ST. PAUL — A white 16-pound turkey hen nervously flapped her wings in the governor's reception room Wednesday, Nov. 27, as Paul Kvistad reached in to pull her from her cage.
The 14-week-old bird raised near Melrose, Minn., wasn't too thrilled to be pulled into the bright light and noise of a news conference celebrating her and the hundreds of farmers around the state that have made Minnesota the top turkey producer in the country.
"There have been senators in here less cooperative," Gov. Tim Walz said as Kvistad, a turkey grower and president of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association tried to calm the bird. "It's fine. We've seen more displays than that."
This turkey didn't travel to the Capitol to get pardoned. Instead, Walz presented the hen after she emerged from the cage beating her wings against Kvistad's chest, shedding feathers on his jacket and the carpet below. The annual event aims to honor the turkey industry in the state and to encourage Minnesotans to buy their birds locally.
The state's 450 turkey farmers raise about 42 million turkeys each year. And those turkeys comprised about 17% of all turkeys raised in the United States.
And this year, turkey prices per pound have dipped due to surplus in the market as ongoing trade talks and tariffs constrain demand abroad. The first-term governor said that as turkey growers take in a lower profit, Minnesotans and others should support them by opting for local turkey brands at the supermarket.
“I do think if you can help your neighbors on this, they’re struggling. This is a tough time,” Walz said. “It’s important to support them."
Kvistad said turkey growers are celebrating China's decision to reinstitute the importation of U.S. poultry products, likely boosting the demand for the proteins. China in 2015 banned U.S. poultry imports after an avian flu outbreak struck Minnesota farms.
“We’ll persevere and we’ll get through it like we always have,” Kvistad said. "Re-opening this market is excellent news for the turkey industry. China was the second-largest export market for the United States prior to the 2015 ban."
Minnesota Turkey Growers Association at the event also announced that it would donate $11,000 to Hunger Solutions Minnesota to fund the distribution of turkey products to food shelves and food banks around the state. And the organization said that contribution, along with continuous support from the state's ag industry, would go a long way in helping provide food for people in need.
"Even in the years when whole flocks have been destroyed, their support has never wavered, it's always gone up and up and up, even when they were feeling the crushing blow of crisis in the farm community," Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota, said as she accepted the donation. "That goes to show we as Minnesotans know how to stick together in good times and in bad."
As for the turkey, she was set to be taken to the University of Minnesota's meat lab to be processed after her 15 minutes of fame ran out. But before she left, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan's daughter Siobhan Hellendrung, 6, presented her a picture of a turkey she'd colored.