Agricultural Fair Harvests Best of Vineyard

Blue Ribbon Applause Comes from Crowds At Four-Day Event


There are moments that can only be captured at an agricultural fair — children toting balls of cotton candy larger than their heads, piglets resting peacefully across the midsection of a somnolent mother pig, and fathers being tugged to the Ferris wheel for the fifth time in an evening.

Then there are the sights one can only witness at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair: a suggestion sheet to help name a miniature filly, Q-tip headed alpacas grazing quietly next to a spinner’s wheel, skilled woodsmen throwing axes at a target 15 feet away, women hurling skillets across an open field.

Islanders and visitors went home from the 140th Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society’s Livestock Show and Fair satisfied, their stomachs full of tempura and those famous West Tisbury firemen’s hamburgers.

The fair offered something for everyone. Eighteen carnival rides delivered maximum sensory overload for big and little kids. Urbanized children petted their first Swiss cow, Vietnamese pig and billy goat. The fair offered a return to age-old entertainments such as ox pulls. It celebrated the fruits of the earth and the crafts of the hand.

Saturday morning welcomed hundreds of dog enthusiasts to the open rings on the grounds of the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury for the ever popular dog show. Children tugged at leashes to keep pets from plopping in a pile of dirt, undermining the thorough bath and brushing they’d just received.

Jane Alexander brushed her shetland sheepdog, Denim, for the hundredth time while she waited for his breed to be called into the ring. The Alexander family is familiar with the circle of champions — their other shetland sheepdog, Goldie, won the blue in her breed last year. But since Goldie is carrying a few extra pounds this year, the family turned their attention to young Denim. And they knew their new dog would not experience any stage fright.

“He’s the kind of dog that gets nervous when there aren’t enough people around,” father Mark Alexander said with a laugh.

Along the wooden fence, the Jen family watched closely as the judges surveyed the lineup of female golden retrievers. Norman and Elizabeth Jen eyed the competition and determined to bring their own golden retriever to the show next year.

From inside the spinners’ and weavers’ tent, llamas and alpacas eyed the groomed dogs curiously.

While the judges scrutinized the hundreds of dogs for beauty and obedience, another set of judges examined the agility of dogs running through an obstacle course. Tunnels, hoops and bridges filled the course and separated the most agile dog from the rest. All of the contestants received applause from the audience and loving pats from their handlers.

As the sun loomed overhead, crowds funneled into the agricultural hall for some shade and a look at the hundreds of exhibits submitted this year. By Saturday, the once perky sunflowers had begun to droop in the heat, and the vegetables looked softer than they had when the judges doled out ribbons on Thursday. Even so, spectators marveled at all of the homegrown talent on display.

Outside, growling tummies and the sweet smell of concessions pulled much of the crowd to the food area. Children devoured corndogs while grandparents sampled egg rolls and gyros. As the noon hour neared one o’clock, parents urged their children to finish lunch so they could take their seats in the audience for the 25th annual woodsmen’s contest.

Chainsaws revved and Paul Bunyon look-alikes milled through the outdoor ring, sizing up their competition for battles ahead. The tension could only be cut with a chainsaw.

Announcer Clarence (Tripp) Barnes did his best to ease the tension with his infamous humor. He explained the events ahead and added, “We used to have a tree-climbing contest. That was when we allowed alcohol.”

Ace woodsmen Eddie Brightman and John Pospemski stepped to center ring for the first event in which they were timed cutting three blocks. Children in the audience plugged their ears while the men ran their chainsaws at full volume. The kids then clamped their noses to stop the sawdust from making them sneeze.

A lone woman, Rebecca Jardan, stood among the men, confident of her skills.

“This is women’s lib at its best,” Mr. Barnes commented as Ms. Jardan landed a bulls-eye in the axe throw contest.

Jerry Gingrass kept the Overall Woodsman title in his family, claiming the championship that his brother, Herb, brought home last year. Mr. Brightman followed in second, while Mr. Pospemski, a former world woodsmen champion, took third place.

William Warner won the Island Woodsman award. Kyle Gatchell took second place, and Steven Masterson, a first-time competitor who competed in just one event, won third.

As night fell on the fair Saturday, long lines formed at the fair’s most popular rides. Preteen girls held hands with young beaus as they strolled through the carnival area. Parents walked slowly, weighed down by prizes their kids had won through the day.

Caribbean tunes swelled in the concessions area as Mentos and the New Horizon warmed up their steel drums. A mix of old and young moved toward the stage to dance. Bob Mulligan, dressed to impress in his pants and a blazer, moved through the crowd, driven by his own beat. The band wrapped up with a Bob Marley tune just before 10 o’clock, but the dedicated dancers begged them to finish with One Love. Mentos and the New Horizon gladly obliged.

Sunday’s crowd for the women’s skillet throw rivaled the woodsmen’s contest crowd as spectators squeezed into the bleachers to offer support for contestants. Tom Cassella assumed the role of skillet throwing advisor and encouraged entrants with shouts of, “Put your body into it” and comments such as, “I thought that skillet was never coming down.”

Eighty-three women tried their luck with old-style skillets. The women had to hurl the pan through the air and land it as close to the center tape as possible. Deductions were taken for length away from the center line. Ann Deitrich started the competition off on the right foot, with her 31-foot, 2-inch throw, claiming a win in the 65 and over age group. The 46-to-64 category heightened the competition, as many women hurled the skillet well beyond the the 30-foot mark. Debbie Lister claimed the blue with a toss of 40 feet, 9 inches for this division.

The next age category — 30 through 45 years old — offered a number of distance throwers as well. But Jennifer Gardner shocked everyone when she threw the skillet 45 feet, 4 inches, claiming first in that category, just 6 inches short of last year’s record.

The competition continued to heighten among entrants 18 to 29 years old. Last year’s winner in this category, Jess Branch, claimed first again with a throw of 43 feet, one and a half inches.

The four age division champions stepped to center ring for a final throw to crown the overall champion. Ms. Gardner beat her last throw with a distance of 46 feet, five and a half inches. Then Ms. Branch, with her landscaper’s arm, launched the skillet with a throw that landed 51 feet, 1 inch down the center line, squarely on the tape.

After the competition, Ms. Branch basked shyly in the attention of a record-breaking champion. She insisted that she never throws skillets, except at the fair.

Back in the fair office, fair manager Eleanor Neubert wore the look of an exhausted but satisfied planner. Her daughter, Sarah, continued to work the phone. When asked if she will take the torch as fair manager from her mother one day, Sarah responded, “I don’t think I have a choice.”

As Ms. Neubert sat quietly in the relative calm of Sunday afternoon, she offered nothing but praise for all the volunteers, concessions keepers and contestants at this year’s fair.

“The fair ran very smoothly,” she said, finally, graciously reluctant to take credit for any of it.