Jody Taubert and Forrest Appleton sat on a bench near the Turkey to Go booth at the Minnesota State Fair, eating a chunky turkey sandwich.
“It’s easy to share,” Appleton said of the juicy meal the Minnesota Turkey Growers’ Association booth has featured for almost a dozen and a half years.
It is an annual treat, added the Taylors Falls native who now lives in Florida.
The pair was far from alone in visiting the booth, which appeared to be at least keeping pace with previous fair sales, despite publicity beginning in March about avian influenza, which resulted in the deaths of 9 million turkeys and chickens in Minnesota, the country’s top turkey producer.
“I just feel terrible for the farmers,” said Taubert, of suburban Centerville. “It’s their whole livelihood.”
The message from the state Health Department, turkey growers and others that poultry is safe to eat apparently has reached Minnesotans. There has been little worry expressed about the food during the fair, which includes several displays about bird flu.
In the biggest of those displays, where live birds usually are housed, Kathy Olson was studying poster board displays like students produce for science fairs, history days and the like.
“I’m just a Minnesotan who lives in Minneapolis,” Olson said, adding that she likes poultry and would love to have a few chickens at her southern Minneapolis home when she retires.
Like others at the fair, she said the avian flu issue “doesn’t bother me at all” when it comes to eating poultry.
Olson was reading displays that explained about how birds are raised, about bird flu and steps being taken to prevent it from spreading.
The state Board of Animal Health banned bird shows this year in an effort to stem spread of the disease. State Veterinarian Dr. Bill Hartmann said cooperation was good, with the only group that scheduled one quickly canceling it once it learned of the order.
At state and county fairs, 4-H members have used photos, stuffed poultry and bird toys to illustrate their knowledge of poultry to judges.
“You learned more about your project this year,” said Wayne Boettcher, who was working at the Minnesota Farmers’ Union State Fair booth.
His own Isanti County Fair was a good example, he said. “They came out OK.”
Many said 4-H members learned more about poultry because they were forced to do more research.
“I am pretty impressed,” said Steve Olson, leader of Minnesota poultry organizations. “When you get lemons, you make lemonade.”
Among lessons youths learned this year, he added, is that crisis situations such as this year’s bird flu are part of life.
Poultry industry leaders will be in the spotlight from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday when they host a game show-like presentation on the fair’s Christensen Farms stage. While the show will not delve much into the flu, Olson said, poultry experts will be on hand to answer questions.
Rose Neu, who hands out recipes at the turkey growers’ booth in the Dairy Building, said that questions have been much the same as during a non-flu year.
“I’m not hearing the negatives that I expected,” she said, although she has been briefed about the flu situation so she can answer some basic queries.
Around the corner at the Board of Animal Health booth in the Agriculture Building, questions center at dangers to backyard poultry flocks and how to prevent the avian flu. One backyard flock was hit by the virus this spring.
Turkey to Go employees are ready to answer basic bird flu questions, Olson said, but they would pass any tough ones on to the experts.
Those who want to know more about the flu only need to walk across the street from Turkey to Go to the Poultry Building, which this year houses only quiet rabbits instead of rabbits and noisy poultry.
There, visitors may watch a video about turkey farming, write a thank-you note to turkey producers and pick up recipes.
Other bird flu-related displays, without live birds, are at the Agriculture Department booth and the Miracle of Birth Center.