A Fair for all ages
The 147th annual Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair opens this morning for a packed four-day run culminating weeks of preparation by Fair staff and volunteers and anticipation by Islanders and visitors young and old. "Home Grown Favorites" is the 2008 theme, reflected in Caryn King's bright poster showing a smiling child bringing her best livestock and flowers to enter in the Fair. The cheerful design will soon be seen throughout the Fairgrounds on tee-shirts and as posters on fair patrons' walls.
By Wednesday afternoon the rides were erected and ready to spin, local booths built, the animal barn open for occupants, and the Ag Hall prepared to display hundreds of entries which began arriving at noon.
Fair Manager Eleanor Neubert and her staff are expecting big crowds after last year's record-breaking attendance of 30,380 paying customers. The high number does not even include those who entered on Agricultural Society memberships and other passes.
"Judging from the interest in entries, it looks like it's going to be a very good and well-attended Fair," said Ms. Neubert on Tuesday. "It has to be Fair weather, warm, maybe a little bit overcast. And we're hoping for many happy fairgoers, to be entertained, educated, and have fun."
Illustration by Caryn King
Something for everyone
The traditional August event means different things to different people, but Vineyarders and visitors alike look forward to it every year. For Fair staff and volunteers the beginning of August brings hard work to get everything ready for opening day. Youngsters rush to the Ag Hall to sign up for security or trash detail and the youngest ones become "runners," carrying entries to their appointed locations. Gardeners and farmers scan their produce and flowers for those perfect specimens to enter. Artisans, woodworkers, photographers, and fiber artists assess their projects to choose the best; bakers peruse their favorite recipes for the cookies or muffins to impress the judges. Although for children the Fair is mostly about games and rides, even the youngest look forward to entering their art projects, cookies, and flower arrangements to compete for blue ribbons. Grownups start yearning for a heaping plate of tempura or a "loaded" cheeseburger cooked by West Tisbury firefighters and little ones dream about the merry-go-round and cotton candy.
Photos by Ralph Stewart
Four-year-old Kayla deBettencourt, at the fairgrounds to help her grandmother, Ms. Neubert, embodied the excitement of the Fair as she raced through the Hall.
Asked about her favorite rides and food she was very definite. "The merry-go-round, the Ferris wheel," she declared with a big happy grin. "And hotdogs."
Islanders welcome the Fair as the last sunny, colorful, noisy hurrah of a summer that ironically, although it may have been too busy, they hate to see end. And whether they are farmers or business executives in their regular lives, everyone enjoys spending a few days focusing on the Vineyard's agricultural traditions. For those who have spent the warm months doing double duty at work, home, and in the garden, the Fair is a time to relax, enjoy some easy down-home pleasures, and visit with friends and neighbors.
Ms. Neubert said she is aware that people have economic concerns this year but had not seen any impact on the willingness of vendors, exhibitors, or carnival workers to participate. There is no rise in admission prices that have remained steady with no change for several years, she said. Seniors get a reduced ticket rate, and this year any active serviceman or woman with proper identification will be welcomed into the Fair for free. Offering some help to families and other carnival fans, LMC Amusements for the second year will offer a wristband at a single price entitling the wearer to unlimited rides between 6 and 10 pm on Friday night only.
This year's Fair is going greener, thanks to the Vineyard Conservation Society, which is providing large green and yellow recycling receptacles around the grounds. According to Ms. Neubert, vendors have been urged to recycle, and minimize sales of individual cans and bottles and serve cold drinks in paper cups instead.
A Time for Tradition
The Ag Hall exhibits make up the centerpiece of the Fair, a tradition recalling the earliest years when farming, preserving, and all-around homemaking were a way of life. Hall Manager Kathy Lobb, carpenter Billy Rau, and young helpers have transformed the barn from an empty space to an exhibition hall with art boards, bays, tables, and cabinets to accommodate the deluge of entries. Among Mr. Rau's important jobs is hanging the colorful quilts from the rafters when judging is done. Ms. Lobb noted that the Fair's later date this year may effect the types of flowers and produce being displayed, since certain varieties will be in season that are not available when the event is held earlier.
All entry forms had to be submitted by 5 pm on Monday so information could be entered on a computer. On Tuesday afternoon, several women sat in the dim hall affixing strings to stacks of entry tags and starting Wednesday at noon competitors began arriving with their wares. Early this morning dedicated bakers and gardeners hurried to the Hall before 9 am to deliver breads and pies straight from the oven and flowers and vegetables picked at dawn. Judging gets underway this morning at 10 am and the Hall will be closed until judges complete their jobs sometime this afternoon.
Early this week crews from LMC Amusements of Wilmington were setting up rides and concession stands while upbeat music filled the air. The Cushing family has brought carnival attractions to the Fair for more than 30 years and many perennial favorites were waiting for riders and players. Along with spine-tingling, stomach-churning rides beloved by older youngsters and foolhardy adults like the Sizzler, Round Up, and Octopus, there are plenty of milder delights including the Rio Grande Train, Musical Chairs, and Go Gator to charm the littlest fairgoers.
"The Animal Barn will be full," guaranteed Ms. Neubert, as barn manager Eve Heyman bustled through the hall going over animal entries and plans for stalls and cages.
Animals began arriving early this morning in time for judging of goats, cattle, swine, and miniature horses. Farmers are encouraged to bring their livestock even before judging is scheduled and leave their animals until the fair closes for the pleasure of visitors. The Fiber Tent will feature animals too, along with fiber artists demonstrating knitting, weaving, and spinning. According to Ms. Neubert the tent is being managed by Glenn Jackson and will be bigger and better than ever.
Although businesses don't close down on Friday as they once did so employees could go to the Draft Horse Pull, the traditional event is always a crowd pleaser. Also popular is the Woodsmen's Contest and the zany Oyster Chucking competition with Ken Goldberg as emcee. Youngsters will be showing their kittens, turtles, and maybe even rocks at the Thursday afternoon Pet Show. A leisurely Sunday program highlights the Dog Show and the Island Draft Horse Show, but the pace heats up in the afternoon. Adding more entrants every year, the Women's Skillet Throw gives the ladies a chance to get out their aggressions and show their prowess as they vie for prizes.
It's the food that draws many to the Fair year after year. Whether it's foot-long hotdogs or fried dough at the carnie or homemade sausage subs, barbequed ribs, and lobster rolls on the local midway, everyone has an edible favorite. Booth Manager Dianne Powers reported that most the old favorites are returning along with several new vendors to spice up the mix. Hungry fairgoers can head for the West Tisbury Firemen's booth for a burger, buy fries at Poppie's, Caribbean specialties at the Cornerway booth and middle-Eastern edibles at Sandwich Haven. Pizza, Cozy's sausage or steak and cheese subs, chowder, and more are on the menu too. Top them off with an ice cream cone from Island Children's School or fresh strawberry shortcake. New features include South Pole slush, popcorn and grab bags by the Tisbury School eighth graders, and art activities for little fairgoers at the new Rainbow Place Preschool booth.
Fashionistas will head for Michael Jordan and Leslie Gray's attractive booth for imported clothing and accessories. Mollygoggles sells sweaters and on a sunny day fairgoers can buy souvenir hats at Island Trading Company. Visitors can browse at Vineyard Alternative Heating or get adorned with face painting and temporary tattoos.
After busy days cheering at contests and eating their fill, fairgoers can enjoy music by local bands and visiting performers on the main stage while Tristan Israel and others play in the secluded "Acoustic Corner." Children will delight in puppet shows and several music and dancing programs, and fairgoers of all ages are guaranteed some hearty laughs courtesy of Robinson's Racing Pigs, which return for the second year. Packed though the schedule is, the four days will speed by. So Fair lovers would be wise to arrive early, stay late, eat hearty, and make the most of every moment.