Turkey Rama History
- Yamhill County Turkey growing industry dates back to the 1930s.
- Turkey production peaked in the 1960s to a $3 million business, one of McMinnville's largest industries.
- The Turkey Rama festival's roots date back to 1938, the year of the first annual Yamhill County Turkey Fair put on by the Yamhill Turkey Committee.
- Following the Turkey Fair in 1938, the growers celebrated with a Turkey Barbecue. The “Famous Turkey Barbecue” remains part of the festival today.
- The event evolved as the “Pacific Coast Turkey Exhibit” in 1959 as a forum for local growers to meet and share feeding and breeding techniques.
- The white, broad-breasted turkey that we most often see on holiday tables was genetically developed in Yamhill County.
- In 1961, The Pacific Coast Turkey Exhibit and the McMinnville Chamber of Commerce joined forces to sponsor what we still call today, Turkey Rama. The event was designed to promote turkey sales and stimulate business during the summer months. In the beginning the exhibit featured turkey shows in which individual birds were judged and prizes awarded. The exhibit expanded so much, that by 1962, thousands of people flocked to McMinnville. In this same year, McMinnville was crowned the “Turkey Capitol of the World” and home of the “World Championship Turkey Races”.
- Sidewalk sales and free entertainment were added to the festival in 1963. Eventually commercial exhibits replaced the turkey exhibits.
- In 1973 only a few dozen turkey growers remained. With this, the Pacific Coast Turkey Exhibit withdrew its group involvement from Turkey Rama, however, returned as a major sponsor from 1990-1993.
- 1973 also brought an end to the turkey races, a response to pressure from animal right activists. In its place began fun runs and athletic tournaments.
- One of the much-anticipated events of Turkey Rama is the Biggest Turkey Contest. The first Biggest Turkey was named in 1980; however, since 1987 local businesspersons and community leaders have competed for the title of “The Biggest Turkey” by raising funds initially for The Hospice Program of Yamhill County, then Henderson House Crisis Shelter, and now for a variety of local charities. The competition culminates in a talent show on Saturday night of Turkey Rama, complete with a humorous array of turkey costumes and skits.
Turkey Rama FUN-FACTS
- Approximately 11,000 pounds of fresh turkey will be barbecued using nearly 5,000 pounds of charcoal. Matches don’t work to light this many coals…volunteers use bush burners. BBQ pits are 88 feet long.
- Over 20,000 people take in the festivities of Turkey Rama each year.