Audio Postcard

Holly Pretsky and Vivian Ewing

A lamb’s first shearing, saucy ribs, dogs and cakes named best in show: two Gazette reporters spent the weekend at the 157th Agricultural Fair, speaking to Islanders and visitors and recording the moments that make up the fair experience.


Fair Information

For more than a century and a half, people of all ages have flocked to Martha’s Vineyard for the annual Agricultural Society Fair. The Island’s beloved Ag Fair, now held annually in mid August, celebrates the Vineyard’s farming tradition while providing entertainment for community members and visitors with food, games and carnival rides.

The fair will celebrate its 161st year in 2023, running from Thursday, Aug. 17 through Sunday, Aug. 20. 

The fair features a variety of judged events. Bakers compete to make the best double-crusted pies; women test their skills in long-distance skillet-throwing; wranglers try their hand at ox-harnessing. Farmers and backyard gardeners hope their pumpkins and other vegetables win ribbons for their size or shape. Island families begin planning months ahead, honing their skills for the fleeting four days of festivities. The fair offers arcade games, rides, and delectable foods, including such guilty pleasures as cotton candy, onion rings, and fried dough, as well as the chance to admire the well-groomed livestock and handiwork of others.

The first Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Cattle Show and Fair was held on October 26, 1858, and attracted some 1,800 people who made their way on horseback, in wagons or on foot to tents erected for the purpose in West Tisbury. It was so successful the agricultural society saved up and built what became the Grange Hall for the second fair. Floral displays, noble pumpkins, squashes, beets, and carrots crowded tables, exceeding expectations, reported agricultural society secretary Henry L. Whiting, who along with Leavitt Thaxter and Ichabod N. Luce helped found the society. Charles W. Pease’s corn “excelled anything we ever saw,” Mr. Whiting wrote.

The fair expanded from two days to three days in 1925. The agricultural society stopped the fair for three years in 1942 to accommodate emergency war efforts, and when it resumed in 1946, the dates were changed to three days in August to capture the last wave of summer visitors. Eventually cattle weren’t the only animals being submitted for judging anymore, and in 1976 the name was changed to accommodate all livestock.

Since 1995, the event has been held in the buildings and grounds of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society in West Tisbury, and most attendees come by car.