Walz poses with a Thanksgiving turkey
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz poses with a Thanksgiving turkey and Walz says the turkey's next address will be a hobby farm.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Walz noted that he can’t formally issue a pardon in Minnesota unless the two other members of the Minnesota Board of Pardons, the Supreme Court chief justice and the attorney general, agree. The pair didn’t weigh in on the turkey’s fate Tuesday.

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Two other turkeys that were presented in 2021 also enjoyed nearly a year there before a coyote snatched them out of their pen, fourth-generation turkey producer Peyton Linn said. But they enjoyed roaming on the pasture before their demise, Linn said.

Media members take pictures of Thanksgiving turkey
Media members take pictures of Thanksgiving turkey at the Minnesota Capitol.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen also credited producers with navigating a difficult year due to the highly pathogenic avian influenza. More than 3.8 million birds in Minnesota, including commercial and backyard flocks, were affected by the outbreak.

“We want to remind people that turkey is safe to eat and we have a good supply but it has been challenging with those hundreds of farms that have had to go through that last year,” he said.

The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association also announced Tuesday that it would again donate $10,000 to help feed hungry families in Minnesota. And Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota, said that would help more than 1,000 families across the state.

A person points out the check
Colleen Moriarty, Hunger Solutions Minnesota Executive Director, points out the check at the Minnesota Capitol.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Despite that, Moriarty said that without the same pandemic-era funding for nutrition programs, food banks around the state were on pace to see more than 1 million more visits to Minnesota food shelves this year than last year. 

“Those supports are blinking off, the economy is improving. And we're fortunate in the state of Minnesota that we have the kind of economy that we do,” Moriarty said. “But it isn't an economy for everybody yet, we have a lot of work to do to make sure that happens.”

A reporter points the microphone
Dana Ferguson, a politics reporter for MPR News, points the microphone at the turkey.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News