All’s fair

Tips for making this year’s Ag Fair the best ever.

The Agricultural Fair in West Tisbury. — Rich Saltzberg

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! But forget the carols, snowflakes, and tinsel. For us dedicated Ag Fair buffs, our favorite season is marked by bright sunshine, cotton candy instead of sugar cookies, and draft horses, not reindeer. Lights twinkle on carnival rides, not trees, and the theme song is a zany mixtape of merry-go-round tunes with Blue Hills Brass standards, Johnny Hoy’s rock, and Flying Elbows folk.

After logging countless long weekends at the fair, our family devised many strategies. We vow to prepare hall entries early, not eat too much, not spend too much, and as that old children’s song laments — not be “too long at the fair.”

We fall a little short once caught up in the colorful country chaos of the mid-August fairgrounds. So much to see, to do, to eat, to savor. But there are ways to enjoy this beloved event without missing anything or getting “faired out.”

1. Plan ahead

Planning makes a good time even better. Grab a program, or go online and map out your schedule. Circle everyone’s favorite events, demonstrations, and entertainment. Make a list. Add in time to visit the Hall and Livestock Barn, have lunch.

Plan your budget, too. The fair is great, but not worth maxing out credit cards. Our strategy: Bring cash, no cards or checks. Spend only designated “Fair Money,” and you won’t go broke.

Like driving to the market, choosing the right arrival time at the fair minimizes the stress of crowds, traffic jams, and long lines. Morning is my favorite time at the fair. Everything is fresh and bright. Air is cool, vendors are setting up, and there’s room to wander. And West Tisbury firemen cook a mean breakfast sandwich. We enjoy the late afternoon sunset lull too. Daytime crowds thin. Parking, ticket, and food lines are short.

Many fair patrons come and go. Some stalwarts stay all day. Really, where else could you want to be this weekend?

2. Save with a smile

Most parents love the fair but dread the costs. Food can add up fast; rides and games of chance will empty your wallet before you can say “Gravitron.”

Kids and grownups alike want to feast on fries, corn dogs, cotton candy, slushies, and ice cream from morning to night. Save cash and bellies by packing snacks to go; crackers, cheese, peanut butter, and fruit stave off starvation. Then “pick a favorite” — allow every youngster (and yourself!) one or two fair treats a day.

Lots of great kids’ attractions at the fair are free! Check out the sack races and tug of war, or build and race a veggie-mobile. On stage there’s the Pet Show, puppets, and music enough for even the littlest music lovers.

Catching up with friends in the midst of a busy summer is the best activity of all, and doesn’t cost a cent.

3. Tradition, tradition, tradition

Take some time to enjoy the traditional agricultural features that make our fair and Island unique.

Don’t miss the Ag Hall to see the best produce, flowers, baking, handiwork, and other creative exhibits by all ages. When anyone in the family enters, our first visit to the hall is packed with excitement as we hope for winning ribbons.

My granddaughter, Hazel, has loved the Fiber Tent since meeting the friendly alpacas. Visitors of all ages are captivated by knitting, spinning, and weaving demos, and dogs herding sheep right outside.

At the fair museum, sputtering steam engines, antique tools, and more offer an educational glimpse into earlier days. The challenging Woodsmen’s Contest and rowdy Antique Tractor Pull make for more fun watching. Livestock events are the agricultural heart of the fair. Watching judges examine goats, cows, horses, and ducks to pick a winner is fascinating.

My daughter Diana and I cheer on the massive draft horses and huge, gentle oxen.

Start your own traditions! Among ours: entering the prettiest cookies and dropping the rest off at the firemen’s booth; never telling family members that they won a ribbon before they’ve seen it; our annual mother-daughter shopping spree at the clothing tents; and Hazel and her parents mugging for the photo booth camera.

4. Take a break

The sun gets hot, feet get sore, kids get fussy, and a little peace and quiet sounds heavenly.

Baby Central is a parent’s dream! This mini-tent offers an oasis of calm for tired parents with cranky, hungry, messy little ones. There’s a changing table with extra wipes, little chairs, toys and books for babies and toddlers, and best of all, a rocker where Baby can nurse and Mom can relax. Carol Vieira began Baby Central when her kids were tiny; now her two school-age girls help set it up.

My favorite chill-out destination is the car. We pack a cooler with snacks, tea, juice. Tip the seat back, open the windows, listen to the Sox, read The Times, or take a power nap.

For decades, the top choice for relaxing has been those long white benches in front of the hall. Grab a seat, sip a lemonade, watch the merry-go-round spin.

5. Stay safe and healthy

Even in fun times, there can be mishaps. Skinned knees, twisted ankles, stomachaches

intrude. Wallets are dropped, sunglasses left behind, children disappear.

Island EMTs staff the first aid station. They will check you out and provide what’s needed — a Band-Aid, an aspirin, or an ambulance ride.

West Tisbury Police officers handle the lost and found, reuniting items with owners and wandering children (or grownups) with families. (They had my Ray-Bans in custody even before I realized they were gone!)

Wear sunscreen, a hat, dark glasses, sun-protective coverups. Bring warm layers. Stay hydrated.

6. Think 2022!

OK, maybe you didn’t buy your membership or tickets online this year. Life was too busy to bake your finest coffee cake, pick your best tomatoes, or help your children organize finger paintings and shell collections to enter. Maybe you didn’t sign up for the fun jobs that keep the fair thriving.

So look around, see which squash and decoy and pie won blue ribbons, watch what ticket takers and T shirt sellers do, have the kids start a fair piggy bank, think about growing the tallest sunflower, knitting a sweater, saving your kiddos’ best artwork, training your dog, getting your skillet-tossing arm in shape. Next year’s fair will be here before we know it!

This story first appeared in 2019, but it still applies today!