On Saturday night, the Barn Raisers’ Ball at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury will mark the 24th anniversary of the year the Island rallied to raise an old frame for a new barn. The community barnraising symbolized a new heartbeat for the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, which was relocating from the Grange Hall in the center of the village to the site off Panhandle Road.

But this year when Islanders make the trek to the ball, they will find something different. For the first time, there will be a donation jar.

Agricultural Society is at a crossroad of change. — Albert O. Fischer

The Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, which owns the hall, is experiencing a financial shortfall and needs help.

“Our finances are in deplorable condition . . . and we just want people to understand that we aren’t able to be as generous as we would like to be,” said Jim Athearn, a longtime society trustee whose family owns Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown.

Mr. Athearn said the Agricultural Society is at a crossroad of change. But unlike in 1994, when so much time and energy went into building a new hall, recent focus has shifted to internal affairs.

Front and center are the financial problems. For roughly the past five years, the society has been carrying a $1.1 million mortgage obligation, most of it tied to the 2012 purchase of 10 acres of land from the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. The land lies between the hall and the Polly Hill Arboretum. The society and the arboretum shared the cost of the $1 million purchase, with the society paying $800,000 for its portion. But with limited cash flow, the society quickly fell behind. “We invested in land, but it was a reach,” Mr. Athearn said.

Subsequent borrowing revolved around a more recent venture to build a solar array on one acre of the adjacent land, with a goal of producing income from selling electricity. That venture, done in partnership with Island electrician Bill Bennett, has been two years in the making and has only begun to produce some income this summer, Mr. Athearn said

“It’s complicated,” he said, describing the maze of bureaucracy around solar arrays which ultimately include both the sale of electricity — in this case to the Vineyard ice arena — and tax credits.

Extra land bought in 2012 is today a $1 million financial burden. — Albert O. Fischer

Sally Rizzo, who has been working part time as a managing director for the society, said the current shortfall is about $100,000 on an annual budget of about $500,000. She said the society is carrying three mortgages, all with the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank. The society’s principal source of income is the fair, which Ms. Rizzo said brings in about $150,000 after expenses. But fair attendance has been flat and even falling slightly in recent years while expenses have gone up, including for trash removal, Mr. Athearn said. Other income comes from rental of the hall, which is restricted to six events a year under zoning with the town, and now the solar array.

Ms. Rizzo and Mr. Athearn also confirmed that longtime fair manager Eleanor Neubert and Nevette Previd, the organizer of the annual Living Local harvest festival, have both stepped down. Ms. Rizzo said the society plans to hire a program director in the near future to take over both those jobs and also develop more outreach and connection with farmers in the community. She said there are currently about 2,000 members of the society, but many are lifetime members who have paid a relatively modest one-time fee (currently $250). Going forward, she said the emphasis will be on developing more annual memberships, launching an email newsletter and exploring community partnerships, among other things. Also, she said the society finance committee has been reconstituted.

“Agriculture on the Vineyard is changing so much, and we have an important role to play,” Ms. Rizzo said.

Meanwhile, the society’s upcoming annual meeting on Nov. 15 is expected to see the election of a new president and also the adoption of term limits for trustees, most of whom have been in place for 30 years or more. There are 16 trustees. Brian Athearn, a young West Tisbury businessman and family farmer (nephew of Jim) who has been serving as vice president of the society, has been nominated for president to replace longtime president Dale McClure. The annual meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Ag Hall and is open to the public, although only members can vote.

Jim Athearn underscored the need to revitalize the mission of the society, which dates to the 1800s when agricultural societies were formed primarily to promote education in agriculture through annual fairs.

Ms. Rizzo concurred.

“The society is taking all the right steps,” she said. “They’re working on a plan for the next generation, the income from the solar array is now coming in. There are many positives.”

The Barn Raisers’ Ball is Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Ag Hall with Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. People are asked to bring a dessert.