The Vineyard delights in record-breaking fair

Athearn and Coffey usher in a new era at Ag Society’s signature event.


The pitchfork was passed this year from Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society elders who had shepherded the fair for decades to well-received newbies Brian Athearn and Amy Coffey, society president and fair manager respectively.

One of those elders, Eleanor Neubert of West Tisbury, received a certificate of recognition from the Massachusetts House of Representatives for her many years of “exceptional management and leadership of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair.” On the opening day of the fair, Rep. Dylan Fernandes presented Neubert with the certificate, which was signed by Fernandes and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

Attendance at this year’s fair was bigger than ever. “We had record numbers every single day,” Athearn said.

A total of 38,218 people visited the fair, he said, well surpassing the previous high-attendance mark of 27,000. Even on the last day of the fair, Sunday, which typically only sees 4,000 to 5,000 people pass the gates, Athearn said 10,800 people attended.

All the more impressive because the fair was down 15 volunteers from last year, he said.

In light of the attendance surge, Athrean thought the Ag Society would be able to offer four more scholarships this year due to the increased fair revenue, raising the number from six to 10.

Coffey described the fair as “a huge Island-wide community effort of the highest magnitude” that came together “beautifully.”

Among the changes at the fair this year was a new method of waste disposal through recycling stations, as opposed to dumping it in traditional trash barrels.

“The effort was initiated by Sophie Abrams and Island Grown Initiative,” Vineyard Conservation staffer Samantha Look wrote in an email, “who collaborated with SailMV, the Vineyard Conservation Society, and the MV Agricultural Society to build a new model for managing the huge volume of waste that is generated each year during this beloved four-day August event.”  

Look said 25,000 pounds of trash was carted from the fair in 2017, and recycling was limited. Approximately 6,500 pounds of food waste was collected at the stations, according to Island Grown Initiative development manager Emily Armstrong. Vineyard Conservation Society also had a water dispenser at the fair, which was estimated to have prevented the use of about 2,575 plastic bottles.

Fans packed the bleachers for Saturday’s tractor pull competitions. Sandwich resident Jane Bollin wowed the crowd by tugging 14,500 pounds of cement 61 inches, nudging out her competition, Melanie Flanders of Menemsha, and making fair history with the most weight ever pulled at the fair in competition. (She also won the Skillet Toss.) Pullmaster Simon Bollin, Aquinnah Fire Chief, said the previous record was 14,400 pounds. Flanders had already broken the record with a 45-inch pull when Bollin bested her.

“It’s so exciting!” Jane Bollin said, catching her breath after her victory. Skip Bailey, who had more tractors than riders, personally invited Bollin and Flanders to the fair to ride his tractors in the competition. Bollin, who has been coming to the fair for 11 years, said she’s won many times before, but on a much smaller tractor. Pointing to Skip’s tractors, she said, “Those are beasts.”

On an antique John Deere Model A tractor, Vineyard Havener Shane Metters used a bucking method that made it look like he rode a mechanical bull to shimmy about 12,000 pounds of cement slabs forward far enough to take the blue ribbon in the under-5,000-pound tractor class.

“Some people like to go to the beach,” he said. “I like to bounce around on a tractor. I’m a gearhead and a wrench monkey.”

Other blue-ribbon winners included William Trapp of West Tisbury in the 8-hp class and Skip Bailey in the under-6,000-pound class. Pullmaster Bollin pointed out Albie Clements III of Oak Bluffs took a shot at 15,300 pounds outside of competition, and pulled it off with his 8,000-pound tractor.

Lumberjack competitors gave quite a show this year. “It was probably one of the better shows we put on,” volunteer Heather Maciel said.

Her husband, Vince Maciel, was a house of fire on the bow saw, handily taking the blue ribbon with an under-10-second win. Amelia Aznive of Concord, N.H., took the ribbon for the women in the bow saw. Aznive also hit a bull’s-eye, bursting the dead-center seltzer can, with a hurled ax, but it wasn’t enough to take the ribbon from Nicole Whitney of West Tisbury. Will Warner of Vineyard Haven tossed the best ax for the men. The best men’s work with a custom chainsaw went to Herb Gingrass of Dover, N.H., while Heather Maciel of West Tisbury took the ribbon for the women.

The Strongman competition, a new event this year, saw the muscles of West Tisbury’s Adam Fragosa and Mike Sisco, South Bridge’s Malcolm Morales, Vineyard Havener Scott Savoie, and Billerica’s Jacob Zechner, among others, tasked to the maximum. The competition included kettlebell tossing, yoke squats, log bar lifting, deadlifting, and a timed haul of a weight rack, beer keg, and a horse pull sled. Jacob Zechner took the ribbon, breezing through the timed haul in about 17 seconds.

“I could hardly keep up with him with my stopwatch,” organizer Jeff Scheller said.

Next year Scheller said he hopes to see women and high school students compete.

Fine-looking canines paraded the fairgrounds Sunday. Among the blue-ribbon winners were Remmy the Labrador retriever, Nellie the Bernese mountain dog, Dahlia the greyhound, and Margo the chihuahua. Dixie the Doberman won Best in Show.