Muriel the pig was pregnant and a month overdue, and as the first day of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair approached, Fred Fisher Jr. had to make a decision whether to bring the three-year-old sow or not.
“I took a big gamble doing it,” Mr. Fisher said on Monday. “I could have lost them all up there, but it turned out pretty well.”
So well in fact that Muriel and her piglets won Best In Show at the annual fair and a state award from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. Muriel, a Yorkshire pig, gave birth to 10 piglets the first night of the fair last Thursday. A crowd gathered around her stall for the rest the fair.
The piglets were a mixed breed of Yorkshire and Berkshire. Sadly, one did not make it.
Daddy, a Berkshire boar, belongs to Native Earth Teaching Farm and could be found just outside of the barn, a blue ribbon hanging over his stall.
Mr. Fisher said Muriel needed space from the throngs of fairgoers, the second highest turnout to date, before she could give birth.
“Like a dog or a cat, she didn’t want to have them,” Mr. Fisher said. “She was trying to have them all day long. We finally closed down a portion of the barn and within 20 minutes she gave birth.”
Steve Devan, the state judge who awarded the special prize, said Muriel and her babies earned it.
“I mean, did you see them?” he said in a phone interview. “That was really the hit of the show . . . it was the year of the pig. It seemed appropriate to me that we did that. She worked extra hard this year to make everyone happy.”
The theme of the fair this year also happened to be Hog Wild.
The sow and her piglets were a handful of fair entries to earn a state award, selected for best in their class. Backyard grower extraordinaire Paul Jackson of Edgartown earned a state award for “most outstanding fruit” entry, with a large basket displayed with rhubarb, grapes, cherries, peaches, apples, melons and pears. Susan Sellers of Edgartown won “most outstanding vegetable” for her perfectly ripened large red tomatoes. And the Martha’s Vineyard Boys’ and Girls’ Club won “most outstanding vegetables” for a junior entry, which displayed a basket of hanging garlic, squash, beets, tomatoes and eggplant, to name a few.
The fruit and vegetable state awards were given by the internal fair judges.
Mr. Devan judged the adult and junior livestock entries: fleece, hay, eggs, butter and cheese. He has been a fair judge since 2001 and began judging the Vineyard fair five years ago. This year was the best to date, he said.
“Everything was wonderful,” he said. “I thought the fair was different this year in that the audience participated a lot more, especially for the kids when they won a prize. It was a good, big crowd cheering them on.”
“It was a very well attended fair and quite a few entries of animals where livestock had been thin in years past,” he continued. “I’m thinking in my brief history, it was the best.”
Each animal is judged differently, depending on their use and what it is designed to do. For a pig, Mr. Devan looks at its production value and its health.
“If you’re going to get a ham you want a big ham, you don’t want a small ham,” he laughed.
For goats, he looks at how they stand.
“You want them to stand with their legs a certain distance apart — not belayed or splayed,” he said.
Working animals should have a broad chest so there is more air capacity in order for their organs to work more efficiently. In beef “you want it be really well-rounded and if you’re going to have a side of beef you want to have meat on it,” he said.
Mr. Devan is especially fond of judging the junior categories. He separates entries by breed and color, and tries to split up the category as best he can to ensure plenty of prizes.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Especially with little kids. You want to encourage them to continue in agriculture.”
Mr. Devan also helped select the junior most dedicated to agriculture award. Kaya Sieman of Oak Bluffs was the winner of the Jane Newhall Award for the boy or girl who shows the most overall dedication to livestock. Her chickens won a blue ribbon.
Inside the exhibit hall Mr. Devan also judged the eggs, butter, cheese and fleece. This year there were three cheese entries; last year there were none. Mermaid Farm and Dairy won top prize for their commercial tomme cheese and feta, and Joyce Maxner for her goat cheese.
“This time I felt we should have some fun with it,” Mr. Devan said, so he invited fair manager Eleanor Neubert and the fair ladies to help sample the cheese. “They thought it was the greatest thing since ice cream. The people who made the cheese did an absolutely fantastic job.”
In other fair business, and on a personal note, my mother, Margaret Klugman, won her first ribbon ever. After years of failed entries, and unwavering enthusiasm, she took home first place in the butter category. The look on her face when she saw the blue ribbon hanging in the refrigerated display case was pure joy. Cheers to you, Mom.
This column is meant to reflect all aspects of agriculture and farm life on the Vineyard. Remy Tumin may be contacted at 508-627-4311, extension 120, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.