The Agricultural Fair comes to West Tisbury every year… unless it’s WWII or 2020. This year it’s back, the culmination of a busy summer on the Vineyard, a place to meet old and new friends, a celebration of the Island’s agricultural heritage, an opportunity to play games, enjoy carnival rides, and eat greasy, sugary food. This year’s fair is much the same as ever, but at every fair there are new people, new booths, and new activities, even when there isn’t a new mask advisory or requirement. For 2021, there are COVID precautions and online ticketing is recommended. As of this writing, attendance is not limited, however if there is further guidance from the board of health the capacity limit may be adjusted.
Planning for the fair usually begins in January, but at the beginning of this year, no one knew whether or not the fair would be happening. Nothing was planned until May 11, when Gov. Charlie Baker announced reopening plans for the state. The trustees of the Agricultural Society decided to move ahead with this year’s fair and planning began, four months late. Everything had to be put together in about three months, and between the shortened time frame, short staffing everywhere, and ever-changing COVID advisories, organizing this year’s fair has brought new challenges, but new and experienced volunteers and staff have brought it all together.
Executive director Lauren Lynch began her work at the Agricultural Society on April Fool’s Day this year. Lauren was a summer person who worked as head of investor relations for a large hedge fund in New York. She moved to the Vineyard year-round three years ago with her husband and their two children. Through working for Sam Feldman, and through the 4H Club, Lauren got to know Agricultural Society vice president and barn manager Julie Scott. When the Agricultural Society was looking for a new director, Julie suggested that she apply for the position.
Lauren and deputy fair manager Sally Rizzo are managing the fair this year. “I’ve always loved the hall and all of the exhibits,” Lauren says. “It has always illustrated the richness of this Island and how creative and thoughtful and amazing this community is. You could spend hours in there looking at everything.” She says that it can give visitors a new perspective on the Island. “The barns are always fantastic, because this is an agricultural Island. You might not see it if you’re in Edgartown, but when you drive up-Island it’s very apparent.”
The barn has its usual fairtime residents: goats and horses, cattle and pigs. However, there are fewer chickens and other poultry because of a last-minute change to this year’s state poultry inspection on the Island. The central bay of the barn, which usually houses the chickens, is set up as an interactive area for human kids, with an egg incubator, a demonstration beehive, and more. For young fairgoers and their parents, Baby Central is back, underneath the trees between the front of the Hall and the Show Ring. There, parents can change and feed babies, get off their feet, and relax for a little while. Adjacent to Baby Central, the Martha’s Vineyard Family Center will have a tent set up for families of older children, where they can stop to read books or do puzzles. “For some kids the fair can be overstimulating,” says Family Center director Kim Darcy. “This will be an opportunity for kids to take a breather, then come back and enjoy the rest of the Fair.” They will also have facilitated activities every day from 10 to noon.
The fair’s website has been expanded and improved (marthasvineyardagriculturalsociety.org). Through the website, fairgoers are encouraged to buy tickets in advance to reduce lines at the gates. Schedules and more information can be found on the website. There, you can also sign up for the Dog Show, the Skillet Toss, and buy Carnival tickets which can be redeemed for rides, games, and food in the Carnival section of the fair. Masks are advised, especially for unvaccinated fairgoers, and are required for everyone inside the hall, barn, and tents, regardless of vaccination status. Traffic in inside spaces is one-way, and entry will be restricted to reduce crowding as needed. Hand-sanitizing stations can be found throughout the fairgrounds. In other practical matters, IGI is managing composting and waste stations in the food booth area, but the fair “trash kids” are back to manage much of the fair’s waste disposal.
Because of the upheaval of the past year, lack of staff, and the compressed timeline for planning, a few longtime favorite booths are on hiatus this year, but many old stalwarts are back.
Coming this year
There will be several new food booths (see “Eating My Way Through the Fair,” page 9) and a number of Island nonprofits have booths or tables here this year, including the Coalition to create a Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank, the girl’s field hockey team, the Minnesingers, and Island Health Care with a vaccine information booth. In the Fiber Tent, there will be pop-up classes at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm. Some of the classes include Kumihimo weaving; crumb quilting; tie-dye crafts; and weaving with upcycled materials.
A few things on the fairgrounds have been moved to new locations. The Music Tent is now adjacent to the Pulling Ring, and Baby Central has moved over to near the Show Ring. Another big move took place last year, with the West Tisbury Farmers Market shifting from the Grange Hall to the grounds of the Agricultural Society. Normally, it takes place on Wednesday and Saturday mornings in what’s currently the Fair’s main parking area. This Saturday, it will be held in the area between the Show Ring and Panhandle Road, from 9 am to noon. Those going to the market won’t need to pay fair admission, but they will need to pay to park.
All together, it will be a fair to remember, and the return of a well-loved part of the Island summer.
COVID Guidelines for the fair
- Masks required in the Hall, Barns, and in all Tents.
- Follow directions for one-way traffic in Hall and Barns.
- If you are not vaccinated, please wear a mask on the fairgrounds.
- Don’t crowd your fellow fairgoers.
- Sanitize or wash hands frequently.
- Buy fair tickets and carnival tickets online.