ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, Nov. 24, presented a turkey and thanked Minnesota's turkey growers for keeping the food supply running amid the pandemic and feeding the country on Thanksgiving.

In neighboring states and other places around the nation, governors pardon a lucky turkey that gets to live the rest of its days on a farm. But in Minnesota, the state turkey growers' association in the early 2000s suggested that Minnesota take a different path.

While a bird might get to meet the governor, it doesn't get a pardon. Gov. Mark Dayton joked during his time in office that he didn't have the executive authority to pardon a bird on his own, only the state's Board of Pardons could do that. So several turkeys since then have been presented publicly and then taken to a processor before feeding a family in need.

But Harold, a turkey from New Munich, Minnesota, got a lucky break.

Walz presented the bird to reporters and others outside the Capitol building on Wednesday before Harold returned to a farm to live out his days along with fellow turkey Gilbert. The decision appeared to be the turkey growers', not the governor's.

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"They're just going to live out their lives roaming the yard and hopefully eating mosquitoes," Minnesota Turkey Growers Association President Jes Westbrock said.

A turkey named Harold strolled about the Minnesota Capitol grounds before he was presented on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
A turkey named Harold strolled about the Minnesota Capitol grounds before he was presented on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

State officials also took the opportunity to laud the state's largest-in-the-nation turkey production industry and to credit Minnesota producers with keeping the food supply running despite disruptions due to COVID-19. Roughly 36 million turkeys are eaten each year on Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation. And Minnesota producers grow that many each year, Westbrock said.

"I get up every day and I find things to be thankful for and I know it's a challenge during this year," Walz said. "Our incredible producers, not only do they feed Minnesota, they feed this country, they feed the world."

And they encouraged Minnesotans with financial means to volunteer or donate to food banks in the state and to those without to seek out nutrition resources available to them. Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota, said Minnesotans tend to give generously during the holiday season but donations fall off after the season ends.

Moriarty encouraged people to continue giving, especially as Minnesotans turn to food shelves and banks after federal nutrition assistance programs end. "If that coincides with some of these federal supports not being of access to people, that'll be an issue," Moriarty said.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com