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Published December 02, 2013, 09:50 AM

Popcorn pardoned

Obama saves turkeys raised in Minn from slaughter.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Nov. 27 pardoned a corn-eating turkey named Popcorn and its alternate, a soybean meal-preferring turkey named Caramel, that were raised on a farm in Badger, Minn., by John Burkel, the chairman of the National Turkey Federation.

The presentation of turkeys to the president goes back to 1947 when Harry Truman was president, but the tradition of saving the turkey from slaughter goes back only to 1989.

“The office of the presidency — the most powerful position in the world — brings with it many awesome and solemn responsibilities. This is not one of them,” Obama said.

“But the White House turkey pardon is a great tradition. And I know Malia loves it — as does Sasha.”

The president’s daughters accompanied him to the ceremony held in the North Portico of the White House because of rain.

Burkel, his wife, Joni, and their five children who raised and selected the turkeys, presented them to Obama. The Burkel family grandparents and students from Badger High School, who joined the Burkel family on their journey to Washington, D.C., were also in attendance.

The names of the turkeys were chosen from submissions from elementary schools in Roseau County, Minn., where the turkeys were raised in a special house on the Burkel farm.

The turkeys were petted and provided with music so they would stay quiet for the White House ceremony.

Obama, noting that “80 turkeys on John’s farm competed for the chance to make it to the White House and stay off the Thanksgiving table,” referenced a popular book and movie series where teenage “tributes” are chosen to compete in an annual deadly contest.

“It was, quite literally, the ‘Hunger Games.’ And then after weeks of vocal practice and prepping for the cameras, the two tributes, Caramel and Popcorn went head-to-head together for America’s vote as top gobbler. “

For the second year, the public chose the winner by casting votes for either “Team Caramel” or “Team Popcorn” on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Obama joked that the choice of Popcorn proved that “even a turkey with a funny name can find a place in politics. As for Caramel, he’s sticking around, and he’s already busy raising money for his next campaign.”

Burkel raises birds for Northern Pride, a grower-owned turkey processing facility in Thief River Falls, Minn., that was formed as a cooperative in 1989 by independent turkey growers throughout Northern Minnesota and North Dakota.

After the pardoning, the turkeys were driven to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, the White House said in a background statement, where they will be on display during the “Christmas at Mount Vernon” program through Jan. 6.

The turkeys will then travel to their permanent home at Morven Park’s Turkey Hill, a historic turkey farm located at the home of former Virginia Gov. Westmoreland Davis in Leesburg, Va.

In recent years the pardoned turkeys remained at Mount Vernon, but they died so quickly that a decision was made to send them to Morven Park.