Ag Fair by
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This year’s poster

The third week of August on Martha’s Vineyard always brings the much-anticipated Agricultural Fair or “Ag Fair”, as it is called. The Vineyard has a huge farming community and everyone gets to show off their season’s accomplishments, from the best pies and jams, to livestock and largest vegetables. There is a whole display hall for crafts, photographs, paintings and other handmade items. On the opening day of the fair, everything is judged. If you go on subsequent days (the fair runs four days), you’ll see items adorned with their ribbons for the prizes they took during the judgement period.

Competitions take place on various days as well (the schedule is printed in a special section of the local paper). Our favorite has been dog agility. Who knew that poodles could run like the wind and do the leaps through the various hoops and hazards set up around the ring. Any breed can compete, but we think poodles are the best. Skillets are thrown, oxen are pulled. This is a real country fair. There was a big state fair in Detroit when I was young, but I never attended. This was my first; it was manageable and so much fun to do with our young children.

Junk food abounds – fried dough, cotton candy, soft-serve ice cream. And lots of things to buy including branded souvenirs of the fair each year. We’d buy the tee shirts with that year’s special design (the Featured photo if this year’s design, just revealed in the Vineyard Gazette).

Ag Fair tee shirts through the years.

Through the years, we also bought the posters for each year and frequently framed them. But as our real art collection grew, I discovered that I gave most of the posters to the Boys and Girls Club resale shop. I have one left, in our sunroom. It is the same design as the left-most tee shirt above. Look how the sun faded the color.

Faded Ag Fair poster decorating our sunroom

Of course there is a midway with lots of rides and games. This is particularly popular at night time with the older kids who are trying to score, but the younger children love the game booths. As a child, Jeffrey loved one game in particular; some sort of ball toss, hit a hole and win a prize. If he couldn’t do it, Dan would take over. Little Jeffrey WANTED that stuffed animal. I’m sure he spent more on tickets than the prize was worth, but we’d keep at it until the prize was his. It’s still in his Vineyard bedroom, though she’s now 32 years old. Sadly, she doesn’t visit often any longer.

a long ago prize from the midway

At a certain point, the kids outgrew the charms of the Ag Fair, and we were weary of the crowds. After years of absence, we went again a few years ago and were again delighted by it, but once every few years is enough for us.

Perhaps we’ll visit again some day with our granddaughter.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: right on!


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Betsy. I’ve never attended the Ag Fair, but know a lot about it from other Martha’s Vineyard friends and relatives. As my own story reveals, I have not had the best of times at such fairs, and the Ag Fair sounds typical in many ways — including the junk food and all the midway games and rides. But the dog agility is a new one on me, and it sounds like a lot more fun (and humane) than horses pulling weighted sledges.

    I have also seen the Ag Fair posters from time to time — perhaps even some of the ones you gave to the resale shop — and have always thought they were terrifically creative and truly evocative of what a country fair should be about.

    And I am so glad that you still go and enjoy the fair every few years or so. But I also understand your reaction to the crowds as well. As Yogi Berra once famously said (or did not say) about a popular restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Still, I’ll bet you’ll love taking your grandddaughter!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I think the Ag Fair is typical for its breed, just a bit smaller and more manageable, John. But it still gets very crowded (depending on what time of day one goes). The Fair posters are usually really lovely, which is why I collected them for many years. I looked in both houses for them, but clearly I’ve passed them on so others can enjoy them too.

      I like that Yogi Berra quote very much. That does sum it up, right? But only once in a while is enough for us now. I hope our London kids will come and visit, even during the crowded month of August when their little girl is big enough to enjoy all that month has to offer, as there are many magical events that happen every non-COVID year around this place during the month and I can’t wait to share them all with our granddaughter.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    I was also taken by the fair posters–very arty, as would become a fair on Martha’s Vineyard. I would have collected them too. Dog agility is great–dogs don’t have to be a purebreed or un-neutered to participate (unlike other dog shows), and everyone has a great time. Border collies and cattle dogs usually give poodles good competition too. I hope your children all get home more, as it is clearly where the love is.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      You are right, Khati. Any dog can compete and there are lots of breeds that are good at dog agility. It is loads of fun to watch them fly around that obstacle course (sometimes with little kids in charge…also fun to watch). I, too, wish my kids would get here more often. It is not an easy place to get to and they don’t get that much vacation time. But perhaps with a small child, the appeal will be overwhelming. We have plenty of space.

  3. Marian says:

    Love that poster, Betsy, it’s beautiful. This fair seems like the perfect size and selection of things to do. I’d really like to see that dog agility contest. Poodles are remarkably fast, as I’ve learned living with a former poodle owner.

  4. Suzy says:

    The Ag Fair sounds wonderful, Betsy, and thanks for showing us all those posters. I love that this year’s poster looks like a cross stitch sampler. I have never heard of dog agility competitions before, but it sounds like a great event. As others have said, it will be great to take your grandchild there when she gets old enough – always more fun with kids!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      There is excitement in the run-up to seeing the poster every year, Suzy. I agree, this year’s is quite nice and “old fashioned”. Yes, fairs are more fun when there are children around and we can see them through their eyes and excitement. I love that you can still channel your inner child. Good for you!

  5. So glad Covid hasn’t stopped your wonderful island fair this summer Betsy, and lovely to have the tee-shirts and posters from fairs past.

    Your lucky kids grew up with wonderful summertimes, you know I love the Vineyard!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes Dana, I know you love the Vineyard. Hope you can visit again soon. Last year they did the fair virtually – livestock, prizes and all! But I’m glad it’s back this year too. The August fireworks, the 4th of July parade, all of that was still COVID-cancelled. I’m not sure about Grand Illumination Night. When I was approached (many months ago, before the Rise of Delta), about being on the Edgartown House Tour, I insisted that everyone entering my house wear masks. Now we are in an indoor mask mandatory area. We are going in the wrong direction, I’m afraid.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    That sounds like the type of fair I would have enjoyed. Actually, we did go to a similar small county fair with friends many years ago somewhere in Michigan. As adults without kids at that point, we could appreciate the crafts and stay away from the junk foods and rickety rides,

  7. Thank God for AG fairs! I fear that too often fairs get overtaken by the side shows, literally and figuratively. The rides, the endless retail, etc, etc. I am reminded each week when I go to the local farmers’ market: wasn’t too long ago that produce predominated. Now, while there are many vendors, only two offer produce.
    And dog agility: a photographer friend made a living touring the various competitions and offering action photos of competitors in action.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, our Ag Fair is still about AG! The side show is part, but certainly not the whole show. Interesting that your friend made his living photographing dog agility competitions. People do love their pets!

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