A Fair to Remember

Cape Cod Life  /  August 2021 /

Writer: Laurel Redington / Photographer: Paige Biviano 

The Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair becomes the crossroads for generations of friends, families and farmers every August.

I think we’re all ready for some celebrations! We have endured isolation and every other unexpected thing this last year and now we can keep our thoughts and efforts focused on putting our pieces back together in a new order! One big event on the horizon, that will support those efforts, is the 159th Annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair. At the heart of this fair is the way the MV Ag Society makes it possible for so many Island nonprofits and causes to reap some benefit. Anyone who has attended can tell you that with each step taken and dollar spent you can feel good that most of those dollars are being put right back into the Island community where it will have epic impacts.

I remember my first Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair very clearly. It was the summer of 1992, I was working part-time at the Island radio station WMVY, and, as was tradition, we would broadcast live for a couple of hours on opening day! It was a whirl of breathtaking hilarity and jaw dropping, heart-filling moments of a community coming together to celebrate life and livelihood. 30 years later, our now nonprofit MVYRADIO, will be right where we always are on opening day, on the breezy porch of the Main Hall awaiting to hear the stories from people making memories and watching the joy dance around us. A favorite sight of mine is when residents from Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center show up for their designated time to enjoy the fair. The Ag Society takes special care to make sure needs are met when Windemere, Camp Jabberwocky, Island Autism and others to make the fair as inclusive and welcoming as it can be. 

This year the MV Agricultural Society welcomes a new Executive Director/Fair Manager in Lauren Lynch. Lauren is energetic, optimistic, and committed. She is enjoying the frenzy of fair planning, and digesting the steady flow of information heaped upon her from legendary fair folk who have generations of knowledge and experience. What stands out for her, about the fair, is how much the Ag Society means to Martha’s Vineyard which is evident in the number of volunteers that return year after year. She also revels in that feeling you can only get when an entire community comes together in celebration like this, and do we ever need it now. Facilities Manager, Chris Lyons, says without hesitation, with a laugh and air of truth, that his favorite part of the fair is the fried dough. Lauren and Chris are also very proud of the Greening of the Fair that has taken place over the last few years. They urge attendees to bring their own water bottles, or purchase a commemorative FAIR water bottle at the merchandise shed because they have water refill stations placed strategically throughout the grounds. Attendees are also urged to bring all their food waste to a well-marked recycling tent, run by Island Grown Initiative, so they can manage their waste more mindfully.

The theme of this year’s fair is “A Fair Together: Celebrating Family and Friends” and is being held in honor of Emma Hall, giving an extra thick layer of meaning for Martha’s Vineyard residents who painfully remember hearing the shocking news that 22 year old Emma Hall was tragically killed in a car accident on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven this past December. Emma, her mother, Helen, and her sisters Charlotte and Sarah volunteered many, many hours over many, many years during Fair time in many, many roles including, as department heads, judges, entry clerk assistants, fair artists, livestock judge assistants, exhibitors, and beloved members of the Fair Lady team. In Emma’s ten years with the Fair, she became an integral part of the Fair family. Charlotte, who is an incredibly talented artist, asked to design this year’s poster in honor of her sister, Emma, and the time they spent as a family at the Fair. The Board of Trustees voted unanimously in favor of her poster submission, so this year’s poster, filled with images that reflect the love of family, will be presented in memory of Emma.

The MVAS Fair has been run by volunteers like Emma and her family since its inception. It’s like watching a beehive operate leading up to the fair, with hundreds of folks of all ages preparing for and attending to their assigned tasks. There are trash kids, parking teams, set-up crews, break-down crews, security crews, Fair Entry recorders, handlers, and placers, Fair Entry judges-—which are such desirable appointments that people have to wait for older generations to pay them forward to those next in line—and so much more. The Volunteers are why this fair has its unique appeal and vibe. It is run by folks who have the Vineyard earth under their fingernails and do what they must to make sure every little detail has been handled by capable, caring, creative hands.  

Attendees will enjoy all the attractions they expect this summer, like the Skillet Throw, Oxen Pull, Tractor Pulls, Horse Pulls, Dog Shows, Woodsman’s Contest, Oyster Shucking Contest, Tug-of-War for bigs and littles. Plus, the Fiber Tent, the Main Exhibit Hall, The Barn Animals, the Midway—and yes Cushing Amusements will be bringing back the BIG Ferris Wheel that debuted during the summer of 2019! The Food Court, Fried Dough, Lemonade, Crafting opportunities, and all the in betweens will be there. Fair goers will notice the Music Tent in a new location this year too, it will be right next to the Pulling Ring. Andy Herr took over management of the Music Tent during the COVID Summer’s VIRTUAL Fair, handily and creatively pulling together a successful music video contest. He also produced a new Blue Ribbon Winning Fair Anthem composed by Island Renaissance Man, Mark Alan Lovewell, called “Let’s Go To the Fair.”  Andy has taken his inventiveness into this year’s plan to reinvigorate how we celebrate our many talented Island musicians which includes a Battle of the Bands! 

August days are meant for celebrations like this. Thick hot steamy days when you relish that cooling breeze that wisps across our skin, smells of cotton candy, corn dogs, burgers, and barn dust and a myriad of animal aromas, the commotion and clamor of kids emoting, questioning, and exploring. The screams on rides; laughter when you place that dart in the right place winning the inflatable, light-up toy you didn’t want to leave without; and those moments of quiet, remembering loved ones who’ve passed, as a special award is given out in their honor. All the senses engaged on full throttle will leave you feeling happily drained of what you don’t need anymore, and filled up with everything you do. 

The Fair runs from Thursday, August 19th through Sunday, August 22nd ~ Thu-Sat: Open 10 AM – 11 PM | Sun 10 AM – 7 PM  Tickets: $10 Adults / $5 Children 5-12 & Adults 62+. Children under 5 are free. Parking $5. Parking fees support the Firemen’s Association’s Scholarship Fund. Important deadlines to keep in mind: Fair Entry opened for registration on July 1, 2021. Premium Books and Paper Entries will be available starting August 1, 2021. All entries paper and through Fair Entry are due by 5:00pm on Sunday August 15, 2021. (unless otherwise noted) 

Laurel Redington is the Community Outreach Director/DJ at MVYRADIO and a contributing writer for Cape Cod Life Publications.

Check https://marthasvineyardagriculturalsociety.org/the-fair frequently for updates on volunteering, schedule, and ticket information. If you have any questions, please contact Lauren Lynch, Executive Director at ed@mvagsoc.org.