Often when we think of state or county fairs, we think of carnival rides, fast food and noisy events. Imagine, however, being transported back to a time when people lived close to the land and enjoyed activities such as nature hikes and pitching horseshoes. Now imagine that same setting with policies encouraging zero waste and clean air, vendors who serve organic foods, and plenty of opportunity for personal connections with local farmers and vendors.
No need to imagine – this fair actually exists in the form of the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine. The fair, in its 31st year, is hosted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), an organization dedicated to preserving the environment by supporting organic growers and educating consumers on the benefits of locally grown, organic produce.
Each year the fair attracts nearly 50,000 visitors from around the United States and abroad to the rural town of Unity, and teaches them in a fun and exciting way just how good country living can be. In fact, what makes the fair so successful is the combination of education and fun experienced in a small-town, country atmosphere.
A mix of old and new
Fair Director Barbara Luce says organizing a fair was just a natural outcropping of MOFGA’s desire to teach Maine folks about organic practices. She says fairs were originally an educational experience and a way for homesteaders to learn about ways to be successful.
MOFGA has been able to stay true to that ideal and still keep up with today’s farming advances by offering everything from agricultural how-to demonstrations to exhibits on technological advances in sustainable energy and green building. Luce says that by joining the mission to educate with newer ideas of sustainability, the fair encompasses the best of both old and new.
Good country fun
Beyond simply educating fairgoers, the Common Ground Country Fair is just plain fun. Slogging through the mud on the rainiest day of the fair last year, the faces of children and adults alike glowed as they explored organic vegetables in the exhibition hall or ate a steaming bowl of soup.
This year’s events include kitchen demonstrations, forestry tours, papermaking demonstrations and apple-themed activities for children of all ages. And, of course, there will be old-fashioned competitions for produce and natural desserts, apple pie contests and even a 5k footrace.
Uniting the community
Not only is there something for everyone, but the Common Ground Country Fair is literally everyone’s fair. While MOFGA does have a handful of paid staff, the fair is largely organized and run by an army of volunteers. Last year’s volunteer corps topped more than 1,000 people from all over the state.
That idea of community is attractive to both volunteers and visitors, and the ties created strengthen the community. As Luce says, “If the community isn’t strong, then everything else falls apart.”
Another way the fair strengthens the community is by connecting farmers and consumers, a connection we often miss in today’s marketplace where our food comes wrapped in plastic or is shipped from thousands of miles away.
Walking the talk
What makes the fair so special is that even though there are literally thousands of people attending, the atmosphere remains one of small-town America where people value the land and its resources. In keeping with these values, volunteers work hard to make the fair a zero-waste event, meaning nearly all waste left behind by visitors is either composted, recycled or reused. Vendors, who serve organic, healthful foods made with local ingredients, use biodegradable containers. Even visitors to the fair are encouraged to help by sorting their trash into recycling and composting bins.
The Common Ground Country Fair provides a haven from today’s distractions and gives visitors a chance to enjoy all that rural living has to offer.
If you go The fair will be September 21, 22 and 23. Take I-95 to Route 139 East and follow the signs to Unity. For more information, visit www.MOFGA.org, and click on “The Fair.”