In just a few weeks, the agricultural hall grounds in West Tisbury will be abuzz with activity. Already there are signs that the annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair — the first day is August 21 — is just around the corner.
Fair booklets have been mailed to all society members and a stack of extras sits on the hall front porch. The old green box is also there, awaiting completed entry forms for everything from steer and chickens to zucchini bread baked with the greenest of zucchini and heirloom tomatoes of all shapes and sizes.
The deadline to enter is Monday, August 18 — no later than 5 p.m. — and all hall exhibits must be dropped off on the 20th between noon and five. Starting yesterday, society members began staffing the hall from nine till noon. Sign-ups are out for volunteer workers. “Check your vegetable gardens to see what will be the blue ribbon winner for fair week,” said fair manager Eleanor Neubert.
But the August fair is about more than fried dough and the Sizzler; the agricultural society about more than the fair.
“In the 1850s, there was a movement afoot by some to improve the current state of agriculture, to introduce improved breeds and to do it through competition,” said Jim Athearn, owner of Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown and a vice president of the society. “That was what the fair was designed to do, through the vehicle of competition, to try to upgrade people’s activities in agriculture. So I suppose the principles stay the same today, but it’s hard to rouse competition among people who are busy, busy, busy in the summertime.”
It is also hard to rouse competition if there is not adequate space to display and hold the competing animals.
In direct response to space concerns, the agricultural society one year ago began seriously planning an addition to their grounds: a new post-and-beam barn to house animals and antique farming equipment.
“Up at the ag hall, we’ve been in need of more barn space,” said society president Dale McClure. “We have definitely grown and now we find we’re in need of more space for the display of animals during the fair.”
In March, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved plans for the society to construct a new 5,335-square-foot barn next to their cattle barn.
There are two existing barns on the society property. Both are recreated from antique structures. The main hall, built in 1994, was originally a barn in Woodsville, N.H. The cattle barn was assembled from the wood of three different tobacco barns originally in Deerfield.
“But the antique barns are getting hard to maintain and they’re expensive,” Mr. McClure said. So, the society has contracted with Riehl Construction, an Amish carpentry company out of Leola, Pa., that specializes in recreating post-and-beam barns. The company built a barn for David Flanders of Chilmark, a society member.
On Thursday, ground was broken on the society grounds. With the foundation complete, the area was stripped on Friday and this week, Mr. McClure and the society building committee will put in piers, button the area up and fence it off for the fair crowds. They had originally hoped to have the barn completed by opening day, but the permitting process was not completed in time.
A crew of nearly 20 workers from Riehl Construction and their families will be arriving on the Vineyard to begin work Sept. 8. Mr. McClure believes the building will take only a matter of five days to complete. “They are coming, they’ll erect the barn, they’ll shingle the outside and the roof and leave us to put up the stalls,” Mr. McClure said.
Although the barn is new, it will not look that way. “It will have a hemlock frame with pine siding and will be a mirror image of the barn we have now,” Mr. McClure said. “We’ve been around over 150 years. It’ll get antique fast enough.”
The barn will be in use for the annual fall harvest festival, but before that society members will move in the many pieces of antique farm equipment donated over time.
“Over the years, we’ve had donations of planters, of seeders, of cultivators, hand tools, hand gardening tools. We have gasoline engines and what we would call power tools. We have had a donation of an antique horse treadmill. You put a horse on that thing and that is portable power. Some of that stuff is still sitting out on farms because we don’t have anywhere to put it. We’re in fear of losing it if we don’t get it pretty soon. It rusts. If you can’t keep it under cover, it will go to waste.”
The second half of the barn will house animals, both during the fair and year-round. “The Martha’s Vineyard Horse Council rents space from us for the horse shows, so there will be stalls available for them as well,” Mr. McClure said. “Hopefully it will be filled with animals and that would be a swell thing,” said Mr. Athearn.
Mr. Athearn said: “It is just part of our present efforts to increase agriculture.”
Ultimately he hopes efforts like this one will make his life a little less frantic. On Monday, the farmer used one hand to hold his cell phone and talk barns while he kept the other hand on the steering wheel. In the middle of farming season, he was forced to spend a day off from the fields to drive up to New Hampshire and deliver his pigs to the slaughterhouse. He had hoped to take the 6 a.m. ferry, but, this being August, it was booked. He took the 7 a.m. and returned the same night, after delivering the pigs. He will have to make the same trip in two weeks, but this time, will return with meat to sell at his farm stand. Ideally, more agricultural activity on the Island would lead to better infrastructure for Vineyard farmers, he said, like the addition of an on-Island slaughterhouse. “I’m hoping it will make days like today unnecessary,” Mr. Athearn said. “We’re looking to the future.”
Mr. McClure is asking anyone willing to house the Pennsylvania workers and their families in September to get in touch with Bill Haynes at 508-693-3641. “We’re going to try to give them a nice little Vineyard vacation,” he said. He also hopes members of the community will step forward to organize and donate beach trips, clam bakes, or sport fishing trips.
In other news, Clarissa Allen and Mitchell Posin of the Allen Sheep Farm in Chilmark will receive the 2008 Creative Living Award tonight. The Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha’s Vineyard will honor the couple in a ceremony at 5:30 p.m. at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury.
The First Baptist Church on the corners of William and Spring streets in Vineyard Haven announces the start of their homegrown market on Saturday mornings with baked goods, crafts, vegetables, flowers and more. The market runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will continue through September. The market is small now, said organizer Lynn Tuck, so anyone interesting in setting up a booth is encouraged to get in touch with her at 508-693-5186.
The Island Grown Initiative’s first Summer Institute for Teachers begins Monday. The three-day workshop is for Island educators interested in incorporating farm and school garden-based programs into their curriculum. The institute runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and is free for Vineyard teachers. Spaces are limited. For more information or to reserve a place, please contact Noli Hoye at 508-645-9557 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit islandgrown.org.
This column is meant to reflect all aspects of agricultural activity and farm life on the Vineyard. To reach Julia Rappaport, please call 508-627-4311, extension 120, or e-mail her at email@example.com.