There is something comforting in the connection between old-fashioned, farm-grown accomplishments, community pride and simple pleasures. It connects us to the land and to each other. The Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society's fourth annual Harvest Festival conjures vintage images of farm life and country fairs and invites Islanders to celebrate the Vineyard's rich agricultural tradition at the fairgrounds in West Tisbury Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the Columbus Day holiday.
"The whole purpose is to demonstrate that Island agriculture is alive and well," explains festival manager Andrea Rogers. She notes that the festival is made possible by the generous participation of 14 Island farms, adding, "Other harvest festivals may not require as we do that every speck of food has to be grown or raised locally."
The festivities begin this evening at 6 p.m. with noted nutrition journalist Sally Fallon speaking on the Oiling of America, at the parish house of the First Congregational Church in West Tisbury.
Saturday is dedicated to children's games and family activities including hay rides, pumpkin carving, music and farm-related demonstrations and exhibits. It all begins at 10 a.m. with the opening of the hay bale maze and the start of Fall Fuzzy, the Martha's Vineyard Horse Council's equestrian show. The adult horseshoe throw begins at 11 a.m.
For the first time this year, the newly formed F.A.R.M. Institute will be a presence at the festival. In addition to the crop of leeks that were harvested with the help of Island students, the institute will exhibit a heritage breed originating in the 1500s, Belted Galloway cow Ruby and her calf, Mika.
There will be looms and spinning wheels in the fiber arts tent. This year, llamas and other animals will be included for viewing. At noon, Eric Magnuson of the Tiasquim Orchard will demonstrate the making of apple cider with a hand press and some help from the audience. His wife, Debbie, recalls the astonished expressions on children's faces at last year's festival when they realized apple cider originated from somewhere other than grocery store jars.
And then there's the foot-stomping, hand-clapping music of The Blue Strangers, performing their rousing Texas-swing from 3 to 5 p.m. and again from 6:15 to 7 p.m. The band will return after the second dinner is served and play until 10 p.m.
It is the Saturday night, family-style dinners that bring together the most ambitious and elaborate efforts of the festival. For a $25 dinner ticket ($12 for children), the feast includes Island-grown vegetables, six roast pigs, four lambs and 13 turkeys. The menu is being prepared by 15 restaurants and inns on the Island.
"This is not designed to be a fundraiser," says Mrs. Rogers. "We just break even. I still buy all my own tickets. We all pay our own way."
Two dinner seatings, at 5 and 7 p.m., each serving 300, are being coordinated by Jo Maxwell of Chesca's restaurant in Edgartown. She is supported by a small troop of volunteers, most of whom individually approached the organizers with their offers of help.
This year, improvements include larger portions and bigger plates. There will also be more variety, and vegetarians will not be forgotten.
Mrs. Rogers says, "We get a lot of input and it helps us figure out ways to make improvements. In every detail we design it to give people what they want."
The festival concludes Monday with an antique car show and an antique power show, which runs through the day and includes organizer George Hartman's own collection of small, steam-powered engines. Referring to the steam engine, Mr. Hartman says, "It's what made this country."
The power show displays working automotive and marine engines and old farm equipment: wood saws, cream separators, butter churns and water pumps. The engines comes from private collectors.
"People love seeing the engines running," Mr. Hartman says. "They're really quite different. All the running parts are exposed. They make a unique noise." He imitates the uneven, cha-ka, cha-ka rhythm, explaining, "They're known as hit-and-miss engines because they run on demand."
The three-day celebration at the agricultural hall on Panhandle Road in West Tisbury is an opportunity to escape 21st-century concerns in favor of sack races, pie-eating contests and a chance to greet your neighbors. It's quintessential Vineyard.
"This is something nobody should miss," Mrs. Rogers says. "It's good, old-fashioned fun."