By Amanda Dyslin
---- — Cara Hanson swears it's true. That scarecrow was 10 feet tall, and it looked just like the one she'd seen singing and dancing on “The Wizard of Oz” the night before.
“I said, 'Mom! Look! It's Dorothy's friend,'” said Hanson, who admits that maybe her 5-year-old self saw the scarecrow at Emma Krumbee's as a little bit bigger than it actually was. “I guess it has been 20 years or so.”
Now a mom herself, Hanson said she never misses an opportunity to bring her daughter to the Scarecrow Festival that has been an Emma Krumbee's tradition for 30 years. The two of them love to go around to each one and find a favorite, and once they even went home and made one of their own.
“They're just so creative. It's crazy,” Hanson said. “I don't know how they come up with some of them.”
The past few years the Hansons almost assuredly have seen the scarecrow contributions made by Mankato classes at Mt. Olive Lutheran School led by teacher Kari Sehloff. Seven years ago Sehloff thought it would be fun to have her class dress up a scarecrow in Mt. Olive gear with a Mt. Olive sign.
“That very first year we did it just kind of for fun … and we got second place,” Sehloff said with a laugh. “So I thought, 'I wonder how we could do if we really tried?'”
First place is how well they could do — for the past six years. The scarecrows are judged in three different categories (traditional, humorous and celebrity) for three different age levels. First place in each category and age level receives $400. (Overally, $6,900 in cash prizes are awarded.)
In the past, Sehloff has had third- or fourth-grade classes submit a scarecrow, and the category has depended upon their subject matter, which has continued to grow in scope over the years. They've done a nativity scene with Mary, Joseph and Jesus, and the animals were painted on surrounding pumpkins.
They've done Noah's Ark; Charlie Brown, Linus and Snoopy on a doghouse; and they've done Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat.
This year, working with a kindergarten class, Sehloff has decided to do Clifford the Big Red Dog, who will be 6 feet tall, cut from wood and painted. Clifford's owner, Emily Elizabeth, will be the stuffed scarecrow, as will a scarecrow of Emma Krumbee.
When Sehloff sent in her registration, she got a response saying, “We're looking forward to seeing what you come up with this year.” She's excited the school has made a name for itself in the contest.
“It's just fun,” Sehloff said. “I'm a crazy teacher.”
The class will work on the exhibit the week before the judging takes place on Sept. 14, and just like every other year, the class will get to take a field trip to Emma Krumbee's to see all of the scarecrows on display.
Emma Krumbee's owner Mary Jo Morris said her family got the idea to put on a Scarecrow Festival at their then 4-year-old business during a vacation to California, where they saw a similar event.
“It was a cool concept,” she said. “It got people involved in the making of the scarecrows.”
Morris said the festival has been a staple at Emma Krumbee's throughout the growth of the business and helped bring people in when there weren't as many other attractions.
“We didn't have our big yellow barn then,” she said. “We did a lot of stuff out of a tent.”
Morris said it's hard to pick a favorite over the years, although she said “there's always a star.” She expects to see some “Duck Dynasty” themed scarecrows this year, she said, given the fact that many tend to be inspired by pop culture.
About 100 scarecrows are submitted each year, and all will be displayed Sept. 14 through Oct. 27. She said families come to Emma Krumbee's for a variety of reasons, including the Scarecrow Festival, and her family aims to give them plenty to do while they're there.
Weekends include pony and camel rides, and live music. And this year's crop of apples is especially good, she said, which brings out the pickers.
“That's another thing we always do,” Hanson said. “Apples taste so much better when you pick them yourself.”
If you go What Scarecrow Festival at Emma Krumbee's When On display 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 14 to Oct. 27; contest judging is Sept. 14. The apple orchard is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through October. Where Emma Krumbee's, located on Highway 169 in Belle Plaine. Admission $5 per person; children ages 2 and under are admitted free