Ag Fair, Taste of the Vineyard canceled

MV Agricultural society nixes beloved summertime event; Taste of the Vineyard won’t be held either.

The dangers posed by COVID-19 have cancelled the popular agricultural fair. —Rich Saltzberg

Updated 12:32 pm, Saturday

Skillet tossing, tractor pulling, ax hurling, pig racing, livestock ribbons, and the ferris wheel have been put out to pasture this year.

The 159th Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair was canceled Wednesday night. MV Agricultural Society trustees took the step as precaution against the spread of the novel coronavirus. The fair was slated for Aug. 20 to Aug. 23. The cancellation marks the first time since World War II the Vineyard will be without the event, according to MV Agricultural Society executive director Kristina West.

In 1942, due to the war, citizens’ travel was significantly curtailed and the society decided to not to hold the fair,” West said. “After a four year hiatus, the fair opened again in 1946.”

Widely regarded as the signature event of the season, drawing both Islanders and seasonal visitors, cancellation of the fair deals another major blow to summer 2020 on Martha’s Vineyard. Beach Road Weekend has been canceled and Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse also eliminated its summer season, as well.

In a statement issued Thursday morning, West joined Agricultural Society president Brian Athearn in lamenting what they described as a “necessary” decision. 

“At the April 15th Board meeting, the Trustees of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society made the difficult, but necessary decision to cancel the 2020 fair,” the release states. “We understand the fair is near and dear to so many of you and we want you to know this decision was not made lightly. In these difficult times we must move forward with an abundance of caution and ensure we are doing what is best for the health and safety of our volunteers, our staff, and our Island community.”

West and Athearn went on to say the Ag Society would concentrate on assisting food procurement and distribution.

“We will be taking this time to refocus all our resources on supporting local food producers and distributors,” they wrote. “We are already engaged in discussions with farmers, fishermen, and food distribution organizations to see how we can help get more food on the tables of our friends and neighbors. In times like these it is imperative that we do what Islanders do; come together, support one another, and ensure we all make it through this together.”

For updates on Ag Society affairs they recommended accessing the society’s e-newsletter by emailing contact information to 

Anyone wishing to support Ag Society efforts “to bring more local food to local tables,” can make a donation can on the Ag Society website.

“Above all, stay safe and well,” they wrote. “We look forward to seeing you all at next year’s fair, August 19-22, 2021.”

While major events are being cancelled around the Island some Island leaders are saying making decisions for late summer events is a little too soon.

Speaking to The Times by phone Thursday, Oak Bluffs selectman Brian Packish said while he understands Ag Society made their decision for their event, the general consensus in Oak Bluffs is that it’s too early to cancel major events such as Tivoli Day or the August fireworks and there’s too many unknowns at this point in time.

“As far as summer events are concerned we’re certainly talking about them,” Packish said. “The general consensus is it’s far too early to make those types of decisions.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association is awaiting guidance from the state and the Oak Bluffs board of health on its summer programming which includes the popular Illumination Night.

“As much as Illumination is on our minds as a much loved and long standing community tradition, everyone’s health and safety comes first,” CJ Rivard, MVCMA executive director told The Times in an email. “We hope to receive some definitive guidelines in the next couple of weeks, and plan to announce any service or program changes for this summer shortly thereafter.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Marathon has been postponed until Sept. 26, but folks will be able to do a virtual run anytime on or after May 16 and receive all marathon swag in their mail.

Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty said the Fourth of July parade and the fireworks are “too premature to call” and said the town will continue to discuss these events as the dates draw nearer.

“It’s too far out to make any definitive decision, but we are looking at that,” Hagerty said.

Taste of the Vineyard canceled

The Vineyard Trust has recently canceled the Taste of the Vineyard, according to CEO and president of The Trust, Funi Burdick.

Burdick told The Times that it was a tough decision to make, but was ultimately necessary to protect the well-being of the Island community.

“Each day we learn something new, it’s very hard to navigate this. The challenge is how we look at our organizations and see their strengths, and how we can come out of this stronger as an organization and as a community,” Burdick said. 

In the coming weeks, Burdick said The Trust will be assessing ways to continue their benevolent community fundraising efforts and plan for future events, while reframing how they can serve the public and create a safe environment for all.

Amy Coffey, a contracted events planner for the Taste of the Vineyard Gourmet Stroll, told The Times in an email that “the decisions have been both very difficult as well as quite easy. It’s tough to know we are canceling events that the community looks forward to all year. Especially during a time when people really need something to look forward to and a sense of normal life,” Coffey wrote.

Coffey said the Vineyard Trust has been in contact with restaurants and other participants, and although everyone is in agreement it’s a “huge loss,” Coffey wrote that given the current circumstances, it was the right decision to make,

“Given the current circumstances most restaurants find themselves in, the Vineyard Trust strongly feels it is now our time to support them by encouraging take out business, gift cards and other creative ways that they are working through the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Coffey wrote.

Coffey recognized in her email that these are unprecedented times, but noted the strength and generosity of the Island community as one thing that can get us through.

“The Island community is so generous and giving, I have high hopes that organizations such as the Vineyard Trust will emerge from this crisis with even stronger support as we narrow down our focus to what really makes Martha’s Vineyard the special place we all call home,” Coffey wrote.

Later, in a press release, the Vineyard Trust announced other cancellations along with the Taste of the Vineyard event. 

The Taste of the Vineyard Gourmet Stroll, which typically kicks off the summer season on the Island, was scheduled for June 11 with the Patron’s Party and Auction following on Saturday, June 13. The Generations Picnic was to be held July 10.

“We are deeply saddened to have to cancel these beloved Island events and are grateful to all of the event sponsors, restaurants, caterers, beverage and other providers who partner with us to bring these festive celebrations to life each year,”  Burdick said in the release. “We would like to express our unending thanks to the volunteers who make these events run smoothly and who have spent the last nine months working behind the scenes. We look forward to bringing these teams together again for the 2021 event season.”

“While we won’t be able to gather as a community to raise funds to support the Trust’s work, Vineyard Trust remains committed to the 20 ‘Landmarks for Life’ in our care,” Burdick said in the release. “We know that when this chapter of history concludes, these living landmarks will again play a critical and central role in reconnecting all of us to this place and to each other and we look forward to that time.”

Reporters Brian Dowd and Lucas Thors contributed to this story. Updated to include Taste of the Vineyard being canceled. – Ed.


  1. This should be a splash of cold water in the face of everyone who has been saying “It’s going to be a booming summer, once the shutdown is over people are going to be coming in droves to the island this summer.” Time to face reality, not wishful thinking.

    • And now the “Taste”. We will miss the dancing, but I won’t miss the $350. The Fair and Taste are highlights of my Spring and Summer. I will compensate! Safety first.

  2. This was an appropriate and proper decision.Way to get out in front of this thing people. It will be missed but, not nearly as much as those who have succumbed to this virus are missed. Thanks for looking out for everyone’s health and safety.

  3. And once again ” the sky is falling”
    There are less cases of the virus currently than the usual cases of the winter flu. Sure it is a new strain, and not understood to date. This is NOT the end of the world. Every day we take risks, the largest one would be driving our vehicles. This does not stop us from doing so. People die in automobiles, is it time to ban all cars and trucks? Be safe, but take this perspective.
    AND allow the island construction to begin again. Looks like we will not be able to spend that hard-earned money on any normal summer event, but at least we will have it.

    • I live in Boston and in all due respect your “viewfromhere” is narrow and frankly, just plain lucky.
      In Massachusetts alone there are 30,000 infected people, and over 1.000 people have died, 150 just yesterday. Somehow I don’t think your attitude will be quite so cavalier come June when thousands of us arrive at our summer places, and tourists pour in. I would really urge you to get more informed about COVID-19. It is not the flu It’s not a fender bender at 5 Corners.

    • I believe, on a per day basis, the corona virus is the leading cause of death in the country. Think about that for a moment and tell me how this is the flu.

    • “people die in automobiles, is it time to ban all cars and trucks?” Automobile accidents are not contagious. One has to in or near a car to be involved. People don’t contact lethal car accidents from unclean surfaces or people who cough without covering their mouths. The elderly in nursing homes didn’t die from car accidents. Healthcare workers on the job are not suffocating to death from trucks. Misinformation and willful ignorance are equally deadly.

    • view– how can you be so un informed about the reality of this pandemic? You compare deaths by automobile against corona. let me just focus on Massachusetts deaths yesterday. there were 137 people who died in Massachusetts yesterday of Covid 19.
      Simple math will tell you that at this rate, 50 thousand people will die in the state of Mass this year from covid 19 . How ignorant can you be, to listen to some hate radio millionaire and not question his assertions?
      if you want to play with statistics, I am all in ..
      just a few :
      in the entire year of 2018, about 36,500 people died in automobile accidents in the United States.
      That translates to about 100 people a day die in automobiles.
      Since the first death caused by the corona virus on Feb 29 th , 2019, there have been 34619, deaths related to covid 19 in about 47 days— that’s an average of about 735 a day. U.S only
      but that is an average– the united states alone has surpassed 2,500 for the last 3 days. That number seems to be holding steady– for now- with draconian lock down measures.
      To use my best Grettra voice –“how dare you” post such drivel ?

      • Don,just the opposite, though poorly worded. I was reacting to certain figures in the news who rationalize their downplay , if not denial, of COVID-19 dangers by citing mortality rates of events that are not contagious. I saw a clip of Dr. Phil citing statistics, or, saying numbers of fatalities from different activities. He claimed that as no one is suggesting we outlaw automobiles, tobacco, alcohol, and swimming pools, we should ignore a killer we cannot even see. Rush Limburger made similar claimed, ” “that with this new arrival of COVID-19, that coronavirus is being listed as a cause of death for many people who are not dying because of it.” He actually said this. You are correct. I did not question either Limburger or Dr. Phil. I just can’t. They are too far removed from reality that…where would a sane person begin?

  4. If you keep canceling these events people will not want to come to the island this summer. Stop pushing all this doom and gloom.

  5. To be “fair”, maybe some of these celebrated events are being cancelled due to the possibility of a drop in rental bookings or a waning interest amongst concessioners… not to mention the effects of anti-tourist and 2nd-home owner rhetoric aired by a few…better to have preliminary plans to celebrate an island re-opening when the chaos resolves…

      • Anti-tourist and 2nd-home owner rhetoric is hogwash?

        “”YIPPEEE””, One summer with no out of state licence plates, no totally packed beaches, no bad parking pictures, no having to look at all the trash all over our island every day. etc.”

        • It’s hogwash that the fair would be cancelled due to drops in rental bookings or waning interest amongst concessioners. The only reason the fair has been cancelled is due to safety concerns.

    • Experts are saying things should not open all at once, but rather at a gradual pace, a loosening, so that there is not a big second wave. I think of it as how we introduce new foods to a baby– one at a time– and in case there is a bad reaction, you know what to cut out.

    • If people are deciding not to come based off “anti-tourist” rhetoric they read online I guess they won’t be going anywhere this summer. Pretty much every seasonal community in the country had similar concerns and the Vineyard reaction was pretty mild compared to others.

      • The only people who are not concerned with the safety of hotel rooms/rental accomodations, restaurants, or any gatherings of people are packing their red hats into their suitcases and are being encouraged by an idiot… and idiot who nonetheless requires anyone who comes near him to have a coronavirus test.

  6. julihan ~~ “”If you keep canceling these events people will not want to come to the island this summer””.
    “”YIPPEEE””, One summer with no out of state licence plates, no totally packed beaches, no bad parking pictures, no having to look at all the trash all over our island every day. etc.

    • Yippee.
      No ferry boats full of trucks with food.
      SSA belly up.
      No way to get to and from the island.

    • You must be new here.
      Out of state licence plates bring the money that the Island lives on.
      Bad parking pictures have no cars in them.
      So many ‘Islanders’ earn their living by ‘picking up the trash’ left by ‘out of state licence plates’.

  7. Tisbury Native, you must not depend on summer dollars or you would not be so rude…a lot of us depend on the tourists and second home owners for income. If you are a native of Tisbury, then I’m sure you bought a house when every day people could afford or you were “gifted” a house and have no mortgage. It’s people with your attitude that should keep silent. We need summer dollars, safely, of course.

  8. Tiz, you gonna take care of all the people who depend on summer to make their living next winter when everyone is broke because you want an empty summer?

    • Fielding Mellish you gonna bury all the dead because you want a full summer?
      How many in your family are you willing to bury to have a full summer?

      • Did I say I want a full summer?
        I find it interesting though,that you would ask me about it after posting
        “yippee. No ferry boats bringing trucks with food” and “Out of state license plates bring the money that the island lives on”

  9. Without the summer influx of tourists, the island would be in sad shape. The people that have businesses dependant on the daily or seasonal visitor would be all done. Your property taxes would increase at an uncontrollable level to just pay for the existing infrastructure. Who do you think would pay for the town employees’ salaries and the new police cars and fire trucks?
    Thank goodness the virus is leveling off. Time to control the hysteria a bit. policies put in place seem to be working.
    Time for everyone to go back to work, with safety measures in place. With any luck, we can salvage half of the summer season we would normally have. Remember if not you, your neighbor’s livelihoods depend on the summer season in one way or another.

    • “Remember if not you, your neighbor’s livelihoods depend on the summer season in one way or another.” Remember also, your lives depend on this.

  10. Good for Brian Peckish. I feel sorry for all the amusement employees. If every town that hires carnival rides for their county fair cancels this dummer, all these folks will be out of work, and the owners may have to declare bankruptcy.

    • You should really educate yourself before you talk. The fair isn’t run by the Town or the County. It’s completely funded by a non-profit. Guess you don’t care if they stay around.

  11. A tremendous overeaction — no need to cancel and it even could have been a throwback event very small without all the rides and epic food support — tremendously premature for an event that owns its own fairgrounds — sad — just how stupid and fearful are we gonna be under the holy umbrella of “safety”?

    Ps – dondondon12 you should be arrested for you allegation that it is “simple math that MA will have 50,000 people die” — its absurd and an outrageous fearmongering attempt — like screaming fire in a crowded theater — you should retract that statement as it is an utter deception

    • You may want to reread his comment. Pay attention to the whole comment and who it’s directed at this time. You’ll see how his comment was meant.
      And,to clarify, I’m no fan of his trying to protect him. But I do get the point he was trying to make.

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