11/18/09 — Locally grown turkey to get presidential pardon

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Locally grown turkey to get presidential pardon

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 18, 2009 1:46 PM

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Wayne Montessori School students, from left, Saskia Parrish, Gabriel Colon, Caitlin Craven, Emma Britt, Xavier Freeman and Darren Bartlett get a close-up view Tuesday of the Butterball turkey that will receive the traditional presidential pardon from President Barack Obama next week. The turkey was grown on the farm of Bryant and Debbie Worley and after receiving its reprieve will become the honorary grand marshal of the Disneyland Thanksgiving Day parade.

A Wayne County turkey has been plucked from obscurity and will be spending part of Thanksgiving at the White House -- but not on a dining room table.

The 40-pound bird was chosen to receive the presidential pardon this holiday season. And while many of its peers will find themselves the centerpiece of a sumptuous meal, this turkey -- accompanied by the family that raised him -- will meet the president, then be whisked away to serve as honorary grand marshal of the Disneyland Thanksgiving parade before taking up residence at Disneyland Reindeer Park, officials said.

Until now, the as-yet-unnamed bird has been content to waddle and preen around the grounds of the Bryant and Debbie Worley farm on the Rosewood/Princeton segment of Wayne County.

The Worleys -- who operate the family farm with sons-in-law Ben Thomas and Kelvin Norris -- have been growers for Goldsboro Milling, affiliated with Butterball Turkeys, for over 20 years, annually raising an estimated 50,000 turkeys.

Mrs. Worley said they were notified over the summer that one of their flock could receive the presidential reprieve this month.

"We're really excited," she said. "They called and asked if we would be interested in doing this. And of course, we would.

"Walter Pelletier (from Goldsboro Milling) is president of the National Turkey Federation this year. He gets to choose someone to grow the turkey."

The fact that they're the "picture of a family farm" may have worked in their favor, Mrs. Worley said.

Their extended family -- which includes daughters Carmen Thomas and Brooke Norris -- live close by, along with the Worleys' five grandchildren, all under age 4, including a set of 4-year-old twins.

"We had five grandchildren in less than two years," Mrs. Worley said with a smile. "My only regret is that the kids aren't older for this trip."

The little ones actually helped a lot with the preparation. Similar to readying for a pageant, there was a a process to groom and create a more poised bird.

"They kind of choose a group of around 20," Mrs. Worley said. "We have been working with them, giving them TLC. They have to be taught to sit on a table, so we have been practicing -- we trained them to sit on our lap, the grandchildren would pet them.

"I think one reason they chose us was because they wanted it to have been accustomed to being around children -- rubbing them, everybody's learned to rub them, feed and give them water."

Dr. Becky Tilley, veterinarian for Goldsboro Milling, also checks in on the process.

"We give it a balanced nutrition, formulated feed, they have to have fresh water," she said. "We chose small groups of turkeys to pick the presidential pardon from.

"These turkeys haven't had any problems. They have received their vaccinations."

On Tuesday, the Worleys played host to friends and neighbors, as well as to students from the Protestant Preschool and the Montessori School. Small tables were set up for children to color pictures, look at displays of turkey eggs, visit the pen with the chosen turkey, and enjoy a lunch of turkey hot dogs.

Come next week, the entire Worley family is expected to make the trip to Washington, D.C., for the ceremony in the Rose Garden.

"We're hauling the turkey from here to Washington, with six to eight cars in the caravan," Worley said.

Two turkeys will actually make the trip, said Claire Howell, who handles public relations for Goldsboro Milling.

"Only one is presented to the president. Another travels as a backup," she said. "Afterwards, the turkey will fly first class on United, serving as honorary grand marshal at the Thanksgiving Parade at Disneyland. They will live the rest of their lives out on the Disneyland Reindeer Ranch."

Beyond being part of the turkey's entourage, Thomas has created a hardback picture book about the Worley family and farming, which will be presented to the president.

"We want to tell the president, but we also want to tell everybody, that this is just another example for the farmers to tell our side of the story," Worley said. "There's been a big push lately about 'eat local' -- we want Wayne County, North Carolina, the United States to feel like we're their farmers. We're producing food for Butterball. There's 350 families just like us, 350 family farmers to furnish the turkeys to the Mount Olive plant."

The self-published book is missing one page, though, that the family hopes to acquire while in D.C.

"We want to take a picture of us with the president," Worley said. "We're going to add that to our copy."

Perhaps that same photo could be used for the family's Christmas card this year, Mrs. Worley hinted.