Every kid that grew up here has his or her own memories of the Agricultural Fair. From the oxen pull and skillet-throwing contest, to the rides and games, and, of course, the food, for four days in August the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair is the place to be.
For me it’s always been the best way to end the summer. Without a doubt the fair is the most action-packed, exhausting time of the season. And the days leading up to the fair have their own unique magic. Even now, I want to yell out loud when I ride by the agricultural hall and see that first ride, folded up and parked at the fairgrounds, just waiting to be set up. I can almost smell the cotton candy.
When I was younger, there was so much to do in preparation for the fair. Artwork to frame, cookies to bake. I’d study the fair booklet for hours, deciding what categories might give me the best chance of taking home a blue ribbon. Bringing my precious entries to the fairgrounds the day before it began also meant you got a sneak preview of the rides before everyone else.
The first day of the fair is probably the most exciting. It always seemed to take hours waiting for the judging to be finished in the exhibition hall so I could get in there and see who won ribbons. I’d go on a couple of rides with my mom, then run back to the Agricultural Hall to see if they were done yet, which they never were. So then we’d go check out the animals in the barn. Finally, the judges would finish, the doors would be thrown open, and everyone would pour in. Even when I was little I found all the woodwork and photographs mesmerizing. As I got older, I immediately started looking for my entries, hoping to see that my brownies or photos placed. And so many times over the years they did!
As a kid I considered myself lucky to get to the fair all four days. But in middle school, it was a must. Friday was always my favorite because I’d get to be at the fair by day and then the fireworks in Oak Bluffs by night. But Saturday night was the night to be at the fair. All the Island kids would take over as darkness fell and the rides lit up the night. After not seeing each other all summer, my friends and I would scream as we were reunited, waiting on line for the Octopus, and watching that same crazy dancing guy bumping to the music, year after year.
Sunday at the fair is family day for me. My whole family goes to the fair together. We pool our leftover tickets and ride our favorite rides, always ending on the ferris wheel. We never miss the artisan booths, looking at the amazing clothes and jewelry, maybe getting a henna tattoo. The night always ends with food, burgers or pizza, ice cream and fried dough.
Some of my best fair memories are from fifth and sixth grade. During those summers I had the chance to show Kiga, a beautiful belted Galloway cow that I trained at the Farm Institute. My friends and I spent all year halter-training our cows to get ready for the big day. In the week leading up to the fair we bathed and groomed them until they were squeaky, shiny clean. Then it was time to enter the ring. Here I was with this huge animal, four times my size, and I was telling her what to do! And Kiga and I won a ribbon! Afterward our group appeared on Martha’s Vineyard TV; we were celebrities.
Turning 11 is a big deal when you live on the Island; it’s the year you can get your first job working at the fair. I had the opportunity to choose from two options: picking up trash and emptying the filled trash cans, or being on so-called food security for the exhibit hall. Each job had its pros and cons. The trash people have to work with smelly, gross trash, but at least they can walk around and see their friends. The people guarding the exhibit hall don’t have to deal with all that stinky trash but they do have to sit in a chair for three hours watching everyone who goes in to make sure they don’t bring in pets or food. I always chose being on exhibit duty. It smelled a whole lot better. But either way I got a cool fair staff T-shirt, which made me feel totally official.
I still look forward to the fair every year. It’s a great way to wrap up the summer. As I get older, I might ride fewer rides or eat less greasy food, and I don’t always get there for every single one of the four days. But it definitely hasn’t lost its shine. Each year I see the fair in a new light and get excited about something different it has to offer. I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that the fair has been going on for 151 years. To think that people in wagons pulled by horses traveled to the fair and camped out the whole time is mind-boggling. I still find it so cool that farmers from all over New England flock to our fair to show off their animals.
It’s a little sad and hard to believe that one day the fair may go on without my being here. Hopefully that day is really far away.