From Thursday to Sunday this past week, at West Tisbury’s Agricultural Hall, attendees flocked to the 161st Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show & Fair.
The fair, held since October 1858 (with exceptions only for World War II and once during COVID), has long been a quintessential Vineyard summer experience.
This year offered even more memories for Islanders out to familiarize themselves with the agricultural community and with local businesses and organizations, all while chowing down on food and having fun.
Rows of stands at the fairgrounds supplied a wide variety of food and drink for long lines of attendees, who enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches, burgers, corn dogs, and slushies. Familiar fair food like fried dough was popular, although less conventional offerings such as fried Oreos and pickle lemonade garnered were big hits as well.
For Elliot Rossman of Charlottesville, VA, at the Ag Fair with Shane Pontecorvo of New York City, the food is a part of his childhood: “The food is really nostalgic for me, because we used to go every year and then we stopped going a few years ago, and then we started going again, so the food brings me back to when I was a really young child, and so do the games.”
Along with the many carnival rides at the grounds, fairgoers of all ages tried their best at many game booths, whether shooting a BB gun at a hanging target, or with a mallet launching rubber animals at the Frog Bog. Make it Rain was also a popular booth for basketball players, who shot for the opportunity to win themselves a jersey of top NBA players, like LeBron James and Gordon Hayward. Also available at the booth were a “Botani” Heat jersey and “Lubinsky” Warriors jersey, of dubious authenticity.
The fair theme this year, “Grow It, Sew It, Show It!” was at once evident upon entering the Agricultural Hall. Fairgoers browsed the blue-ribbon winners and the runner-ups of a cornucopia of gardening, baking and artistic competitions. Humongous cucumbers and colorful preserves were displayed, and many non-farmed artworks ranged from dolls made by children, to practiced needlepoint pieces, to photography submissions.
The first three days of the fair were themed as well, with Cattle Day on Thursday, Horse Day on Friday and Farm Machinery Day on Sunday. Fairgoers met farmers and their cows, goats, chickens, and rabbits, as well as learned from displays of agricultural equipment.
On Farm Machinery Day, George Hartman of the Agricultural Hall’s Antique Power Museum displayed engines as old as 1815 (a jeweler’s engine) from the museum’s permanent collection. Speaking next to a clanking gasoline engine, Hartman pointed out another machine — a steam engine that belonged to Alexander Graham Bell. Hartman is unsure if his engine ran inside Bell’s Shop, though he says that the shop ran with an engine of around the same size. “It definitely had a bigger boiler than I have,” Hartman added.
On each day of the fair, scheduled competitions and showcases allowed locals to highlight their agricultural efforts. Some of the most dramatic events held were Thursday’s oxen pull, and Saturday’s mini excavator competition and woodsman’s competition, featuring chainsaws and axes.
Though competitions like the goat show and dog show did not involve power tools, many Vineyarders held high hopes. Alyssa Vieira, preparing with her sister to enter family goats Blackberry and Pancake, anticipated the judges’ concerns ahead of competition on Thursday: “[The judges] feel their backbone, and they look at their hips, and sometimes their hooves and their horns,” she said.
By Saturday, two blue first place ribbons were displayed on the Vieiras’ pen.
Speaking from the fair’s info booth on Thursday, volunteer Paul Garcia reflected on the community value of the fair, for Vineyarders and for the host town.
“The most fascinating part of the fair is that West Tisbury is still an agricultural town,” he said.