Nothing beats The Fair


This morning’s collection of photographs, in print and online in greater numbers, taken during the four days of the 151st Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair, tell an encouraging story.

The first chapter of the story is about how much fun everyone had. If you love the animals, the quilts, the Ferris wheel, the racing pigs, the Local Smoke, the pugs and bulldogs, the Clydesdales or Percherons, the year-round and summer friends you saw and passed some time with – or whatever you love, it was there and you were all smiles. The Fair is always fun, and this year, as we realize that the global, national, regional, and local financial calamities of the past half decade haven’t extinguished us, it was fun times ten.

Chapter two is about continuity. The Fair is a high summer festival that has pleased Islanders and their friends for more than a century and a half. It’s an anchor to windward for Vineyarders, something to absolutely count on. There’s not a lot that is as persistent, as durable, and as dependably, annually rewarding.

Chapter three is about how engaging, in the better sense of that word, The Fair always is. “Every year,” as Pat Waring, The Times’ writer on The Fair beat, has written, “traditional favorites from food to competitions, exhibits, rides, and music draw crowds to the Ag Fair. And every year new attractions appear, while some old standards grow or get a new look. Some depart, some return, all to the delight of the thousands who pack the Fairgrounds.” And every year, The Fair appeals to all comers, across the demographic spectrum – or at least that spectrum as manifest’s itself on Martha’s Vineyard, which is no ordinary place.

And the conclusion is realistic, but no less optimistic for all that. Martha’s Vineyard agriculture isn’t what it was 151 years ago. Thank goodness for that. Neither is The Fair. On-Island, it’s farming not agribusiness. The Island landscape is not imposing like the Rockies, and Island farming is measured in a few acres, not a thousand, as it is in Iowa. Like the landscape, farming here seems bigger than it really is. It charms more than it has a right to. The market is tiny, not global. The good earth here is thin, not three feet deep. Fresh water is plentiful, but it runs through the sandy soils. We don’t hedge the price of sweet corn with MFGlobal the way the big boys do. Or did.

Vineyard agriculture makes the most of what it has to work with. It finds ways to do more that you might expect, to do better, and to develop a respected place and an appetite in its small market. And The Fair that celebrates the agrarian instinct among Islanders is an annual good time that makes a place for every one of us, farmer or not.