After an unprecedented year and a half, the opening of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair on Thursday morning was in many ways a return to precedent. Just as they have done for 159 years, Islanders arrived ready to embrace time-honored events such as the skillet toss, animal judging, sack race and corn husking competitions.

But unlike years past, Covid-safety precautions also take center stage. After a rise in Covid cases of late on the Island and with mask mandates back in place, the fair is looking at safety-first measures. Masks are required inside tents and halls, and unvaccinated people attending must wear a face covering at all times.

A sign in the barn reads: “Social distance, 6 feet — keep one cow apart.”

Volunteers, attendees and competitors expressed their gratitude to be back at the fair.

How's my left side looking? — Maria Thibodeau

“We’re happy to have it even if we have to wear masks,” said volunteer Heather Capece.

“They did a great job, and I feel safe,” added Michelle Cassorla.

In addition to rides and funnel cake, the four-day event offers educational opportunities about agriculture and livestock. Liz Toomey, co-manager of the fiber tent, has been volunteering for over 10 years. As a professional seamstress who studied fashion and textile design, she welcomes the chance to teach fair-goers about sustainability and traditional fabric practices.

“Wool and linen are part of the natural heritage of the Island,” she explained. “The fiber tent is a way to learn about how fibers are an equally important part of the Island’s agricultural community as food.”

For oxen owners, their competition allows them to dispel myths and misconceptions about cattle raising. Eighteen-year-old Erin Weidner has cared for her steers, Chip and Dale, since they were born, bottle feeding them when she was just 11.

Working the midway. — Maria Thibodeau

“It’s definitely a very small subculture of people that do oxen, and obviously it’s a very traditional historical thing, and I feel it’s important to preserve,” she said. “Showing the public that it still exists, I think it’s really cool.”

The barn is full of just about every farm animal imaginable. Cows, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks, alpacas, horses and chickens can all be found in the stalls. A batch of piglets elicited squeals of delight from passersby who also paused to take pictures. Ms. Capece worked in the barn with her daughter Coco. She silk-screened and tie-dyed T-shirts for the barn crew. “I was thinking a lot about the fair and how my family has grown up with the fair, and it’s shaped my kids,” Ms. Capece said over a chorus of moos echoing through the barn. “They love helping, they love being a part of it, they love the animals.” Weaving in and out of the crowds are the dutiful waste collectors, towing trash bins to ensure the fairgrounds stay clean. West Tisbury seventh graders Amos Sauer, Matthew MacMillan and Henry Hall worked the opening shift Thursday morning.

“Everything at the fair is funny,” Amos said. “My favorite part are the rides and the food . . . they give us free food for helping out.”

The hungry masses have a plethora of different culinary options to choose from. One of the longtime staples is the burger stand in support of the West Tisbury volunteer fire department. Bobby Holt grew up on the Island but now lives in North Carolina. He returns each summer to work the stand.

“My dad was a volunteer fireman for years and years,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for probably 30 years . . . This is the town I grew up in, so it feels great to help out in some small way.”

Oxen on parade. — Maria Thibodeau

On the other end of the spectrum, for three-year-old Blake Laskin it was her first trip to the Vineyard and her first fair.

“My favorite ride was all of them!” she declared.

The 159th Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair continues through Sunday, August 22, opening each morning at 10 a.m. For more information, visit