The air was sweet at the Agricultural Hall on Saturday morning, for many reasons: the freshly cut Jack-o'-lanterns, the spray of the cider press, the fumes of antique diesel, the autumn leaves and the well-trodden grass in the parking lot.

These were the smells of the harvest festival.

Best seat in the house. — Jeanna Shepard

Gone were the bustling days of the Agricultural Fair, held on the same grounds just two months ago. The summer crops have long departed and a robust set of autumn ones now took the stage at the festival farmers’ market. A selection of cold-hearty winter squash — from the squat, tawny honeynut to the gargantuan candy roaster — made their presence known. Potatoes, eggplant and broccoli, too, all made a splash. Even Ghost Island Farm made a rare market appearance, at a table resplendent with bushy celery.

The Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group also had a presence, lest we forget the harvest of the sea for that of the land. While I enjoyed making friends with a few live bay scallops held in their tanks, I noticed two vintage mini-tractors rolling by and decided to follow.

Guided by the rattle of their engines, I arrived at the tractor pull, where drivers compete to see how much weight they can move, and how far. The idea sounds ridiculous on its face but there is more to the sport than pushing down on the gas. As I watched young Isabella Bollin frantically hop up and down on her 1968 Jim Dandy tractor, strapped to nearly 3,000 pounds of concrete, her aunt Jane Bollin explained its subtleties.

Welcome to the hay maze. — Jeanna Shepard

“Every time you bounce, there is more tire gripping the surface,” she said, pointing out the tires’ deformation each time Isabella landed. “The tires also grip better as they warm up.”

This bouncing technique, she told me, helps a lighter person (who puts less natural weight on the back tires) force enough friction to punch above their weight class.  

I put her advice to the test when I hopped up on the tractor myself, competing with Fernando Lana (another amateur) on a 1972 Massey Ferguson. Mr. Lana weighed at least a hundred pounds more than I, giving him a natural advantage, but I bounced my heart out on that tractor. In the end, I managed to move 3,350 pounds for four inches on my heaviest attempt, while Mr. Lana pulled it nine. I got a second-place ribbon.

Tractor time is a good time. — Jeanna Shepard

For motorheads whose tastes lay more with the 19th century, the antique power show was sure to please. Experts Tom Thomas and George Hartman (aka Porky) schooled onlookers on the ins and outs of old-school mechanical power. The oldest motor there was a Steward walking steam engine from 1815, designed to operate jewelers’ equipment and powered by a boiler of Mr. Hartman’s own construction. The antique power museum is open by reservation and Mr. Hartman hopes to get more youngsters interested in these unique machines, so don’t hesitate to call the number on the side of the barn.

The highlight of the day was perhaps the Saving the Harvest Unicorn show, put on by Misty Meadows Equine Learning Center and the Amity Island Horse Archers. Archers and horses alike were decked out in medieval garb as fair maidens, squires and knights.

“There may be a dragon, there may be an evil wizard, but we have to save the harvest unicorn,” the announcer exclaimed.

The author, second from left, prepares for the pie eating contest. — Jeanna Shepard

A series of challenges ensued where archers on foot and on horseback hit many a target. It was Sir Squid, a longtime archer but newcomer to horses, who won the competition and the key to releasing the harvest unicorn.

The unicorn turned out to be none other than Tony Smalls, the Island’s most famous miniature horse, with a little horn strapped to his head. With the harvest unicorn secured, the crowd was free to eat.

On, then, to the fruits of the fall harvest, the pumpkin pie eating contest, with slices supplied generously by Pie Chicks. Indeed, I was so hungry from my earlier tractor-hopping that I decided to enter the contest just to have a slice. The competition was intimidating: the two dads next to me had considerably larger cheering sections, and without the use of my hands I struggled to find a good angle at the slice. The key, I discovered, was to give up any hope of coming out with a clean face  or any sense of propriety. Once I let loose my inhibitions, I managed to pull off a third-place finish.

I walked home with two ribbons. What a harvest.