Santa Ynez has always been an agricultural area with a pioneering spirit devoted to farming. It’s fitting, therefore, that local businesses and residents from Solvang and Ballard, Buellton and Los Olivos take pride in their scarecrows.

The 2017 Santa Ynez Valley Scarecrow Fest takes place through Oct. 31, with judging occurring on different days in the month. The SYV 2017 Harvest Cup winner is expected to be announced after Halloween.

This is the eighth year Solvang has held the event and the fifth year it has included Valleywide towns. Each town has its own rules for judging winners, with prized scarecrows eligible for the 2017 Harvest Cup: Best in the Valley trophy. Anonymous judges will tour each town and cast their votes for the best SYV scarecrow.

“The public judging includes the maps and ballots throughout each town,” said Anna Ferguson-Sparks, who coordinated this year’s SYV Scarecrow Fest. “Each town also does their own anonymous, private judging and they nominate the best overall scarecrow.”

Festive home decor

Last year’s Harvest Cup winner came from Home Connection in Solvang. The shop, which sells home decor and Amish furniture, is co-owned by Donna Andersen Ineman and her mother, Thora Nielsen Andersen.

“I think it’s a fabulous event,” Andersen Ineman said. “It adds one more sense of uniqueness and a special quality to the town’s presence. The tourists just love it.”

This year, Home Connection’s scarecrow display has an ice cream theme.

“We named him Sam, and he’s taken on different professions,” Andersen Ineman said, noting two of her favorites were a furniture maker/scarecrow with an Amish theme and last year’s “Sam the gardener,” which won the Valley’s best overall trophy for Home Connection. “It brings people to our courtyard, which in turn is right by the front door. We’ve had a great response, with people taking pictures.”

Ice cream seemed like a natural fit for this year’s scarecrow, said the co-owner of Home Connection.

“Danes love ice cream — I mean, that’s a given,” Andersen Ineman said. “So we made ‘Sam the ice cream man.’”

Solvang, for starters

With more than 100 scarecrows scattered from town to town — including a few in Santa Ynez — local shop owners and residents put a lot of thought into their scarecrows every year. Susan Williams, owner of the Wandering Dog Wine Bar on Mission Drive, started supporting the Scarecrow Fest from its inception.

“Solvang started the Scarecrow Fest eight years ago,” said Williams, noting this is the fifth year it has included other towns. “It’s enjoyable to watch people come by and take pictures. It makes the town look a little bit more inviting this time of year.”

An active member of the Solvang Chamber of Commerce, Williams helped launch the festival in 2010. Sitting at a patio table outside her business, the tall, slender Williams seemed to bring the large, Sleepy Hollow-like scarecrow across from her to life.

“The reason we started the Scarecrow Fest was to draw people to Solvang after the summer festivities,” said Williams, crediting Sue Moualim of The Artistic Pony with conceiving the idea. “At that time, I was involved in Solvang’s 3rd Wednesday [Walk, Shop, Wine and Dine] and I thought it was a great idea. So the two of us teamed up and made it happen.”

With Solvang businesses clustered together, it’s much easier for residents and tourists to wander around, take photos of the scarecrows and cast ballots.

Buellton businesses

In Buellton, where businesses are not as concentrated in one location, it’s challenging to display scarecrows outside, said Kathy Vreeland, executive director of the city’s visitors bureau and chamber of commerce.

“We’re a little spread out in Buellton,” said Vreeland, noting there are 19 scarecrows entered in this year’s competition.

“It’s fun for businesses and staff to partake,” she continued. “It helps businesses let people know they support the community.”

For some Buellton business owners — such as attorneys, accountants and insurance reps — Vreeland said the annual Scarecrow Fest gives them a chance to publicize their presence.

“There’s plenty of ballots for people to pick up at all the hotels in Buellton, as well as the locations where each of the scarecrows are at,” said Vreeland, noting the town usually receives about 200 ballots from locals and tourists — mostly wine tasters and hotel guests. People who want to vote for their favorite Buellton scarecrows can also pick up ballots at the chamber of commerce on Avenue of Flags.

“Our ballots are due Oct. 31st,” Vreeland said of Buellton’s Scarecrow Fest voting. “We will most likely announce our winners after that.”

Los Olivos, naturally

Los Olivos has a public best overall scarecrow category, in addition to nominating a Valleywide Harvest Cup contender. Liz Dodder Hansen, executive director for the Los Olivos Chamber of Commerce, reports there are 26 scarecrows entered in the competition this year.

“They’re all out and you can vote,” said Dodder Hansen. “We will announce our winners at the Day in the Country at the end of the parade.”

This year’s Day in the Country takes place Saturday, Oct. 21.

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In addition to best overall scarecrow, voters in Los Olivos can select the most humorous, spookiest and best business theme. Los Olivos has added a best natural materials category to encourage the use of eco-friendly goods. The category tracks well with scarecrows from yesteryear, when farmers and their families made them from straw, organic pumpkins, cotton jeans and wool shirts.

“They love developing them,” Dodder Hansen said of participating Los Olivos business owners. “Some of them spend a whole year thinking about what they’re going to do. And because we have so many wineries in Los Olivos, a lot of them do wine and grape-harvest themes.”

After Los Olivos announces its public winners, scarecrow judges will be invited to vote.

All towns benefit

The original idea was to promote Solvang, said Williams, of the Wandering Dog Wine Bar.

“I will say that having a scarecrow in front of your business does draw people in,” she said, prefacing this is the first year she’s entered the spookiest scarecrow category.

“My 4-year-old granddaughter wouldn’t get closer than 8 feet,” she joked.

“We have people come back year after year and look at every single scarecrow,” Williams continued. “I think the first year we had about 30 scarecrows, so it’s grown a lot.”

Ferguson-Sparks recalled a favorite memory from the 2015 Scarecrow Fest.

“I was in Buellton and a mother and daughter came up to me, because they were having trouble finding one of the scarecrows on the map,” she reminisced. “They were from Alaska and they come every year for the Scarecrow Fest. I get phone calls from people who plan their visit to the Valley around the Scarecrow Fest. It’s universally appealing. People latch onto it because they have children. This gives them another reason to come up to Wine Country.”

Williams, who usually starts planning her scarecrow display in midsummer, said she participates every year because it’s gratifying.

“It’s fun when you get complimented on your scarecrow. People come by and say, ‘It’s really good — you’ve done a lot of work.’ It puts them in a good mood.”

If that seems like an odd sentiment for a contest centered on a scary symbol, longtime Valley business owners like Williams seem pleased with the results. After all, a happy shopper is more likely to sample the fare on display inside.

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