When some people think of Martha’s Vineyard, their image is often of pristine beaches and multimillion-dollar homes. However, the Island’s roots as an agrarian society are still in evidence today in the dozens of working farms and small businesses devoted to local production. These traditions are honored every August during the four-day-long M.V. Agricultural and Livestock Fair — an event that is regularly attended by tens of thousands of visitors, and an event that mirrors similar state and county fairs in rural areas all over the U.S. This year’s fair takes place from August 18 to 21.
Every year people pour in through the fair gates from morning until right before closing time, everyone with their own set of priorities. Some come for the animals and exhibits (farm products, baked goods, artwork, and more), some for the contests (tractor pull, horse pull, and, of course, the ever-popular women’s skillet toss). Others, especially families, teens, and tweens, head straight for the carnival area to enjoy the rides and games, walking away with arms full of stuffed animals and other prizes. Many locals come primarily to eat, check out live music, and socialize in a fun, festive atmosphere.
This year, along with the ever-popular dog show, the fairgrounds will also host the annual horse show, which was previously always slated for a later date. Also new this year will be a silent disco on Saturday night and a strolling fire entertainer.
In 2020 the pandemic shut down the fair. This was only the second time in the institution’s 160-year history that the Island had no fair (the other being during WWII). Last year, with COVID still a concern, the Ag Society had trouble recruiting enough people to work, and attendance was down considerably, according to deputy fair manager Sally Rizzo.
This year, the hordes are expected to be back. Rizzo says that in general, visitors number upwards of 10,000 a day. She strongly encourages folks to buy tickets in advance to help cut back on the long lines and crowding at the entrance. (You can visit their website to find out everything you need to know about this year’s fair and for tickets.)
Another thing that the fair organizers are urging people to do is to bring their own refillable water bottles. There will be water stations and sanitation stations throughout the fairgrounds. There will also be nonplastic, reusable water bottles for sale.
“We’ve beefed up our sanitation and waste collection staff,” says Rizzo. “Our goal is zero waste.”
She also says that the organizers are making efforts to increase local representation among food and product vendors this year. Some new food outlets will include Golden Bull, Something Fishy, Nina’s Dine and Dash, and Atlas of Life. All in all, there will be 40-plus vendors on hand, offering everything from hamburgers and ice cream to ethnic fashion and locally made artisan goods.
A few other new things this year include yoga classes during the daytime hours, and over in the exhibit hall, the latest category is hops. Growers of the flowering plant used in the production of beer, as well as herbal remedies, can bring in five cones to vie for the blue ribbon.
Whatever your interest, there really is something for everyone. And there are more than enough reasons to justify visits on multiple days. To some, the annual Ag Fair signals the end of the busy summer season. There’s something bittersweet about seeing the last of the rides packing up for the boat trip back to the mainland. The crowds will soon disperse and we’ll have the Island back to ourselves for a while, and have more time to appreciate life in a more quiet and isolated enclave. The fair provides a nice reminder that, at heart, the Vineyard is far more than sand, sea, and celebrities, but truly a small rural community that honors and lives close to its roots.