BYO to the Ag Fair!

Island Grown Initiative encourages fair goers to Bring Your Own everything to reduce waste.

The Island Grown Initiative is being honored by the Environmental Protection Agency for its Food Waste Reduction and Redirection program. — Courtesy Island Grown Initiative

The fair screams summertime. Icy treats to slurp through a bendy straw, award ribbons of all colors, food truck fare, posters, and plush toy prizes. But have you ever seen the fairgrounds the day after the fair? Besides the grass trampled from humans and livestock alike, the area is littered with all the disposable entrails of a good time. It looks like a trash tornado tore through West Tisbury. 

It’s ironic that a fair celebrating our cultivated natural surroundings often results in polluting those very environments. As much as we don’t care to admit, fun comes at a wasteful price.

This wasteful reality bothered the folks at Island Grown Initiative. Development Manager at IGI, Emily Armstrong, has spent the last three years implementing new waste reduction measures at the fair, to great success.

“Last year, we reduced overall trash output by 31 percent through sorting into compost, recycling, and garbage.” said Armstrong. “We also took away most of the trash cans so people had no option but to visit our trash collection booth.”

As hard as the waste station volunteers worked, 17,220 pounds of trash were still dumped in the landfill.

This year, Armstrong said, the goal is to decrease the flow to landfill by another 10 percent. To achieve this goal, IGI — in partnership with the Ag Society and Vineyard Conservation Society — is encouraging people to “bring your own” everything. 

The three organizations collaborated with the Ag Fair vendors to determine how to best minimize unnecessary waste. They found that this started from the source, and Armstrong and her colleagues compiled a list of recommended brands and types of materials to purchase plateware from, such as EcoProducts Vanguard line, Sabert, and Primeware. They also blacklisted certain materials, including styrofoam, straws, coffee cup lids, and number #6 plastic. The final recommendation on the list is to offer refills on drinks, so customers can reuse their beverage cups if they would like.

Armstong said that while “a lot of the vendors are already using compostable products,” many still turn to plastic and alternatives that pollute the environment, so they saw a need for sharing recommendations. 

Armstrong said that everyone involved was “really receptive and supportive” of taking steps to improving the fair’s sustainable practices. 

Saving the turtles isn’t enough of an incentive for you to not use plastic straws? A new prize this year, the “Best Green Booth” award will go to the business whose booth is producing the least waste, composting, and implementing the suggestions laid out by IGI, VCS, and the Ag Society. 

For businesses running booths at the Fair, here’s an incentive to adopt sustainable practices: the chance to win the $100 Best Green Booth Award.

Future goals include banning single-use plastic bottles altogether from the fairgrounds, which will be easy thanks to Plastic Free MV’s win in ridding West Tisbury of plastic bottles. “It’s happening faster than we anticipated,” Armstrong said. She said that IGI has even had to  accelerate some of their longer-term goals for greening the Ag Fair. “Ultimately our goal is to reduce reliance on plastic in their homes and at the Fair; to promote the whole BYO culture so that it’s second nature.” Armstrong said. “You bring your sunscreen, you count your cash, and throw in your water bottle.” 

Island Grown Initiative is still looking for Ag Fair volunteers to staff their five waste station tents. Interested? Reach out to Emily at or