Common Ground Country Fair
The Common Ground Country Fair, also known as the Common Ground Fair, is an agricultural fair in Unity, Maine held the third weekend after Labor Day and sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). It was first held in 1977. The fair "celebrates organic living, farming and growing," and all the food sold at the event must be organic. The fair regularly hosts 50,000 to 60,000 people.
A very small item about the first Common Ground Country Fair ran in the Portland Press Herald on Sept. 2, 1977 under the headline “Fair to Have Extra Features.” The “few touches” that would make the fair “a cut above the traditional” were “a roster of speakers that includes Helen and Scott Nearing, renowned homesteaders and authors.” The story is 102 words long, which suggests that editors at the Press Herald had limited expectations for the future of the Common Ground Country Fair.
In the Nov.-Dec. 1977 Maine Organic Farmer & Gardner magazine, Lloyd Ferris wrote:
The Common Ground Country Fair was really too big to define in words. One is left with a lot of pleasant memory pictures; a lot of good thoughts. I will never forget, for instance, that incredible tent that looked a bit like an Egyptian pyramid or a star. And what food there was beneath it: The Strong Brothers’ egg rolls for which people lined up 50 deep, the Hungry Hunza sandwiches loaded with cheeses and sprouts and other good things, Mary’s home-made ice cream with hot apples, Krystina’s delightful bakery goods and that fine swichel (if I’m spelling it right) cooked up by the Sagadahoc County Chapter of MOFGA. It was a kind of hot cider mixture, they told me, consumed by workers long ago during haying season.
In 2008, MOFGA installed water bottle filling stations to test the viability of banning the sale of bottled water. The test run was deemed a success and the sale and use of bottled water was banned the following year.
Coffee sales were banned at the fair for many decades. By 2011 the rules had changed and fair vendors could sell organic, fair-trade coffee.
In May 2020, MOFGA announced the fair wouldn't take place for the first time since its inception due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fair director April Bouchard said in a statement the cancellation "allows us to begin planning a marquee virtual event."
The fair doesn't have a midway or race track. It features traditional skills demonstrations, alternative energy demonstrations, handicraft vendors, two farmers markets and two food courts, selling a range of organic, prepared foods.
The fair is also host to a large number of political groups and activists. In 2009, there were 64 political or social activism groups in attendance.
In 2012, Anne Raver of The New York Times visited the fair and wrote: "The fair is a grand celebration not only for organic growers, but also for spinners and weavers; woodworkers and jewelry-makers; drovers of oxen, horses and mules; and sheep herders and their dogs. Not to mention poets and fiddlers, reflexologists and herbalists, solar and wind power gurus, seed savers and worm-keepers." The Times also noted: "It wasn’t the toasty smell of cotton candy that filled the air; it was the fruity fragrance of sweet Annie (Artemisia annua), a European herb that can self-seed in the garden like an invading army. Women old and young wore golden crowns of it on their heads."
In 2013, the Portland Press Herald reported: "Instead of the typical fair staples such as cotton candy and carnival rides, the Common Ground Country Fair draws crowds seeking veggie burgers and workshops on worm composting."
The fair is known for its numerous vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. Vegan columnist Avery Yale Kamila wrote in 2014: "for vegetarians there is no contest when it comes to the agricultural event with the largest selection of meat-free options. The Common Ground Country Fair wins the blue ribbon for consistent veg-friendliness year after year."
The Maine Campus newspaper wrote in 2019 the fair "has significantly more vegan and vegetarian options than an average fair."
Each day of the fair features one keynote address plus hundreds of other speeches, talks, panel discussions, demonstrations and other educational events. Some past keynote addresses at the Common Ground Country Fair were delivered by: Wendell Berry, Scott Nearing, Helen Nearing, Elliot Coleman, Vandana Shiva, Will Bonsall, Kent Whealy, Jim Hightower, Ross Gelbspan, Percy Schmeiser.
Poster art & competition
MOFGA holds an annual competition for the artwork to be featured on the next year's fair poster and merchandise. Maine residents and MOFGA members can enter the contest. In 1987, the featured artwork was from Dahlov Ipcar. The 2011 poster was a still life oil painting of canned goods by Dacia Klinkerch. In 2014, Kate Seaver's medicinal herb drawing won the competition. The 2018 poster was a painting of two kunekune pigs by Arika von Edler, who painted them to highlight livestock not being raised for meat.
- Mack, Sharon Kiley (September 20, 2003). "Common Ground Country Fair starts". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
- Schneider, Keith (September 25, 1989). "Maine Fair Promotes Pure Food and Rural Values". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
- Pols, Mary (September 14, 2014). "For Common Ground vendors, is the fair enough?". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
- Pols, Mary (2016-09-18). "40 years of memories at the Common Ground Country Fair". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved 2020-02-28.
- "1977 November-December". www.mofga.org. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
- "Fair News". Maine Organic Farmers Gardeners Association. Spring 2009. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
- Kitchens, Sharon (September 9, 2014). "8 things I am looking forward to at this year's Common Ground Fair". Maine Today. Portland Press Herald. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
- "Beyond Coffee – Smooth and Naturally Sweet". www.mofga.org. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
- "MOFGA prepares for first solar-powered Common Ground Fair". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved 2017-09-15.
- "How Mainers keep finding new sources of energy". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved 2017-09-15.
- Writer, Eric RussellStaff (2020-05-05). "Common Ground Country Fair pulls plug on 2020 event but aims to stage 'virtual fair'". Press Herald. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
- Cousins, Christopher (September 27, 2009). "Activism flourishes at Common Ground Country Fair". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
- Raver, Anne (2012-09-26). "The Common Ground Fair in Maine Celebrates Organic Food". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-14.
- Hall, Jessica (2013-09-21). "Crowds find Common Ground at Maine fair". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved 2018-08-22.
- Kamila, Avery Yale (2014-09-17). "For vegetarians, Common Ground is the fairest of them all". Press Herald. Retrieved 2017-09-03.
- Kamila, Avery Yale (2017-09-13). "At the Common Ground fair in Unity, vegans have plenty of options for eating and learning". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved 2018-08-23.
- Semmel, Sierra (September 23, 2019). "Common Ground Country Fair: a health food heaven – The Maine Campus". Retrieved 2020-03-11.
- "MOFGA Historical Timeline". Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Retrieved 2020-02-28.
- Calder, Amy (2019-09-21). "At Common Ground fair, dire warnings about pesticide dangers". Morning Sentinel. Retrieved 2020-02-28.
- Commission, Maine Arts (2011-06-20). "Common Ground Country Fair Poster Competition". Maine Arts Commission. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
- "Kate Seaver's 'Medicinal Herbs' design wins Common Ground Art Contest". Boothbay Register. Retrieved 2020-05-08.
- Kamila, Avery Yale (2018-09-12). "Ten tips to help you get the most out of this year's Common Ground Fair". Press Herald. Retrieved 2020-05-08.