The gates opened on Thursday morning for the 152nd annual Agricultural Fair, and within minutes the livestock judging was underway, six horses cantered around the show ring, and a person scaled the portable rock wall at the edge of the food area. Inside the Agricultural Hall judges conferred over which entries merited blue, red and yellow ribbons, while young security guards wearing bright fluorescent vests sat watch outside the closed doors.
A little ways past the Hall, teams of oxen entered the pulling ring for an obstacle course. Second into the ring was Jeremy Mercier of Edgartown, guiding Farm Institute steers Zeus and Apollo around the small orange cones. The team finished in one minute, 37 seconds, with “two bumps” in their execution.
“They get better every year,” Jeremy said of Zeus and Apollo. “This was the best year.” He began working with the pair when they weighed 50 pounds. The oxen now weigh in at 1200 pounds each; this is their third year participating in the obstacle course. Zeus and Apollo also compete in the featherweight division of the ox pull.
Competition continues throughout the weekend. The draft horse pulling contest and corn shucking contest take place today, and the woodsmen’s contest, clam and oyster shucking, and antique tractor pull are Saturday. Two new competitions, the Tug-o-War and the sack races, are also on Saturday afternoon. There is still time to sign up for both events, although the sack race is a kids-only affair. The dog show kicks off on Sunday morning, followed by the women’s skillet throw.
Bleats and baas were heard inside the fiber tent, where alpacas, sheep and goats munched hay in their portable pens. Toddler Wyatt Grimes Marquis crouched besides a cage housing a shaggy angora rabbit.
Behind Wyatt, a mother pointed out the rabbit to her daughter.
“I can see a dog,” the girl said.
“No, that’s a rabbit,” her mom replied.
Nearby, Mary-Ruth Flores of San Antonio, Tex., stitched delicate outlines on a quilt stretched across a frame she found at the Dumptique. Her sister Katherine Long, who has been a spinner and weaver in the fiber tent since its inception, sat behind her machine quilting a project. Mrs. Long’s granddaughters, Irene and Jennifer Yee, worked on crocheting and spinning. The shady tent was a respite from the hot sun.
“It’s 103 [degrees] in San Antonio, so I’m reveling,” Mrs. Flores said.
Back outside on the fairgrounds, Caroline Post, 4 1/2, and Lila Range, 5, rode the Ferris wheel with their aunt Suzanne Cooper.
“That’s our favorite ride in the whole wide world,” Caroline announced after the trio disembarked. They headed towards the midway proper, where the alligator roller coaster awaited.
The Salt and Pepper Shaker ride has been retired from the fair, but a new ride called the Zipper has taken its place, and judging by the squeals of people onboard promises equal thrills. Other new additions to the fair can be found in the vendor area, where Josh Aronie is selling tacos and Anton Dias is offering a chair massage booth for the weary fairgoer.
There are 221 animal entries in the fair this year, and 3,691 Hall entries. But fair manager Eleanor Neubert reported that a “very pregnant pig” is in the animal barn, so there may be a new animal arrival as the weekend continues. Mrs. Neubert said that there was an abundance of theme-related entries this year, more than usual. The fair’s theme is “Hog Wild for the Fair.”
By 11:20 a.m., long lines had formed at the entryways. At the back gate, security crew Felix Doty, Tyla Packish and Maureen Harris greeted newcomers, collected entry receipts and stamped hands. Tyla, 11, was on her first-ever security shift, but Felix, 13, and Maureen, 15, were old hands.
This year, Felix said, pointing to his fluorescent outerwear, “We have vests that are official.”
“It’s down to my knees,” Tyla added.
Maureen said this year was her fifth helping out at the fair.
“I like just seeing people,” she said. “Knowing that you’re a part of the fair and having a role.”