Mac’s Turkey Rama festival a tradition worth supporting

This weekend marks the 59th edition of Turkey Rama, McMinnville’s annual community festival.

Let’s be honest: It’s a mere shell of its former self. 

Major features like the World’s Largest Turkey Barbecue, the Turkey Trot and the Biggest Turkey contest exist in memory only — at least for the time being. Remaining are the carnival, downtown entertainment and rows of booths featuring goods offered for sale by local businesses and visiting entrepreneurs.

This year’s event will include a live turkey on stage during a “pardoning” presentation, a nod to McMinnville’s days as a major turkey processor, which is how the festival transpired in the first place.

The festival was on the brink of demise last year, after the McMinnville Downtown Association decided to quit managing Third Street activities.

The turkey barbecue was too burdensome for the McMinnville Area Chamber of Commerce to stage on its own. However, the chamber, a founding partner in the event 59 years ago, did agree to oversee all other aspects in order to maintain the celebration. 

One aspect that remains — arguably the most important — is the opportunity Turkey Rama provides for locals of all walks of life to crowd the downtown streets and enjoy themselves. Old-timers run into old classmates they rarely see and newer residents get an introduction to a broad segment of the McMinnville population as a whole.

While it may be easy to compare this edition to those of years past, our advice is to just enjoy what you have. 

Traditional community festivals seem to be increasingly difficult to sustain. The same thing that happened to Turkey Rama last year happened to Sheridan Days this year. And while Sheridan residents couldn’t help but notice the much smaller scale of this year’s festival, they were pleased to have something.

The reason isn’t for lack of interest or a depleted crop of community-engaged volunteers. It’s simply increased competition.

Summers in Yamhill County have become logjammed with events.

The UFO Fest has grown into a major endeavor for the McMinnville Downtown Association, which also hosts weekly music events downtown, evolving from its lunchtime Brown Bag Concert series. Then there are the new festivals, including the McMinnville Scottish Festival, Mac Food Truck fest, Walnut City Music Festival and so on.

Around the county, we have new events like Newberg’s Tunes on Tuesday and Dayton’s Friday Nights. Also, myriad service organizations and nonprofits host annual fundraisers that have grown in scope.

All that added fun and community engagement requires a huge amount of organization, mostly undertaken by volunteers. That spreads the numbers out thinner than ever.

One remedy is to increase the volunteer base.

If you’re a longtime Turkey Rama attendee, make sure first-timers appreciate the event’s history and see if they are interested in becoming involved.

It’s easy for volunteers to be drawn to newer festivals. But the opportunity to infuse new energy into a major tradition can be as rewarding as trying to grow a new one, if not more so.