It was Year 2 of the Best Day of the Year -- the one spent going to the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine -- and it was this past weekend. Where is Unity? Next to Freedom and Hope, of course, in the central region of the state -- about 40 minutes from anywhere you might sleep over so as to arrive at the fairgrounds early enough to get a good parking spot.
The Fair is a 3-day event sponsored by MOGFA, the Maine Organic Gardner and Farmers Association. It features farmers markets, a wide range of authentic crafts and artisans, a plethora of astonishing food choices, lectures, animals, gardening/farming demonstrations and so much more. It defies characterization as a state fair, though it seems to fall into that bucket. It is the most vibrant, fun, creative, innovative, delicious, stimulating 'fair' I have ever attended -- and year two was no less enthralling than last year, my first visit.
Let's begin with food. All vendors source locally and organically, yet there is what you would expect at a fair: fried dough, sausage and onions, pizza, smoothies, French fries, hot dogs -- but that's just the beginning. There are organic lamb kabobs, pork a dozen different ways, fried clams, shrimp and haddock, egg sandwiches, dozens of mouth watering vegetarian dishes, ice cream, baked goods, smoothies, carrot juice, gluten-free everything, tacos, crabmeat rolls, baked potatoes, home fries, wraps, tempura, baked beans, cookies, chai and more!
Each gate featured a robust farmers market with artfully arranged produce that called out 'buy me... ake me back to NYC.' I indulged in red and yellow cippolini onions, dozens of heads of garlic, Maine-grown fresh ginger, potatoes, salsa making kits and more. It was the lack of refrigeration that kept me from purchasing more.
Folk Arts and Crafts -- absolutely no 'Made in China' stickers here. The level of craftsmanship and artistry is just delightful and impressive. From handmade prints, aprons, soaps, granola, wooden rocking chairs, jewelry, pickles, pottery, walking sticks, clothing, bags, t-shirts, baskets, carts, hobbit houses, chicken coops, rugs, pocket books, canoes, totem poles, birdhouses, clothing, stools -- and thankfully, an ATM at each entrance gate.
DIY projects were ongoing, from weaving and knitting, to carving and boat building, beekeeping and seed saving, food harvesting and preserving, to planning an at-home funeral. Lectures started at 9 AM and continued throughout the day on topics including farming, forestry, livestock, community and wholesome living. There was lots of advice on gardening and Eliot Coleman was on hand to talk about extending the season.
The Social and Political Action tent made room for everyone from anti-torture, anti-capital punishment/Amnesty International, Free Cuba, Immigration reform, women's rights, environmental/ecological groups and other socially conscious organizations. A tent was devoted to school and community-based gardening programs: some in schools, one geared towards the Somali population.
I ate, I shopped, I made new friends, I ate again, I fell in love with the rabbits, I hauled potatoes and a pumpkin to my car and returned again to haul more stuff including a hand-woven Maine Indian backpack-basket. I met people from NY, I spoke with Maine-folks who recalled their New York lives, I chatted with a family from New Hampshire (we agreed Vermonters were a little odd) -- and everyone was warm, accepting and conversational.
Next year, I plan to spend more time watching livestock activities and will stay over an additional night so I can spend two days at the fair instead of just one. I also would like to volunteer for a shift -- which not only earns you admission and a volunteer t-shirt, but a meal and camping privileges.
I don't know what it is about the Common Ground Fair that speaks so deeply to me. Is it the young & passionate and rapidly expanding farm community? Or the food & culinary community, which seems to be growing by leaps and bounds? Is it the culture of inclusion or the simplicity of life coupled with respect for the environment?
I found my old friends here, and with their slogan, I thought it was a call to action worthy of all our participation -- Occupy Common Ground. Amen.