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Valley gobbler to get pardon

A faux "Secret Service" member guards a Rockingham County turkey and its companion before they journey to Washington, D.C., where one of them will be pardoned by President Obama on Wednesday. The other turkey is an alternate, but both will live out their lives at George Washington's Mount Vernon. The pardoning has become a Thanksgiving holiday tradition. Jeb Inge/Daily

A Rockingham County turkey and its companion look out of their enclosure before leaving for Washington, D.C., on Monday. Jeb Inge/Daily

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore speaks with eventgoers after making remarks at the turkey send-off ceremony Monday. Jeb Inge/Daily

The Broadway High School Marching Band performs during an event to send off two local turkeys to Washington, D.C., where one will be pardoned by President Obama on Wednesday. Jeb Inge/Daily

Bird from farm in Rockingham County chosen for ceremony

By Jeb Inge

DALE ENTERPRISE -- Thanksgiving is not the happiest time for turkeys. It's hard to get excited about a holiday in which you are featured as the main course.

But that's not the case for one Shenandoah Valley gobbler and a sidekick, who will serve as an alternate. The turkeys are traveling to Washington to be pardoned by President Barack Obama in the annual turkey pardoning ceremony on Wednesday.

In a sendoff event held at West Rockingham Ruritan Park, a group including local and state officials, poultry business leaders and the Broadway High School Gobblers marching band gathered to bid farewell to two Rockingham County turkeys.

The turkeys will stay in a hotel before the pardoning ceremony, and then both will live out their lives at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate.

Craig Miller, who along with his wife Nancy owns Miller Farm, LCC, were responsible for growing this year's national turkeys. The Millers are part of the Cargill network, which supplies the turkey for the president to pardon each year.

"It's a tradition that's gone on a long time. There was a lot of excitement here today," Craig Miller said.

Todd Haymore, Virginia's Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, also noticed the excitement, and pointed out that Virginia has frequently submitted turkeys to the White House dating back to the Truman administration.

Haymore remarked that the Millers' turkeys are the first to come from Virginia since 1994, and urged students in attendance to remember the event.

"All you youngsters here ... may be in your twenties or even thirties the next time this happens, so take this all in and tell your friends," he said.

Haymore called Virginia's poultry industry, which is the largest sector of Virginia agriculture, a "powerhouse" and stressed the McDonnell administration's support in industry development.

"The fact that the poultry industry is generating so much jobs and revenue keeps us focused," he said. "We're going to keep working in the 14 months we have left in office ... to continue to support the industry and provide more opportunities."

Haymore praised the Millers on their turkeys, which he noted had "rugged good looks" and explained that the turkey selection is much like professional modeling.

"I'm sure that President Obama will warmly welcome them tomorrow," he said.

As the supplier of this year's national turkey, the Millers will be delivering their winged friend to the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and will not only get a private tour of the White House, but also will meet President Obama.

The former educator-turned-farmer said he hopes the unique opportunity afforded to his farm will help promote the produce industry around the commonwealth.

"You can forget how big the poultry industry, both chicken and turkey, impact the Shenandoah Valley and the whole state of Virginia," he said.

Miller also said he was glad to see groups from local schools attending the event. For Miller, the industry needs an infusion of young farmers to help maintain Virginia's Farms.

"I think the average farmer is somewhere around 58 or 59," Miller said. "We need young people and young farmers to help carry on the tradition."

A number of young students gave the turkeys a number of thumbs up.

Six-year-old Hunter Joiner said he thought the turkeys were "really cool" and especially liked their gobbles. Hunter said he was glad the turkeys were going to live, but also said his family would be eating turkey at their grandmother's on Thanksgiving.

Johanna Mayfield, 6, also was impressed by the turkeys. "It was something I learned that I didn't know happened before," the Mountain View Elementary student said. Johanna said she wasn't sure if her family was having turkey on Thanksgiving, but was happy that at least two would not be eaten.

Every president since Harry Truman has received a turkey around Thanksgiving at the White House. Some were not as lucky as others. President Dwight Eisenhower ate the birds presented to him during his time in office, according to the Eisenhower Presidential Library. President John F. Kennedy spared the life of a turkey presented to him with a bib that read: "Good Eatin' Mr. President."

Each turkey that is pardoned by the president gets to live out its life naturally. In the past, they were sent to Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, and a few lucky gobblers even made a home at Walt Disney World courtesy of President George W. Bush. Since 2010, the pardoned turkeys have been sent to Mount Vernon in Alexandria.

But politics plays a virtually non-existent role in the president's pardoning process.

"It's not about politics, it's about raising the turkey that's going to go to the White House," Miller said.

Despite the non-partisan honor, Miller said he didn't feel qualified to speak on whether the turkey would be switching party affiliation in light of his pardon.

When asked if President Obama had just earned two more blue voters, Miller laughed and replied, "I don't know. Maybe so."

Contact Region Editor Jeb Inge at 540-465-5137 ext. 186, or jinge@nvdaily.com


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