Ag Fair draws record crowd
The 146th annual Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society's Livestock Show and Fair wrapped up a successful four-day run Sunday evening after bringing in a record crowd of 30,380 paying visitors for a weekend of traditional country-style fun.
"It was the best ever," beamed veteran fair manager Eleanor Neubert Monday morning as exhibitors streamed into the Ag Hall to pick up their entries, ribbons, and checks, and clean-up got underway both inside and out.
Many carnival attractions had already departed on early-morning boats and local vendors were dismantling tents and booths.
"It was the weather," speculated Ms. Neubert about why the event's attendance had handily surpassed last year's total of 27,710. "It was good Fair weather, not good beach weather." The attendance figures are for ticket-buyers only and do not count those who enter on passes or Agricultural Society membership cards.
On line for the fun filled fair. Photos by Danielle Zerbonne
Competition-minded Islanders of all ages had filled the vast Ag Hall with artwork, crafts, baked goods, produce, flowers, quilts, and much more, seeking the honor of winning a blue ribbon for their efforts and a modest cash prize as well. Hall entries numbered 3,800, a new record, and considerably higher than last year's 3,126.
"The quality of hall entries was outstanding," Ms. Neubert said.
According to Kathy Lobb, hall manager, everything went smoothly. She said that there was double last year's number of preserves and that junior handicraft entries were so plentiful that extra display space had to be added at the last minute.
A total of 241 entries including livestock, rabbits, and poultry kept the animal barn active all weekend, delighting visitors. The 2006 barn entry total was 326.
For this year's event, owners of livestock and poultry were strictly required to submit a current certificate of health from their veterinarian for each animal.
"Generally people were very understanding and willing to cooperate," said Fair staffer Carina Koury-Jones.
LMC Amusements from Wilmington was on hand once more to add its special brand of glitz and glitter to the event. The family-operated carnival has brought rides, games, and other fun attractions to the Vineyard Fair for more than three decades. Ms. Neubert commented that this year's layout on the carnival midway was particularly pleasing and convenient. She also reported receiving a number of compliments from patrons about the politeness of ride and game operators. The carnival's "Pay One Price" offer on Friday night, which allowed fairgoers to purchase a wristband entitling them to ride as much as they wanted for four hours was a hit, she said.
The poster bearing a smiling piglet designed by Chilmark artist Jackie Mendez-Diez proved to be a favorite with fairgoers. By Sunday afternoon only several posters remained; tote bags, aprons, and children's tee-shirts were completely sold out, with only extremely large adult shirts left over. Ms. Neubert added that the calendar featuring posters from past Ag Fairs, a new feature this summer, was very popular. Remaining 2008 calendars will be available for purchase at the Artisans' Festival on Thanksgiving weekend.
Signs of the 2007 Fair's light-hearted theme, "In the Pink," were visible everywhere, in booth décor, special exhibits, flower arrangements, and staff members' pink tee-shirts. Cozy's won the prize for the booth that best exemplified the Fair theme as Jim Pringle and the guys donned pink shirts and hats and added pink stripes to their booth's façade. The Touchdown Club's Tempura Booth was named best booth of this year's Fair.
Eating is a high point of the event for Vineyard fairgoers and food booths on both the carnival and local midways did a booming business. Lines for West Tisbury Fire Department burgers snaked halfway across the midway at peak hours, Barbeque Bill from Vermont sold out his popular ribs even before Saturday night, and Bill Smith's chowder was just right when the weather turned nippy. The new clam cake booth attracted attention, as did Emilee's Water Ice, another newcomer, with its refreshing offerings. Dottie Price served exotic New Orleans style meals in an elegant setting, Cozy's subs were hearty, and those seeking a healthy alternative headed for salads by the Martha's Vineyard Charter School or fresh fruit smoothies, a perennial favorite from Vermont. Sundaes benefiting the Island Children's School, heaping bowls of strawberry shortcake, or carny treats like fried dough and cotton candy topped off many meals.
The most popular new attraction was Robinson's Racing Pigs, which drew big crowds that circled the miniature racecourse to cheer on the cute and plucky porkers every time they appeared. Warren Doty's Alternative Energy booth enticed environmentally minded fairgoers with its efficient wood-pellet stoves, and the quick-brewing device at the Vineyard Bottled Water table filling cups with fresh Green Mountain Coffee in seconds enthralled java lovers. All too accustomed to lemonade from a can or mix, patrons flocked to the fresh-squeezed lemonade booth near the carnival entrance where Larry Cushing Jr. and his family mixed up the magical formula of lemon juice, sugar, water, and ice and served real iced tea too.
The entertainment, the demonstrations, the wandering musicians and performing horses were delightful. Visitors could enjoy up-beat country music and hip-hop shows or wander to a quiet corner of the grounds for mellow acoustic performances. Non-profits offered food for thought. At the Martha's Vineyard Museum tent, children could try their hand at traditional crafts, while weaving and knitting lessons could be found in the Fiber Tent, along with fluffy alpacas to pet. When all was said and done, it was the tried and true favorites like the Draft Horse Pull, Woodsmen's Contest, and the Dog Show, along with the newer crowd-pleasing Women's Skillet Toss that brought many to the Fair. Families and friends relaxed on the bleachers for an hour or two, feasting on food that they eat only once a year, putting worries aside and soaking up the soothing, simple pleasures that only the Ag Fair can offer.