Friday, October 8, 2010

The Common Ground Fair in Maine

"If you’ve ever been to the Fair, you know — and if you haven’t been, anyone who has will tell you — it’s an event like no other, that brings together so many people from so many walks of life, all in the spirit of celebrating the rural and agricultural traditions of Maine."

The Common Ground Fair is an incredible experience. A lot of effort is put into focusing and highlighting organic farmers and gardeners from Maine. The fair ran from September 24-26th. I spent only 6 hours at this fair, and I learned a lot about organic farming and a lot about Maine. I was impressed with the way in which the fair was conducted and how committed this fair was to a cause beyond making money. The Common Ground fair was an eye opener.

The fair is put on by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners (MOFGA) which is conveniently located in the small town of Unity, Maine. Luckily for me, it is within walking distance of our apartment. If I was not working most of the weekend I would have gone all three days to volunteer or sign up for workshops, or listen to lectures from renowned farmers/gardeners from around the country. The entire week of MOFGA's Common Ground Fair transforms the tiny town of Unity into a frenzied overcrowded spectacle, as a hundred thousand people show up from all over the world to attend. People camp out in MOFGAs fields, relatives fly in to visit, nearly every Unity College student and towns person is at the fair working and people staying home are setting up garage sales or little booths to sell vegetables or crafts at the side of the street as the endless streams of cars start pouring in. The whole town gets involved.

Once you get to the fair you start a long walk, or take a tractor ride to one of the fair's two entrances. You can either sign up to volunteer, or pay a ten dollar entry fee and begin your exploration. Much like any fair, there are tents everywhere, tables, booths, displays, benches, signs, smells and posters. The Common Ground fair only sells locally grown food at vendors. Their booths must be related to local companies or products and must focus on farming/gardening and the state of Maine. There were a lot of animals, and also many demonstrations about all sorts of things. We saw a demonstration on saddling a carriage on two horses, and at the same time watched how to heard sheep. A few steps away they were showing you how to cut wool off a sheep (the sheep was not happy). At the next tent they were dying some sort of fabric. We walked be dozens of other interesting looking demonstrations of lecture that we did not stop for. Most people that are familiar with the fair plan out their weekend based on what they want to learn. Primitive skills like starting a fire, organic farming in small settings, saving seeds, optimizing yields, building your own cottage, and the list is endless.

My personal favorite booth for me was the beehive collective, which was displaying amazing posters that told intricate stories about some problem in the world. The posters were stunning, and the organization members were there explaining the meaning behind the newest poster; which was absolutely brilliant.

Only a few months ago, I was living in the mid west surrounded by huge fairs like the Renaissance Festival and the Minnesota State Fair. I have had experiences with huge fairs. While parking, large crowds, weather, expensive prices, bathrooms are all still problems that Common Ground has during its fair, there is a noticeable difference between the Common Ground Fair and what I normally think of as a 'fair'. The Common Ground fair puts its money where its mouth is and really holds to its guns about making the fair about organic farming and gardening. I did not feel like I was under pressure to buy products. I felt the food choices were respectable and not food that was going to kill me. I also felt that people working at booths were not there simply to make money, and seemed more concerned with supporting Maine. The general consensus from people I would talk to at the deli I am working at, was that the fair was a great places to spend your day learning about valuable skills and knowledge that was going to help them in the future. The one farming lecture we stopped at was fascinating and filled with so much good information it made me wish I had a garden to immediately put some of the ideas to use.

In the end, I was impressed and cannot wait for next year to go again. I met a guy who biked from Ithaca, New York to Unity, Maine (9 hours by car) just to volunteer at the fair and then he was going to bike home. He even slept in our backyard one night. Strange and wonderful things happen during the MOFGA week and I look forward to further embracing it next year.


Anonymous said...

awesome blog, do you have twitter or facebook? i will bookmark this page thanks. peace maria

Anonymous said...

I really like your blog and i really appreciate the excellent quality content you are posting here for free for your online readers. thanks peace klara.