On September 22, 23 & 24, the 41st annual Common Ground Country Fair will take place at the home of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) in Unity, Maine. Some 60,000 people take part in this event, which celebrates rural and sustainable living in Maine. The Fair is unique because there are no midway carnivals, fast food or games of chance. What it does offer is pure fun and entertainment in an educational context.
“Vendors, demonstrators, entertainers and exhibitors feature traditional skills, talent, local organic food, and made-in-Maine crafts,” said Fair Director April Boucher. “Common Ground has some of the most delicious food of any fair in Maine. MOFGA places a great deal of emphasis on educating people about available alternatives for living healthfully, happily and comfortably in the Northeast.”
Each day, there are hundreds of talks, demonstrations and exhibits focusing on healthy and environmentally sound living. The Fair’s activities are spread out over 40+ acres of well-tended land adorned by beautiful perennial gardens, walkways, and orchards.
The success and continued growth of the Fair is attributable to generous donations and the tremendous loyalty of MOFGA’s remarkable volunteer community. If you’ve never had the opportunity to attend this local event, this is the year to do so. Here are just a few exciting reasons to attend the Fair:
Each day at 11 a.m. on the Common there will be a keynote address. On Friday, long-time MOFGA farmer Jill Agnew, of Willow Pond Farm in Sabattus, will deliver a talk entitled “Community” Supported Agriculture – Looking Back, Looking Forward, A 40-Year Story. She will talk about what visions lie ahead to maintain a positive impact in the community and how basic human values are supported, taught and nurtured – all in the context of agriculture, the panorama people can see, smell, experience and eat. On Saturday, Sherri Mitchell, attorney, teacher, spiritual activist, and director of the Land Peace Foundation, will speak about Standing on Indigenous Rights – the need for developing unity with indigenous rights movements, centering on our shared connection to the Earth and our interdependence with one another and the entire structure of life. And on Sunday, Jonathan Rosenthal, executive director of the New Economy Coalition, and co-founder of Equal Exchange, will discuss the interconnectedness of our many different struggles for justice. He will highlight solutions that fundamentally transform our economy, culture, and politics, while looking at the connection between local work and systemic transformation.
MOFGA’s Public Policy Committee will host an important Teach-in on Saturday at 1 p.m. on the Spotlight Stage. The Teach-in, entitled Making America Green Again: A Workshop In Resistance, will feature three environmental policy experts who will describe threats to state and federal policies, and ways to fight back. Emmie Theberge, federal project director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), will explain key environmental issues at the state and federal levels. Senator Shenna Bellows (D-Manchester) will speak about how to run for office at the state and federal levels. Beth Ahearn, political director at Maine Conservation Voters, will coach about how to make your voice heard – i.e., how best to contact state and federal legislators, and how to present testimony and lobby in person. Nancy Ross, former executive director of MOFGA, will moderate the Teach-in. Nancy is professor emerita of environmental policy at Unity College and adjunct faculty in political science at Southern Maine Community College. A Q&A session will follow the presentations.
Other speakers and demonstrators offer numerous informative presentations and workshops on topics such as seed saving, composting, growing grains, organic gardening, farm marketing, cooking with local and seasonal foods, medicinal and culinary herbs, working with animal fiber, raising livestock, energy efficiency, conservation, toxics and other environmental concerns, social and political initiatives, working with stone, traditional and practical Maine folk arts, Maine Native American culture, low impact forestry skills, Maine’s media sources, ecological design and building, and practices for healthy living. See the Fair’s detailed schedule of events.
One of the most beautiful fair venues is MOFGA’s Exhibition Hall — a post and beam structure designed and raised in 1998 by five Maine-based timber frame companies. The Hall showcases thousands of garden entries organically raised throughout the state. The vibrant colors and great diversity inspire fairgoers to try their hands at growing countless varieties of fruits, vegetables, grains, flowers, nuts, herbs and flowers. Eggs, honey, home-made beverages, baked goods, dried foods, and, of course, canned foods are on display. Amateur craftspeople and artists also submit wonderful items for display.
Throughout the Fair weekend, there are livestock shows, contests and demonstrations featuring draft horses and ponies, dairy cattle and oxen, donkeys and mules, goats and sheep, poultry, rabbits, llamas and alpacas, and pigs. Sheep Dog demonstrations happen three times a day.
Dozens of Maine’s entertainers will perform in the Amphitheater, on the Spotlight Stage, and as rovers around the fairgrounds.
The Fair’s festive Children’s Area is a mini-Fair unto itself. There are countless activities (all free) for kids to participate in joyfully, and there is a stage with great entertainment for families. A children’s garden parade winds around The Common twice daily. All are welcome to don garden costumes and march.
And, of course, there are countless opportunities to purchase Maine-grown produce and other beautifully crafted, Maine-made goods. Two large and brilliant farmers’ markets offer an abundance of Maine’s organic produce. The Agricultural Products and Farm & Homestead areas feature goods and services from Maine’s farming and gardening community. The Crafts tents showcase exquisite creations from Maine’s finest artists and craftspeople. The Energy & Shelter Area presents environmentally friendly materials and systems for Maine homes. The Maine Fiber Farms tent highlights beautiful crafts and practical items made from farm animal fiber. The Maine Indian Basketmakers Association area offers superb creations of basketry, jewelry and other crafts of the Wabanaki, as well as educational talks, traditional dances and music. And the Youth Enterprise Zone, which happens on Friday and Sunday, presents the skill, innovation and creativity of Maine’s young entrepreneurs. This celebration of rural living offers something for everyone, in a traditionally festive atmosphere.
“The Common Ground Country Fair blends the best of traditional with the best of modern-day living in Maine, and shows Fairgoers how they can incorporate sustainable living practices into their own daily routines,” said Boucher.
Volunteers are needed during Fair set-up (through September 21), during the Fair itself (September 22, 23 & 24), and for a focused Fair clean-up effort on October 14. Volunteers who work a 4-hour shift receive an organic cotton Fair t-shirt illustrated with this year’s artwork, a hearty meal from the Fair’s Common Kitchen, and free admission to the Fair. Online pre-registration for volunteers will run through September 19. After pre-registration, anyone wishing to volunteer should come to the fairgrounds where coordinators will assign shifts as needed. Fair organizers especially need help during the clean-up after the Fair. Clean-up volunteers wishing to receive free admission to the Fair should check in at the Volunteer Registration Tent.
The Fair goes on rain or shine. MOFGA’s Common Ground Education Center is on the Crosby Brook Road in Unity. Gates open at 9 a.m. daily.
MOFGA offers free admission to the Fair for its members. Join MOFGA online. Tickets at the gate are $15 for general admission and $10 for elders.
For more information about the Common Ground Country Fair, call 207-568-4142 or visit www.mofga.org.
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