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A turkey trot to the White House

As a treat for the turkeys on Carl and Sharlene Witteburg's hobby farm, they dine on a mixture of feed and grub worms. The turkeys love the grub worms, according to Carl and Sharlene, who are raising them on their hobby farm east of Alexandria. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press file photo)1 / 3
Douglas County 4-H member Katie Kent checks on the flock of turkeys that are being prepped for the presidential pardon. The turkeys are owned by Carl (standing) and Sharlene Wittenburg of Alexandria. (Contributed) 2 / 3
Two turkeys from this flock, originally about 80 birds, will head to the White House for Thanksgiving. The turkeys are owned by Carl and Sharlene Wittenburg of Alexandria. As chairman of the National Turkey Federation, Carl Wittenburg, along with his wife, were officially invited to take part in the traditional presidential pardoning ceremony. (Contributed) 3 / 3

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.

Follow along

Here are the links to follow along the presidential turkey journey:

www.minnesotaturkey.com/presidentialturkey

www.facebook.com/minnesotaturkey

www.facebook.com/presidentialturkey

Twitter: @MinnesotaTurkey and @PrezTurkey

Instagram: @MinnesotaTurkey

SnapChat: MinnesotaTurkey

Official hashtag: #PresidentialTurkey

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

(320) 763-1242