The dash was on long before the gates opened for the 160th Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair at 10 a.m. on Thursday. Earlier that morning, volunteers and employees rushed around the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Hall grounds putting the finishing touches on one of summer’s crown jewels. Vendors prepped kitchens and hung signs on tents, caretakers brushed livestock in stables. The roar of an engine spread across the empty carnival.

“It’s nice to be back after two years of Covid,” said Ken Rusczyk, tying on an apron at Cozy’s Last Stand less than an hour before the start of the fair. “We gotta get things rolling. We gotta get cutting and dicing.”

Outside the Agricultural Society office, crews delineated management, organization and who would go set up the chairs. A golf cart and tractor made rounds, picking up and dropping off people and supplies. Inside the office, Agricultural Society executive director Lauren Lynch worked out the logistics of Friday’s firedancing performance with West Tisbury fire chief Gregory Pachico.

“She needs a 10-by-10 space,” Ms. Lynch said. “It’s going to be at eight o’clock at night.”

Henri Riendeau sits apiece with some friends. — Maria Thibodeau

“Just remind me,” Mr. Pachico replied.

Ms. Lynch said at least 100 people were out Thursday morning making final preparations for the fair — some paid, but many volunteering.

“Those are the people we know about,” Ms. Lynch said. “Then there’s all the kids who show up and say, ‘We’re helping!’”

She added that many people will drop off their entries for the fair’s various agricultural and artisan contests and quickly pivot to helping set up the fair.

“I don’t have a breakout,” she said, referring to the number of volunteers. “It’s a lot. It’s a lot.”

Best seat in the house. — Maria Thibodeau

But there was comfort in the chaos. Eleanor Neubert, who first managed the fair in 1984, said some of the most tense moments always come right before the first visitors enter the fairgrounds.

“You can never predict, but the general atmosphere is that it’s exciting,” she said. “You can prepare whatever you want, but you never know what’s going to happen.”

And there was a lot to be excited about as the minutes passed before the fair’s 10 a.m. opening. The sun shined bright through sparse clouds — rain looked a near impossibility.

“It’s to die for,” Ms. Lynch said of the weather.

When the fair finally began at 10 a.m., families flocked in and passed through the vendors, some still hanging their signs to tents. Carnival lights blinked on rides and games, awaiting their first patrons. Parents pushed strollers and wrangled running children.

And the race is on! — Maria Thiboeau

From a loudspeaker, Ms. Neubert’s voice came over the Agricultural Society grounds.

“Good morning everyone, the 160th fair is now open,” she said.

For some, it was their first.

“We’ve been coming to the Vineyard for … 25 years, and we’ve never made it to the fair,” said Lauren Jones.

She and Enna Jeter brought baby Enna Hernandez so she could see the animals.

Defying gravity can be fun. — Maria Thibodeau

“But now that we see the food here, we have a second agenda,” Ms. Jones said.

As caretakers gathered for the parade of working steer and oxen commemorating the start of the fair, a wash of relief came over the Agricultural Society office — but only for a moment. Four days of competitions, carnival food and performances lay ahead.

“It’s a momentary wave of relief,” Ms. Lynch said.

More pictures.