A turkey trot to the White House
It's official. The Wittenburgs are going to the White House — along with two of their turkeys.
Carl and Sharlene Wittenburg of Alexandria, who raise turkeys, have officially received their invitation to bring two of their turkeys to Washington, D.C., for the annual presidential pardon at the White House.
Carl Wittenburg is this year's chairman of the National Turkey Federation. In addition, Carl, along with his business partner, Jeff Stauffenecker, own Protein Alliance, which is a global meat brokerage and trading company in Brooten. Protein Alliance provides a diverse product line of proteins, with the core protein being turkey.
The Wittenburgs, who live on a hobby farm off Gene's Barn Road east of Alexandria, began with a flock of about 80 turkeys. Slowly, they have been narrowing it down and currently have about 20 turkeys vying for the privilege of traveling to the White House to be pardoned.
Carl and Sharlene have also been working with five 4-H members from Douglas County on this project — Kerryn Lund and Christina Kuismi, who attend school in Brandon-Evansville, and Kodi Bundermann, Kayla Egenes and Katie Kent, who attend Alexandria Area High School. The girls visit the flock regularly to help them get used to people coming and going, noises, music, and more.
"We're so excited to provide such a national platform for Minnesota's 4-H program," said Carl Wittenburg. "Douglas County is the birthplace of Minnesota 4-H, so it was a natural fit for us."
The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association is coordinating the overall project and have set up a website with information, videos and photos of the presidential turkey journey. In addition, there will be a Presidential Turkey Blog, as well as connections on other social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
On Monday, Nov. 16, at 10 a.m., there will be a Facebook Live virtual tour with the presidential flock, the Wittenburgs and the 4-H members. Everyone is invited to watch and ask questions.
"The Facebook Live event will be the perfect opportunity for classrooms to participate and show students the presidential flock while they learn more about turkey farming in Minnesota," said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. "The event is open to anyone, though, who would like to join us on Facebook — the more the merrier."
The public can also get involved in the Presidential Turkey Naming Contest on the website. Visit between now and Nov. 10 and submit name suggestions for the two turkeys going to Washington D.C. The most popular names will be given to the White House for consideration.
A video about the Wittenburgs and their family history in the turkey industry — both Carl and Sharlene grew up on turkey farms — can be viewed on YouTube at https://youtu.be/OPIBTL4-gys.
When did the presidential pardon begin?
Although presidents have been presented with turkeys dating back to the 1800s, it is unclear which president first officially pardoned a turkey.
Pardoning a turkey means that particular bird will be spared from being someone's Thanksgiving meal.
According to The White House Historical Association website, the beginning of the official turkey presentation from the National Turkey Federation began in 1947 with President Harry S. Truman. However, it is unclear if he actually pardoned the turkey.
Reportedly, the first president on record to issue an official pardon was President Ronald Reagan. In 1987, he pardoned a turkey named Charlie and sent him to a petting zoo. Since then, all presidents have pardoned turkeys in an official celebration.
Here are the links to follow along the presidential turkey journey:
Twitter: @MinnesotaTurkey and @PrezTurkey
Official hashtag: #PresidentialTurkey