The Fair is nigh - here's how to enter
Mid-August may mean beaches, sailing, and tennis to some, but to most Islanders the focus will be on the annual Agricultural Fair opening one week from today in West Tisbury. And for many, the Fair's biggest thrill is entering their handicrafts, artwork, baked goods, animals, and produce. The wealth of exhibits in both the hall and the animal barn are the very heart of the Fair.
No matter how many new exciting carny rides, musical acts, or exotic foods there are, the exhibits remain, carrying on the agricultural traditions from which the Fair evolved. Although today's exhibitors are more likely to be full-time office workers or builders than full-time farmers as in days gone by, the spirit of competition and pride in their entries is just as high.
There's nothing quite as exciting as finding a bright blue ribbon affixed to your pickles or zinnias or hand- knit wool socks. But first you have to enter and the most important thing is to get the entry blanks in on time. Since the process became computerized six years ago, the longstanding practice of last-minute spontaneous entries was over. Hall Manager Kathy Lobb says prospective exhibitors seem to have got the hang of the up-to-date system and Fair staffers are pleased with how smooth the process is, thanks to the technological boost.
Next Monday, August 18, at 5 pm is the deadline for filing entry forms. Fair staff members warn that it is not negotiable. Forms can be dropped at the Ag Hall in the office weekdays from 9 am until noon, or in the box outside at any time. To save time and gasoline, they may be faxed to 508-693-5144.
"Make sure it's no later than 5 pm!" Eve Heyman told an exhibitor who called the Fair office Tuesday. The phone rang constantly, and most questions were about how to enter.
As Entry Clerk, Ms. Heyman types in hundreds of entries on the computer. The detailed information is printed onto tickets that will be attached to the entries. The job once required several women to sit for countless hours writing the entry tags and recording the data by hand. Now, aside from Ms. Heyman's typing, the computer and the printer do most the work.
For the novice, the entry process can appear a little daunting.
"First, get a Fair book," suggests Ms. Lobb.
With this year's cheery poster design on the cover and illustrated with photos from previous fairs, the booklet is split into Indoor and Outdoor exhibits, Adult and Junior divisions. Exhibits are listed by departments and sections. Books are always available at the Ag Hall, and also at libraries, SBS, and Morning Glory Farm while supplies last.
"Pretend you are going to enter chocolate chip cookies," says Ms. Lobb, who then shows how to navigate the booklet to Department 113, Adult Baking. From there the choice is easy: Section A, number 6. The information goes on the entry blank found in the booklet (or at the Ag Hall), and when the exhibitor arrives to drop off the cookies, a tag will be waiting.
The process and deadline is the same for those entering livestock and poultry. With the exception of rabbits, all livestock and birds must have health certificates. Dog show and pet show entries do not have to be submitted in advance but can be done at the time of the shows.
Ms. Lobb has seen countless exhibitors and entries over the years. She remembers the late Sophie Block of West Tisbury who was renowned for her tiny baking powder biscuits. "She won first prize every time," says Ms. Lobb.
In many cases family members compete against each other, and the annual competition between certain gardeners, flower arrangers, and bakers can be fierce but always friendly.
Visitors are as enthusiastic about entering as year-round Islanders, according to Ms. Lobb. Children bring their school projects and adults pack their winter knitting, artwork, or crafts along with their vacation gear. "People off-Island think Fair all year long," Ms. Lobb says.
Entrants must adhere to the criteria for entries - pastries are entered on a paper plate; art and photography must be within a certain size limit and ready to hang, and entering 10 or 20 green beans instead of the specified 15 can put a gardener out of the running. While each category has guidelines printed in the Fair book, uniformity is of utmost importance. Tomatoes should be the same shape, size, and color; cookies must be a matched set; beans must be the same length; zinnias can be colorful but if the blooms are not equally mature they will surely lose. In the art category, the exhibitor's name must not be visible on the item.
Entries must arrive at the appointed time: between noon and 5 pm on Wednesday, August 20 for all Junior Hall entries, Adult Art, Photography, and quilts. Adult perishables such baked goods, flowers, and produce are accepted Thursday morning from 7 until 8:45 am or on Wednesday. Many bakers are known for staying up most the night, determined to create blue-ribbon pastry. Eggs and butter come on Friday by 9 am, animals and poultry between 7 and 9 am the day of judging.
After that final flurry of activity getting their tall sunflowers, juicy fruit pies, plump tomatoes, and intricate quilts and carved decoys to the fairgrounds in time, exhibitors can breathe a sigh of relief. Even if they wish they had added more sugar to the pie, picked a bigger tomato, or entered a rounder sunflower it's too late now. All that remains is waiting for Thursday afternoon.
Judges get to work
Once all the entries are in, the work is just beginning for the judges. Some of them get down to business on Wednesday evening, judging all the junior entries as well as Adult Art, Photography, and Quilts. But the majority of the judging takes place Thursday morning, as soon as the last of the adult perishables have arrived.
"I inherited some of the judges, some have been doing it more than 20 years," said Ms. Lobb, who has been Hall Manager for 24 years. Along with making the hall ready and overseeing the exhibits Ms. Lobb is in charge of the judges.
There are 125 judges, including one department head for each category, whose job it is to make sure the exhibits are arranged properly and record the prizes awarded. Every category has one deparment head and at least three judges, says Ms. Lobb, whose job it is to recruit them. Most judges participate every year, but because the Fair is later than usual this year she is scrambling to fill slots left vacant by those who will be off-Island taking youngsters to college.
Ms. Lobb looks to the community, inviting experienced experts in their fields to judge. She frequently asks teachers to judge children's work, has a master gardener in the vegetable and flower category, and usually artists, photographers, and gallery owners judging art and photography. Judges receive a free four-day Fair pass for their work.
Picking the winners is an exacting job, Ms. Lobb says, and judges take it very seriously. But they have a good time too, she adds, like the baking judges who "get a little punchy and have a rollicking good time" after sampling the sugary entries.
Anticipation builds on Thursday until the judges complete their task and the Hall doors open. Then anxious exhibitors flock in, hoping to see a bright ribbon tied on their entry. Sometimes there is elation, sometimes disappointment, but always determination, as exhibitors begin planning for next year's Fair.