All paths, roads, streams and trails point this weekend to the 147th annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair in West Tisbury. Clear skies and warm, dry temperatures are predicted for the next three days and that means, if you’ll pardon the pun, fair weather.
“The summer colors are here. Blue and green. The sky is blue and the grass is green. This is perfect weather for a fair. What could be better?” asked Eleanor Neubert, fair manager.
Yesterday morning, West Tisbury police officer Dan Rossi noted attendance seemed down for the first hours of the fair, compared to a year ago. “But people are at the beach. You know it will pick up,” he said.
Those who make a living working at fairs across the region were happy about the forecast and about being on the Vineyard. Bill White of Barbecue Bill’s had plenty of pork to roast. While cutting his ribs, he said he’d had a rough summer in Vermont and northern New England. “It has been a tough go because of the weather. There were a lot of rained-out events. I am glad to be here. Look at the forecast. It will be great,” he said.
Mr. White last week was at the Addison County Fair and Field Day in Addison, Vt.; next week he heads back to Vermont. “I love it on the Vineyard. This is my 18th fair,” he said. “People are nice here.”
Hall manager Kathy Lobb said entries are up. “We’ve had 4,088 entries, a lot more than last year,” she said. Every year the fair brings out the Vineyard’s finest cooks, gardeners, artists, photographers, quilters and conservationists.
Yesterday morning fair judges were all business, overwhelmed with the number of entries. The hall was closed to the public while the judges flipped jars of pickles and tasted chocolate cake, blueberry pie and raised rolls. Mrs. Lobb said extra tables were needed to accommodate all the junior art.
“We are still trying to figure out why we have so many canned, pickled entrees this year,” Mrs. Lobb said. The number and variety of vegetables and fruits reflects a summer cornucopia of growing. Last year growers dealt with drought-like conditions and harvests were poor. This year a good balance of rain and sun has been a boon to growers.
“Maybe it has to do with the economy, concerns about buying food. We got canned peaches this year,” she marveled. It all stands as a testament to the fair’s theme this year: Homegrown Favorites.
The Island Brazilian community is now a presence at the fair too; there were six entrees for taioba, a popular leafy plant.
Beautiful handmade quilts hung from the agricultural hall rafters.
Also hanging prominently is a large painting by Island artist Ann Leggett, a portrait of Clarence (Trip) Barnes 3rd. The painting earned a blue ribbon.
Another exhibit pays tribute to farmer Louis Greene. It includes a collection of old notes and printed documents dating back to 1930s. Prepared by Donny Mills, the tribute includes some of the fresh vegetables Mr. Greene typically grew at his West Tisbury farm.
And for the first time in recent memory, a mule is at the fair, entered by Rebecca Miller of North Tabor Farm.
Dale McClure, president of the agricultural society, said he took a few days off from work to tend to the business affairs of the fair. While most of his attention is focused on the horse and oxen pulls (he operates the heavy earth moving equipment to carry the “sled”) his new big favorite event is relatively new — the antique tractor pull. The principle is the same as the horse pull, except that a tractor tows a heavy load. The winning tractor is the one that can pull the most.
This is the third year for the tractor pull; it is scheduled for tomorrow at 10 a.m.
“I like it. It gets the young guys involved,” Mr. McClure said.
One of those young enthusiasts is Simon Bollin, of West Tisbury. Mr. Bollin is a volunteer firefighter and his day job is at Vineyard Electronics. But in his free time he likes to fuss around with his 1942 Allis Chambers B tractor, a machine that used to work daily at a farm in Edgartown. “I got a blue ribbon for it last year,” Mr. Bollin said. He also blew a tire while participating in the antique tractor pull.
Yesterday morning music from the five-member Blue Hill Brass Quintet floated over one end of the fairground. Paul Greenstone, manager and tuba player, said this is the band’s fourth year on the Island. Originally from Brunswick, Me., Mr. Greenstone said the band was last in Hermon, Me. playing at the family weekend Summer Sizzler. Band members are the house guests of trombone player and farmer Jim Athearn of Edgartown.
Larry Cushing 3rd of Cushing Amusements was busy squeezing lemons for the popular lemonade stand at the fair. Early in the morning, his booth drew the longest line. Mr. Cushing had a lament that sounds familiar around here: he is short-handed because many of his workers had to go back to school. “We’ll get the job done,” he said.
His company has over 35 workers; 15 are his relatives. Five generations have worked in the company. “It is a family business,” he said. The company offers at least 17 rides this year.
By midmorning the line grew long for the Octopus, a popular ride.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cushing was banking on the Vineyard’s love for lemonade. “We could go through ten to 12 cases of lemons,” he said.
The fair continues daily through Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for juniors aged 5 to 12, and $5 for senior citizens. Fair grounds are open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. today and tomorrow and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.
An important side note: new handicapped parking arrangements at the fair were a revelation for Pia Webster of Edgartown, who said she had not been to the fair in about 15 years because of the difficulty of getting in and around the grounds. But this year she raved about the accessibility. “It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful — almost like valet parking,” she said. “I want to compliment them and encourage anyone who has mobility problems to give it a try, because they have made it so easy.”