Farmers grow plants that people and animals can eat. At Living History Farms, the farmers plant corn and oats for the cows, horses, and pigs to eat. At the 1850 Pioneer Farm, farmers grow wheat. This makes flour for people to eat. Our gardens have carrots and beans and tomatoes and sweet corn and lots of other tasty vegetables in them all summer long. We love to eat this food when it is ready to pick. But there are also other birds, bugs, and animals that love our fields and our gardens. Crows, deer, squash bugs, ground squirrels, and corn worms are all creatures that we did not invite to have dinner in our fields and gardens!
Pesky critters are not a new problem for farmers. For thousands of years, farmers all over the world have tried to keep pests like crows from eating the seeds and plants in their fields. In some places, people had the job of walking through the fields making noise and scaring away animals. They were called bird scarers. A long time ago, during the Middle Ages, boys in England would walk through wheat fields with wooden clappers or noise makers to scare away the birds. In Iowa in the 1700s, the Ioway native people built wooden stands next to their gardens. Children would sit on the stands during the day. They would bang on pots, make noise, and throw rocks at animals and birds that tried to eat the garden’s corn, beans and squash.
What happens if there aren’t enough kids to watch the fields all day? In some countries, farmers had to think of other ways to protect their plants. Some farmers built dummies or dolls to put in the field instead! Today, we think of scarecrows shaped like people and stuffed with straw. We use them for decoration at Halloween and Thanksgiving. But, scarecrows can be made of wood or clay too! Long ago in ancient Greece, farmers carved scary wooden statues to put in their fields. The Romans made clay statues. In Japan, scarecrows were made of rags with pointed hats. In the early 1800s, Pennsylvania German farmers built straw-stuffed scarecrows called bootzamon, or bogeymen.
Do farmers still use scarecrows? There are still lots of deer and crows in Iowa to scare away! Now, most farmers have really big fields. A scarecrow will not keep all the deer away. Today, farmers use smelly or bad tasting sprays and fences to keep pests away from fields. Even in the garden, people today use other kinds of things to keep birds and deer away. There are smelly garden sprays that animals don’t like. But we do still use noise to keep away birds. Some people hang wind chimes and spinners in their garden to frighten away animals. People tie pie pans or shiny CDs to string and hang them on a pole. The shiny light and clatter will sometimes keep away the birds.
So what about the straw scarecrow? Well, some people do have these in their small garden. We also love to decorate with scarecrows at Halloween! You can build your own scarecrow at home. The first step is to decide on the clothing for your scarecrow. Old jeans and an old long sleeve shirt work really well. Make sure Mom and Dad say its ok to use the clothes you decide on! Take a string, rubber band, or heavy tape and tie the ends of the pant legs, bottom of the shirt and shirt sleeves closed. Now you can stuff the clothing! Some people still use straw to stuff their scarecrows. Dried leaves from your fall trees also make good stuffing. Plastic shopping bags also make good stuffing and can be recycled after the fall is over! Stuff the clothing full! Then tie or tape the pants and shirt together. You can sit your scarecrow on your porch in a chair. Or an adult can help you hang the stuffed clothing on a pole for the yard. Every scarecrow needs a head. Some people use a pumpkin with a carved or painted face. Some people use a cloth sack with a face drawn onto it. Or how about an upside down broom head? Make sure to give your scarecrow a hat!
This week you can see many silly and funny scarecrows at Living History Farms during our Family Halloween celebration!
Caregivers: Living History Farms is open for trick or treating, story telling, horse and wagon rides and other fun during our Family Halloween event, which continues on October 30 and 31 from 5:30pm to 8:30 pm. Dress your little ones for the open air. Costumes are great, but a warm hoodie and sturdy shoes are great too! www.LHF.org/Halloween