What do you get when you pair Governor Mark Dayton with a turkey? Thanksgiving time in Minnesota.
In a tradition going back about 70 years, the DFL governor "kicked off" Thanksgiving week on Monday by appearing with a butcher-bound turkey in St. Paul. This year was different, though.
As the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association (MTGA) points out in a news release, the lighthearted ceremony comes in the wake of a devastating year for the industry.
The avian flu hit Minnesota – the nation's largest turkey producer – particularly hard, with nine million birds on 108 farms in the state dying. But despite the losses, farmers are rebounding.
MTGA says the growers "impacted by avian influenza have restocked their barns with turkeys – or will be doing so soon. That’s why this Thanksgiving, we give special thanks for many reasons.”
And one of the ways they're showing it is by continuing their annual tradition of donating turkey – a lot of it – to the state's needy families.
The release says the donation to Hunger Solutions Minnesota, announced at the ceremony with Governor Dayton, is worth approximately $12,000.
Another sign of the industry's recovery: laughs. There were plenty to be had when Dayton named the tom (a male turkey) "Aaron" after Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Pioneer Press's "Political Animal" blog noted.
If you don't get the joke, just consider that the Packers trounced the Vikings on Sunday, and that the turkey, per tradition, will soon be slaughtered.
However, Governor Dayton assured that he wishes Rodgers no ill will, the Associated Press reports.
Oh, and about Thanksgiving – MTGA says there will be "plenty" of birds for Turkey Day – and Christmas, too, Political Animal says.
Bird flu threat remains
With winter fast approaching, temperatures are dropping and providing the virus prime conditions to spread (it typically dies off in the warmer months), and industry officials say it's likely to return.
However, they also say they're more prepared for the virus this time around, as they've taken several steps to prepare for the flu – including trying to figure out ways to keep it off Minnesota's farms.
Otherwise, a highly effective vaccine against avian influenza has been developed, but there won't be enough of it ready until the spring, when any resurgence of the virus is likely to start dying off again on its own.