When you think of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, two words likely spring to mind: the fair. And there’s no doubt that the 164-year-old non-profit is best known for the four-day annual celebration of Island agriculture and community in August.

But three years ago the society, which had traditionally depended mostly on volunteers to make the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair — and other initiatives — happen, hired an executive director. Lauren Lynch brought with her 15 years of experience in the finance industry. And she, in turn, hired the society’s first program coordinator, Lucy Grinnan, last year.

Lauren Lynch is executive director of The Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society. Ray Ewing

Lauren and Lucy have breathed new life into Ag Society programming, and in the process have helped the organization support not just farmers but homesteaders and backyard gardeners as well. Together with volunteers and board members, Lauren and Lucy have initiated a host of new educational, technical and community-building programs while strengthening existing programs, such as grants, scholarships and 4-H activities.

From the moment she started her job in 2021, Lauren was committed to revitalizing and expanding the society’s mission. She described that mission as “let the farmers farm, and we’ll do the rest.”

“I think when I started, the thought was that we could be more than just the fair,” Lauren said in a recent interview with The Vine.

If the scope of this winter and spring’s Ag Society events is any indication, they’ve succeeded in that mission: They hosted coyote expert Dan Proulx when concerns began to rise about the predators gaining a foothold on-Island. They held a month of sheep-centric events, including spinning and shearing, in “Feb-ewe-ary” and held a demonstration class on how to butcher a deer. Speaker panels (women farmers, for one) and livestock health and poultry care workshops were also in the mix.

“Hiring Lucy has been amazing,” Lauren said. “They’ve challenged me in a lot of ways to think beyond what we’ve been doing.”

As program coordinator, Lucy Grinnan (right) has helped Lauren increase year-round programming at the Ag Society. Ray Ewing

Lucy has been working on and off in agriculture since the age of 17. They arrived on the Island in 2021 to work on the garden crew at Slough Farm and took the program coordinator position at the Ag Society soon after.

“The Island is unique compared to a lot of places I’ve been, because the stuff that’s grown here is sold here,” Lucy said while joining Lauren on the porch of the Ag Hall to speak to the Vine. Lucy recalled that they used to transport produce grown on farms in Virginia up to Washington, D.C. farmers’ markets to be sold. The Vineyard is a different kind of ecosystem, Lucy pointed out.

A key part of that ecosystem, Lucy said, is the focus on educational and agritourism-based farming here, making the Island’s agricultural community more outward-facing.

“Direct relationships are really important to farmers here,” Lucy said. “That obviously has its own challenges, but part of what I feel really excited about is helping to continue to build those relationships between backyard growers and farmers.”

That relationship building was part of the inspiration for the tomato pruning workshop the society hosted this season with Lydia Fischer of The Good Farm. “Lydia was like ‘I’m big on tomatoes, I could talk about tomatoes all day,’” Lucy recalled. “And I was like ‘Well, we can pay you to talk about tomatoes.'”

The homemade pickle competition is a long-standing tradition in the hall competition at the fair. Ray Ewing

But while backyard growers have one set of priorities, commercial farmers on the Island have a very different wish list for the Ag Society. Help with grant writing, access to soil surveys and assistance with business and marketing all number among their requests, Lauren said.

“They want support with everything else that’s involved in farming that’s not the reason they got into it in the first place,” Lauren said.

Last year, the society began a soil health program, getting local farmers access to recommendations based on scientific soil testing. The society has given out $50,000 in grants to local farmers in the last four years, in addition to providing scholarships to students entering the agriculture field.

The society also hosted workshops on marketing and agricultural record-keeping this winter, aimed at helping farmers build up their non-farming skills.

The fair attracts thousands of visitors to the grounds of the Ag Society each August. Ray Ewing

This summer, a new program is in place to give seasonal Island farmworkers a chance to think more deeply about agriculture — and to learn more about Island farms. Each week (weather permitting) there is a tour at a different Island farm.

“I really care about farmworkers seeing farming as a profession, something that you can continue to grow and build skills in,” Lucy said. “I think part of that is having opportunities to step back and think about how a farm is functioning overall.”

Those tours are aimed at building community among farmworkers, Lucy said. “It gives people a chance to see how different farms operate, to meet other farmworkers often enough that they can build relationships.” The society also hosts summer and winter farmworker socials, meant to further build those relationships.

But Lauren and Lucy both agreed that the annual agricultural fair (see below) remains the heart and soul of the society’s mission. On the Island, unlike at many mainland fairs, the fair still retains its rural character. Island crowds still delight in old-fashioned ox pulls and gargantuan vegetables, quilt making and flower arranging.

“When I first visited the fair in August, I walked into the hall and I almost burst into tears,” Lucy said of the power of the event, admitting that they spent around 24 hours total at the fair during that weekend.

“The fair represents some amazing traditions we don’t want to lose,” Lauren said. “We’ve been here for more than 160 years, and at the very least, it’s our mission to make sure the society’s here for another 160 years.”


The 161st Annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Livestock Show and Fair

Nancy Mulcahy

Thursday, August 17 to Sunday August 20, 2023

This year’s fair theme is “Grow it, Sew it, Show it.” And yep, the idea is to encourage folks (that would be you, whether or not you’re a year-round Islander) to enter vegetables, flowers, handicrafts, baked goods and more in the annual hall competition. There are hundreds of possible categories for prospective ribbon winners, from eggs to quilts, homemade pies to homegrown beets. Perhaps some of the most anticipated competitions this year are those in the poultry category, returning after being cancelled last year to prevent the spread of avian flu.

You can find a full list of fair categories and directions on how to submit an entry form at marthasvineyardagriculturalsociety.org. The deadline for submission is August 13 at 5 p.m.

The first fair winner was already picked, however, when Nancy Mulcahy’s design for the annual fair poster was selected from 32 submissions in a competitive process. Nancy is a teacher, artist and seasonal Edgartown resident. The judges cited her winning entry (at left) as having “timeless appeal.”

Of course the hall and the livestock barn are only part of the timeless appeal of the fair. Rest assured that everyone’s favorite carnival rides and fair food will be returning, along with skillet tossing, oyster shucking, wood chopping and more.


Thomas Humphrey is a reporter at the Vineyard Gazette.