It was nearing four o'clock at the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society's 143rd annual Livestock Show and Fair on Saturday - time for the Birds of Prey show to begin - but in the heart of the crowd beside the tent full of owls and hawks, it was not a peregrine falcon but rather President Bill Clinton who was attracting the attention.


"I love this fair - it's one of my favorite ones," Mr. Clinton said, listing all of the family members that were at the fair with him, including his nephew, his daughter Chelsea and his wife Hillary. Saturday was Mr. Clinton's 60th birthday. "We're just having a big family day at the fair and we love it," he added.

Aside from some stormy skies on Sunday, the weather was nearly perfect for four days of outdoor fair events and carnival rides. Nearly 28,000 people came through the gates - a good number, according to fair manager Eleanor Neubert, who has run the past 22 fairs.

The Friday night pay-one-price promotion encouraged some families to forgo the fireworks on Friday night and go on unlimited rides for $15 instead.

"The families that took advantage of it loved it," Ms. Neubert said. "I imagine that we'll do it again."

The antique tractor pull saw a good number of participants in its first year, the dog show went on despite rain and fairgoers won hundreds of stuffed animal prizes at game booths - except at the wacky wire booth, which is near impossible for mere mortals.

The enormous prizes and seemingly simple task of threading a metal circle over a turning corkscrew lured even Chelsea Clinton to the table, though she left empty-handed and about $20 in the hole like so many before her.

The woodsmen's fair also celebrated a big birthday on Saturday - albeit with less ruckus than in the past - with its 30th annual competition of strength and skill.


"For a lot of the contestants, it was their day off and they liked to drink beer," master of ceremonies Trip Barnes recalled of the early years. "It used to get pretty wild.

"Last year we had a guy put an ax in his foot - he was sober," Mr. Barnes added.

This year there were no injuries, just an afternoon of log-rolling, axe-wielding athleticism. More than 50 woodsmen - including four woodswomen - played to the packed bleachers.

"These guys are a different breed of cat - they're guys that work really hard for a living and love what they do," Mr. Barnes said of the participants. And they are fast. "There are very few people getting paid by the hour, so they hustle," he added.

Next door to the pulling ring was the exhibit hall - full of art, produce, plants and crafts - testament to a year of green thumbing and arts and crafts-making. The entries also impressed the state inspector who came in from Boston Friday.

"She had never come to our fair before," Ms. Neubert said of the inspector. "She was very happy with the hall exhibits - the number of them and the quality."

There was a notable increase in all kinds of needlework - particularly quilts, which numbered 33 instead of the usual 20 or fewer.

"It's the most since I can remember," exhibit manager Eve Heyman said. "We had to buy more dowel hangers."


The single largest category overall in the exhibition hall was adult photography, followed by junior handicraft. Ms. Heyman was surprised to find that junior art submissions were dramatically down.

"Really what we saw the decline in was high school-aged art," Ms. Heyman said, noting there were about 50 entries rather than hundreds. "We hope that changes next year."

The livestock barn saw a boom in miniature horses. Last year there were five, while this year there were 21 - plus two miniature donkeys. The staff ran out of room in the barn and had to turn some away.

Ms. Heyman speculates that next year the boom will be in alpacas. There are normally between six and nine alpacas in the fiber tent, but next year there may be 27, since an alpaca farm is planned to start up on the Island.

There were fewer entries of feathered animals and pet rabbits. In fact, wild rabbits may have played a bigger role in the fair than pet rabbits this year.

"It was a big year for rabbits getting into gardens," Ms. Heyman said, noting that many growers mentioned the problem. This exacerbated an already disappointing harvest.


"We have less fruits and vegetables due to the poor growing season," Ms. Heyman said. "We have red tomatoes way down, green tomatoes up." 

This was not the case for one 18-year-old's garden, however. Kristina Ivory of Edgartown swept several junior categories, winning a total of 12 ribbons and $75.

"I had so many red tomatoes, I had trouble getting green ones together," Miss Ivory said.

She still managed to win third place for her entry of five green tomatoes. She also won second place for the largest tomato, second place for her five red tomatoes, first place for her 15 beans and third place for her carrots. She also took first for a herbal arrangement - a tiny garden that included oregano, thyme and basil, with a little wooden bench nestled in the middle.

In the canning and preserving category, Miss Ivory won first prize for all five of her entries: dilly beans, peach jam, grape jelly, blueberry pie filling and an assortment of three. She also won the Mildred Spalding prize for "interest and ability in preserving."

"My mother used to do it when I was younger and I used to help her," Miss Ivory said of preserving, which she has done for five years. "Then one year things got kind of busy and I just did it myself."

It was a similar scenario with the small garden in the yard that her father started several years ago. He became too busy to tend it, so Miss Ivory took it over when she was 10 or 12.


Miss Ivory estimates she has been entering items in the fair since she was four years old.

"I really think the ag fair is one of the most important things we do on the Vineyard," she said. "Some people consider New Year's or Christmas their end-of-the-year renewing." But on the Island, it's the ag fair that celebrates that, Miss Ivory explained. "We've made it through the winter and we've made it through the crazy tourist season and we've reached the end."

Miss Ivory also worked at the fair this year, both in security (manning the fair or hall entrances) and selling T-shirts. Working at the fair is a right of passage for many Island youths.

"For a lot of them, it's their first job and they take it very seriously," Ms. Neubert said. "I mean, look at the grounds. They work hard."

Although the agricultural society does not advertise for workers, kids start signing up to help at the beginning of August. This year about 40 youths were on trash duty, and about 30 on security tasks.

Clad in rust-colored agricultural fair T-shirts, 12-year-olds Daniel Henderson and Wesley Groover pulled a barrel of trash between the carnival rides, followed by their plain-clothed friend, 11-year-old Job Deforest.

None of the boys - who were all from Oak Bluffs - had worked at the fair before.


"We needed the money," Mr. Groover explained. The boys each get $100 for working a shift every day. On Saturday they were on the 2 to 6 p.m. shift.

"It's really tiring," Mr. Henderson said.

"And stinky," Mr. Groover added.

"Yeah, it's really smelly," Mr. Deforest agreed. But they were all in good spirits and agreed that they preferred picking up trash on the carnival side better than the livestock side of the fairgrounds.

Both Mr. Groover and Mr. Henderson explained that this was technically not their first job.

"I take out the trash at my house for $2 a week," Mr. Henderson said.

"I do the trash for these people across the street and they give $10," Mr. Groover grinned.

Back in the main hall, the buzz among the fair staff was focused outside the exhibit halls and on the food stands, lined up in colorful rows among craft vendors and community booths.

"Everybody's new favorite fair food is all the way back, in the black and white striped tent," Ms. Heyman said. "She has a white chocolate bread pudding that honestly has to be one of the best things I have ever tasted."

The coffee and dessert booth was run by mother-daughter team Dottie and Kori Price, who together form the catering company In Good Taste. The menu included three varieties of iced coffee - regular, mocha and New Orleans - and two desserts: apple blueberry slab pie or white chocolate bread pudding with caramel rum sauce or Irish cream sauce.

"The comments have been awesome," said daughter Kori, who is also a Spanish teacher at the Tisbury School. "It makes you feel really good."


Kori moved to the Island in September 2004 and her mother followed a year later. Ms. Price grew up in Louisiana and raised her daughter in Texas.

"When she went off to college, I started catering to make supplemental money to help pay for her school," Ms. Price said. "I've been collecting recipes all my life - that's a passion of mine."

Not sure what to sell their first year at the fair, they took the advice of Ms. Neubert, who had encouraged the women to sell iced coffee - no one else did.

Under the blazing early afternoon sunshine, a tired fireman walked over to In Good Taste from the West Tisbury fire department hamburger stand nearby.

"You know what I want," the fireman declared, droopy eyed and leaning on the counter with both hands. But instead of iced coffee, Kori set down a Tupperware of bread pudding with Irish cream sauce in front of him. He put down $5 and walked away smiling.