Tomorrow Vineyarders from all generations will walk into the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury, proudly carrying their artwork, home-grown vegetables, baked goods (the juniors anyway; adult bakers must wait for Thursday morning) and displays. The animals will begin to arrive in the next few days, and that heavenly smell of hay, fried food and the sweetness of August will mingle in the air on Thursday, as the 149th Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair begins.
“It’s always thrilling when you see that first ride from the carnival pulling up the road,” fair manager Eleanor Neubert said earlier this week at the hall. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”
Much will be the same at this year’s fair, Ms. Neubert said, with a few new booths and organizational techniques to make things run a bit more smoothly. There will be a kettle corn booth from Pennsylvania, a pulled-pork station with Morning Glory Farm vegetable sides, and local musician Joel Zoss will make his fair debut. Ms. Neubert said they’ve improved the area for the draft horse and oxen pull owners to park their trailers across the street from the hall.
Otherwise, the West Tisbury volunteer fire department will still be selling hamburgers, the high school will make vegetable tempura and egg rolls, and the fried dough will still be popular.
Ms. Neubert has been fair manager for 26 years, and she looks forward to seeing “fair-related people” every August. “I enjoy these first few weeks in August in getting ready,” she said. “People are coming and are very happy that the fair is back, that we’re getting ready, dropping off entry forms, people talking about what they made over the winter, or what they’ve raised in their gardens.”
This year’s theme is Kiddin’ Around at the Fair, based on Joyce Maxner’s winning fair poster featuring two goats. Ms. Neubert said the fair’s theme is chosen based on the winning design after a competition is held every spring.
But much of the work done for this year’s fair has been in preparation for the 2011 fair, when the Agricultural Society will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the fair. Ms. Neubert and a small committee met throughout the winter to discuss plans for next year’s big celebration, which included selecting a theme before the poster competition was held so that artists would know ahead of time. The theme is Timeless Traditions.
“One of the things is that we went through the premium books and picked out things that we would like to bring back just for one year,” Ms. Neubert said. “We’ve made an insert in the premium book and it will appear just this year because some of the things we need to know by June 1 . So we’re going to do a few special things.”
These special things include adding classes that were important in the late 1880s at the fair such as best vegetable farm and garden, best fruit farm and garden, and best cultivated forage crops (such as rye, oats and barley). Other special classes include manure, ploughing, quince, best cheese, lacework, wax work, work boxes and Yankee ingenuity, which will display materials pre-1900. A Golden Wedding contest will also be held to award couples married the longest, most living children, most living grandchildren and most living great-grandchildren. But the real draw next year may be the parade the society will host the Tuesday before the fair. All families and farms are welcome to enter.
First, second and third place winners in the adult baking categories will have their winning recipes featured in a booklet at next year’s fair, and as a result all adult baking entrees are required to have recipes accompany their baked goods this year.
Everyone has their own fair tradition. Some only come at night, maybe buying the $20 pass for the all-you-can-ride night on Friday, others come in the morning before heading to the beach, maneuvering the halls to find their entries. How many ribbons did Morning Glory Farm win this year? Did Karen Overtoom win for her tomatoes again? How tall was the biggest sunflower? Every year you know exactly where your pie is going to be, which shelf to look for it on, and hopefully every year you win a ribbon.
The hall was quiet earlier this week, but there was buzzing as volunteers streamed in to sign up for different shifts. This year, Ms. Neubert said they expect to have around 80 volunteers to help take tickets, stamp fair-goers hands and collect trash. In the past, kids who have volunteered were working longer shifts; now with an increased interest in getting a free entry to the fair, there are more kids with fewer hours to work.
Come Wednesday evening the shelves will be filled with jars of preserves, disposable plates displaying vegetables and flower arrangements of all different shapes and sizes; artwork will crowd the walls, intricate knitwear will be on display and jewelry will be in cases. With a warmer summer producing higher crop yields this year, the hall promises to be bursting with color.
And while some may seek refuge in the coolness of the barn, others may choose to get their hands a little dirtier and compete in the old-fashioned games such as the annual woodsmen contest, the women’s skillet throw, the ox pull, the draft horse pull, or the antique tractor pull. Maybe you’d prefer to take a break and get a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade, a bowlful of strawberry shortcake and enjoy the tunes of Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish or the Sting Rays.
Whether you’re a kid who squeals with excitement at seeing the piglets, an artisan whose quilt drapes over the high beams of the barn, or a thrill-seeker who will go on the same ride over and over just to feel the rush, the fair has something for everyone.
For four days and nights, the fair will bring Islanders and visitors alike to share the homegrown tradition. But a few special visitors this week have everyone abuzz: President Obama, Michelle Obama and their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, are set to arrive the first day of the fair. Last summer the first family arrived on the last day of the fair, missing out on the Island tradition. Could they make the fair a family outing this year? “We would welcome the appearance of the Obamas,” Ms. Neubert said.
The 149th Annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair runs from Thursday, August 19 to Saturday, August 21 from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Sunday, August 22 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the fairgrounds in West Tisbury. Tickets cost $8 per day for adults, $5 for seniors and youth ages five to 12. Children under five are free.