Willmar Poultry Company, MTGA Raising Presidential Turkey Hopeful



Jenn Baumgartner, Life-Science Innovations at 320/222-9750 ext 2710

Lara Durben, Minnesota Turkey Growers Association at 763/682-2171


If invited by the White House, Willmar Poultry Company (WPC) executive, Rick Huisinga, will present President Obama and his family with the 2011 National Thanksgiving Turkey in November. Huisinga will have this honor as the 2011 Chairman of the National Turkey Federation.

The annual presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey to the president has become a highly anticipated ritual in the nation’s capital, signaling the unofficial beginning of the holiday season and providing the president an opportunity to reflect publicly on the meaning of Thanksgiving.

The 2011 National Thanksgiving Turkey eggs were laid at a WPC farm in early June and they hatched at the WPC Hatchery in Willmar on July 7, 2011. In September, a small number of male turkeys, or toms, from that hatch were selected and moved to a facility specially designed for them. One of those toms will ultimately be selected as the National Thanksgiving Turkey, and one will be his alternate.

The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association (MTGA) and WPC are working in tandem on the project and see it as a great opportunity to highlight Minnesota’s turkey industry and its farmers. “I’ve asked MTGA to be very involved in this project because it’s important to me that the entire Minnesota turkey industry gain visibility during this project,” said Huisinga. “We don’t get this opportunity every year, and I’d like to make sure that people all over the country know how significant turkey is to Minnesota and Kandiyohi County specifically.”

The National Thanksgiving Turkeys are being raised using normal feeding and other production techniques. The one exception is that the birds are provided increased interaction with people so that they will be prepared for the White House Ceremony.

WPC and MTGA selected four FFA (formerly known as Future Farmers of America) students from Willmar Area High School to help with the birds’ care and to provide that increased interaction. The FFA team members visit the birds for an hour each day to check the birds’ feed and water, and to clean the pens when necessary. In addition, they sit amongst the birds to acclimate them to movement and sounds not normally found in a turkey barn, such as music, clapping and human conversation. They also pet the birds as part of the taming routine. In the coming weeks, the kids will begin picking up the birds and placing them on a table in simulation of the White House ceremony.

MTGA is hosting and maintaining a special section on its website for the project at www.minnesotaturkey.com/presidentialturkey. The website includes pictures, video and a weekly blog written by the FFA team chronicling their experiences with the birds and the project as a whole. The site also features fun turkey puzzles, mazes and color sheets for kids as well as information for parents on nutrition, food safety and plenty of family-friendly turkey recipes.

To extend the educational reach of this very special opportunity, MTGA and WPC are coordinating with several schools in the Twin Cities to provide a program for elementary students, which will culminate in live turkeys being brought into the classrooms. Schools were initially contacted through Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom and the schedule of presentations was coordinated through MTGA.

“We’re excited to be able bring turkeys into the classroom because it’s really the best way for kids to learn more about where their food comes from and the important work that all farmers do to provide safe, nutritious and affordable food to the world,” said Steve Olson, executive director of MTGA. “An added bonus of this program is that students will learn a little more about the history of the National Thanksgiving Turkey and be able to meet what could potentially be the turkey that is presented to President Obama at the White House.”

In addition to the website, MTGA will use Facebook (www.facebook.com/MinnesotaTurkey) and Twitter (@MinnesotaTurkey) to help publicize additional details of the National Thanksgiving Turkey, as available.

If an invitation is extended to Rick Huisinga and his family from the White House, a special send-off in Minnesota for the turkeys will be planned prior to Thanksgiving.


About WPC

For over 65 years, Willmar Poultry Company has led the turkey industry in breeding and hatchery technologies. Its Willmar, Minnesota hatchery is the world’s largest and most advanced, and hatches upwards of 160,000 turkey poults a day. WPC and its sister companies employ nearly 1,600 people in five states. WPC has remained family-owned and operated since 1945.

About MTGA

MTGA is a nonprofit trade organization that began in 1939 with a mission to foster a successful turkey industry in Minnesota. The state ranks #1 for turkey production and processing in the U.S. with its 250 turkey farmers raising approximately 46 million turkeys annually. Minnesota has the most family-owned turkey farms of any state in the U.S. and many of these turkey farmers are 3rd, 4th and 5th generation farmers. For more information, visit www.minnesotaturkey.com or www.facebook.com/MinnesotaTurkey.

Editor’s note:  A schedule of the school presentations in the Twin Cities area will be available soon; if you are interested in further details, please email lara@minnesotaturkey.com.

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