FFA members raise turkeys pardoned by President Obama

FFA members with Liberty at the W hotel (credit: Obama Foodorama blog)

A night in a posh Washington D.C. hotel, two major media appearances and then a meeting with the sitting president of the United States in the North Portico of the White House? Certainly, that’s a gathering of events that would make a pretty outstanding experience for many.

This week, per tradition, two Minnesota-raised turkeys received that presidential treatment — along with the four Minnesota FFA members who helped raise them.

As part of the 2011 Presidential Turkey Pardon, “Liberty” and his alternate feathered friend “Peace” were saved from the fate that many of their turkey brethen face during the holiday season when President Barack Obama officially pardoned them during a Wednesday morning event.

It was the 64th time an event commorating turkeys had been held at the White House, and 24 turkeys have now been given a presidential pardon.

“(Thanksgiving) is one of the best days of the year to be an American,” Obama said. “It is a day to count are blessings, spend time with the ones we love, and enjoy some good food in great company. But it’s also one of the worst days to be a turkey. They don’t have it so good.”

Liberty and Peace were selected as the best-behaved from a flock turkeys from Willmar, Minn., and were raised by FFA members Brianna Hoover, Brenna Ahlquist, Val Brown and Preston Asche from Willmar High School.

National Turkey Federation Chairman Richard Huisinga, an executive with the local Willmar Poultry Company, assisted the effort and presented Liberty to President Obama. Meanwhile, Peace stood off to the side as the alternate in case Liberty couldn’t handle the fanfare.

“Liberty was chosen from a flock of about 30 other contestants for the honor of being here today,” Obama said. “And for the first time in history, these two turkeys were raised by four students from nearby Willmar High School.”

Both birds will now be moved the historical Mount Vernon and Estate Gardens (the farm of George Washington) and will on display during the venue’s holiday program.

But before Liberty and Peace made it to the nation’s capital, they were part of a flock of 36 birds in Minnesota. What happens to those birds, you may wonder?

The remaining members of Willmar’s Presidential Flock will be “processed” next week, and donated to a local food pantry in Willmar. They’ll be providing sustenance for hundreds of families. The teens, after their months of close contact with the birds, are unperturbed by the prospect of bidding their companions farewell.

“It’s part of the education element of the FFA program,” said Steven H. Olson, Executive Director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. “These kids were raising food animals. That’s something that’s important for everyone: Knowing where your food comes from.”

And according to that blog post from Obama Foodorama, the FFA members used many non-traditional techniques to prepare the flock (and most notably Liberty and Peace) for the big day.

In addition to their care duties for the Presidential Flock, the teens spent weeks sitting in the two huge pens where the gobblers lived at Agforte farm, getting the toms used to human contact–as well as plenty of noise and lights.

“We played ringtones, and flashed cameras at them,” said Brianna Hoover.

Led Zeppelin’s song “Kashmir” got an especially big response from the toms, said Willmar’s Jenn Baumgartner, who joined the kids as a chaperone. The turkeys have very distinct personalities, said [FFA member Val] Brown.

“They’re very smart, and curious. Some were more aggressive than others.”

The birds arrived in Washington D.C. and stayed at the W hotel, in a suite specially arranged for them with “gourmet turkey chow” that was “specially prepared by the hotel chef” and contained a “blend of organic soy beans and cranberries.”

(h/t to Obama Foodorama for the great, in-depth coverage & photos.)

Video from the Associated Press of the event…


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