Scarecrow factory stuffs straw men, women to keep an eye on Uesugi’s Pumpkin Patch

Gail Miller adjusts Thelma Thief's shoulder pads as she puts the

They aren’t too bothersome, because they don’t eat. They don’t
try to manage, or even try to talk. The scarecrows might, if they
only had a brain.
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They aren’t too bothersome, because they don’t eat. They don’t try to manage, or even try to talk. The scarecrows might, if they only had a brain.

“No, no, scarecrows are people too,” said Gayle Miller, the CEO of South County’s only known scarecrow factory.

The mother of hundreds of scarecrows has dedicated 12 years to supplying the homemade straw men and women to Uesugi Farms’ Pumpkin Patch. This Halloween season, Miller along with her four sisters and a number of nieces and nephews stuffed more than 80 life-size figures. It’s been a labor of love, with a lot of hot-glue-gun burns along the way.

“It’s kind of interesting,” she said from her backyard in Morgan Hill. “Yeah, I have a scarecrow factory. People look at me like, ‘You have what?’

Spread out on porch tables it looks like a crafters’ mecca – buttons, scraps of fabric, paint, markers, glitter and Styrofoam cover every inch of open space. Two discarded scarecrows – at least 7-feet-tall each – lean against the fence among stacks of cardboard boxes stuffed with clothing, shoes and hats.

“We have to repair them, get them some new outfits,” Miller said, lifting up a scarewoman’s shirt to show the many layers of clothing. This gal’s a bit older, her joints are deteriorating. For now, she will stay in Miller’s backyard.

“Sometimes they get a sex change, it depends with the scarecrows. We want all different genders, sizes, looks. They don’t get too worked up about it,” Miller said.

Creativity is essential to Miller’s everyday routine: She makes a living as a florist, often designing arrangements for weddings. Uesugi does pay Miller commission to supply the patch with her creations.

About 12 years ago, Miller worked at the flower shop at Uesugi creating fall arrangements for sale and that’s where the idea was born. Now, every July, Miller’s scarecrow senses will heighten. She watches old “Muppets” episodes and “The Wizard of Oz” for a little refreshment. The construction of the effigies have gone through several revisions. Real straw started to decompose, Rebar was much too heavy, PVC pipe with glue didn’t hold; Miller says this years’ generation may be the best formula: a wood T-frame wrapped with recycled plastic wrap to build the body and a swimming pool noodle for the arms. Miller said she scours yard sales and Goodwill stores often to collect enough supplies.

“We will look at a flower … a wine cork and think ‘that’s a nose, that’s an eyebrow.’ Basically we look at objects as face parts now,” Esther Friske, 23, said. She joined her aunt Gayle’s staff about four years ago.

Every scarecrow must, must, must – Miller enforces – have shoes and a hat, and the extra raffia jutting out of their armpits or from beneath their caps or at their ankles. With the raffia, they become bona fide scarecrows. Each is given a name and a personality to match.

The family business trucks the scarecrows – an all-day event, Friske said – to Uesugi to set them up and make sure they’re posing just right. It’s a lot of work, but laughter keeps the team going. Miller’s younger sister, Darlene Laurel, has helped for about 10 years.

“This kind of forces me to get out there and be crafty,” Laurel said. “All the sisters pitch in.”

The volunteers and patrons at Uesugi delight in the scarecrows – a sight to be seen from Monterey Highway – they stand guard over the 4,000-pumpkin pyramid and sit patiently as families take photos with the Sunflower Family near the main entrance.

“People just love those. They are just beautiful aren’t they? She does such a nice job,” said Joan Treadway, who has worked during the height of the pumpkin season at Uesugi Farms for “at least nine years.”

The scarecrow factory strays from making frightening straw men and women, keeping the estimated 17,000 children in mind who will tour Uesugi’s pumpkin patch this season.

“We like to make them funny. No scary ones. We don’t do scary,” Friske said.

But, every so often, after a longer-than-usual trip upstairs at Miller’s home, with the lights off downstairs, the factory workers jump a little when they see two dozen “people” lurking in the entry way.

“Oh, it’s just our scarecrows. Don’t worry,” Friske said laughing.

PUMPKIN PATCH PUBLICITY

– Ludewig Ranch Pumpkin Patch, 13865 Monterey Road, San Martin; Pumpkins, snacks for sale, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Oct. 9-31; free

– Uesugi Farms Pumpkin Patch, 14485 Monterey Highway, Morgan Hill; Train rides, hay rides, petting zoos, corn maze, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. most days; fees for most attractions

– Harvest Fest at Gilroy Gardens, 3050 Hecker Pass Highway, Gilroy; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 28. Gilroy Gardens Harvest Fest runs Halloween weekend through Thanksgiving weekend. Enjoy a fall scavenger hunt, kiddie hay maze and corn stalk houses.

– Swank Farms, 2600 San Felipe Road, Hollister; Open daily at 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Oct. 31; Maniac Maze, Conover Mystery Ranch and a labyrinth. Haunted attractions open after dark from 6 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday and 6 to 10 p.m. Sundays.

– Pumpkin Junction at Casa de Fruta, 6680 Pacheco Pass Hwy., Hollister; Ride Case de Choo Choo and mine for gemstones, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Oct. 1-31; free

– Spina Farms Pumpkin Patch, Santa Teresa Blvd. and Bailey Avenue, San Jose; Picnic area, carving kits, hay bales, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Oct. 2-31; free

– Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, 1300 Senter Road, San Jose; Scarecrow-building contest Oct. 28-30, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; admission to zoo is $12

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