Each growing season, at least one scarecrow stands among the crops at Upper St. Clair’s Gilfillan Farm, visible to passersby as a reminder of the township’s rural history.

Several of the humanlike figures are present for 2020, and their appearance has a special significance.

“We decided that this year, it would be nice to pay tribute to all the frontline workers, after everything everyone has been through the last few months,” said Lynn Kistler, co-manager of the farm’s Alexander Gilfillan Garden.

And so the scarecrows are dressed as emergency personnel, healthcare and construction workers, and even the folks at checkout counters who have been ensuring that people are able to purchase essentials during the COVID-19 pandemic. Placed among them are signs bearing messages of gratitude.

As for what’s grown in the Gilfillan garden, named after the father of the final generation of the farm’s owners, the produce all goes to the South Hills Interfaith Movement’s three food pantries.

Joining Kistler in managing the garden is Sue Wyble, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, located near the farm on land donated by the Gilfillans. Wyble and Kistler coordinate the scheduling of volunteers to work in the garden, which takes up an expansive area in the farm’s southeastern corner.

An advanced placement environmental science teacher at Upper St. Clair High School, Kistler regularly invites students to participate. Several of them gathered recently to paint signs and to put together scarecrows representing various occupations.

The effort receives plenty of other assistance from members of the community. Upper St. Clair Volunteer Fire Department, across Route 19 from the farm, is filling cisterns with water, as the garden has no source of its own.

Also, Rotary Club of Upper St Clair-Bethel Park (Breakfast) provided grant money that allowed for the purchase of various supplies, including gatelike cattle panels to be used as trellises.

“Now we’re going to do vertical growing, which really should increase our yield,” Wyble said.

The garden at Gilfillan is one of 15 in the South Hills that helps stock the South Hills Interfaith Movement’s food pantries, which are in Bethel Park, Whitehall and Baldwin Borough. SHIM is a human services organization dedicated to empowering struggling individuals and families to achieve self-sufficiency, and because of COVID-19, the demand for services has increased significantly in recent months.

This year’s guidelines and procedures for Gilfillan volunteers include several items related to the pandemic, including: “Wear a cloth face covering if there are other volunteers working in the garden.” Those who arrive to help are encouraged to bring their own tools so as to help reduce risk.

The 15-acre Gilfillan Farm, located near South Hills Village, is owned and operated as a working entity by the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair. Margaret, the last surviving family member that founded the farm in the mid-19th century, donated the property to the society.

For information about volunteering in the Alexander Gilfillan Garden, contact Lynn Kistler at lkistler@uscsd.k12.pa.us or Sue Wyble at suewy2@verizon.net. For information regarding the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair, visit www.hsusc.org.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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