Finding Common Ground

IMG_1798In September, people from all over Maine—and the East Coast—converge on Unity for the Common Ground Country Fair.  Unity sits in an area, not too far from the coast, which is dotted with farms, lakes, deep woods, and ridgelines with unexpected, expansive views.  It’s near the towns of Freedom, China, Detroit, and not far from Liberty, Harmony, and Hope—smack in the middle of one of Maine’s cluster of intriguing, evocative town names.

The walk from the parking area to the fair grounds.

The walk from the parking area to the fair grounds.

To get to the fair, we drove on up-and-down back roads, with a few “yikes-I-didn’t-expect-that” right-angle turns, by farms, through shadowy woods, by Lake St. George, and then suddenly up to high vistas of Knox and Thorndike’s farmland.  There, we knew we were near the fair when the brilliantly resourceful local fire departments had “voluntary toll” boot drives to raise money from the fair visitors.

The fair opened on a beautiful Friday morning.

The fair opened on a beautiful Friday morning.

The fair—generally referred to simply as “Common Ground”—started in 1977 and has become a Maine institution.  It is put on by MOFGA (the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association), an impressive organization that provides resources and support for Maine’s organic community and—to my delight—is a generous and friendly wealth of knowledge on all aspects of farming and gardening in Maine.

My favorite booth--FEDCO trees--with examples of Maine apple varieties--old and new.

My favorite booth–FEDCO trees–with examples of Maine apple varieties–old and new.

Maine is home to a rich and growing culture of small farms and self-sufficiency.  It attracted a significant back-to-the-land movement in the 1970’s, inspired in part by then-Maine residents Helen and Scott Nearing and their book “Living the Good Life.”  MOFGA and the Common Ground Fair grew out of that 1970’s movement and both continue to thrive as another generation tries to make a sustainable living in rural and small-town Maine.

Selling Maine lavender

Selling Maine lavender

No doubt, MOFGA has had a key role in the resurgence in organic farming in Maine over the past decade.  And the Common Ground Fair is both a tribute to and a playground for MOFGA and its members.  IMG_1808The fair takes place over a three-day weekend and is a marvel of organization and the power of volunteers. IMG_1993 Everything appears to run with ease and efficiency, from the parking, to the food, to the cleanup and recycling.  While I apprehensively expected to find a gathering of aging hippies, or a smug, unrealistic group of ideologues—I was happy to find a vibrant mix of people of all ages and varying backgrounds (although mostly white ) coming together to learn more about, to celebrate, and to retain the skills of rural living at its best.

Maine's few remaining Shakers were selling their sought-after herbs

Maine’s few remaining Shakers were selling their sought-after herbs

These were in tent devoted to Maine's Native Americans' crafts, skills, and culture

These were in tent devoted to the crafts, skills, and culture of Maine’s Native Americans

Unlike other country fairs, Common Ground has no midway, pig races, or pie-eating contests.

Fleeces for sale

Fleeces for sale

It tends more towards knowledge-sharing, with workshops on everything from calming a nervous horse, to working with honeybee swarms, to using green manures.  IMG_1867_edited-1I was torn by all the workshop choices but directional tree-felling (for George), and home orchards and composting (for me) won out.  Next year, mushroom cultivation, for sure.

IN go the apples

In go the apples

And out comes the cider

And out comes the cider

There were barns full of animals.  IMG_1892IMG_1924And whole areas of vegetables, farmers markets, gardens, and orchards.IMG_1810IMG_2017About 60,000 attend the fair each year over its three day run.  But, surprisingly, it never felt crowded or rushed.

Lunchtime

Lunchtime

It’s not dirty or littered, and people take time to talk and share information.  I happily wandered around huge tents of artisan and craft booths from folks throughout Maine, with some really exquisite products.  IMG_1856IMG_1991All in all, it was pure pleasure, and we will be back for much more next year.IMG_1916

 

15 thoughts on “Finding Common Ground

    • We’ve been hearing raves about this fair since before we moved here. And, amazingly, it lived up to the hype. We felt like we only dipped our toes in all that was available to do. You all should make a trip up to Maine next fall and check it out!

  1. Now that sounds like my sort of fair. With the names of the towns who wouldn’t want to live there, Liberty, Harmony and Hope , they all have such a positive image. And loved how the “Duke” was keeping his eye on everything. Thanks for sharing such interesting common ground

    • Yes, I believe you would have loved this fair. I spent two mornings there and it wasn’t nearly enough time.
      Maine’s town names are fascinating. Aside from the virtue names in the Unity area, there is a cluster of patriotic town names, a huge number of unusual foreign city/country names (Peru, Stockholm, Palermo (and many more)) and a cluster of old biblical names (Gilead, Hebron, etc.) I’ve just started to delve into the history of the names and am looking forward to doing a lot more reading on them this winter.

  2. What a fabulous travelling adventure you’ve had. We also retired early, moved to the other end of the country but set down roots straight away. On the less good days we’ve thought about selling up, buying a Winnebago and just heading off! But Maine is a good place to be and that fair looks fun as well as providing all sorts of practical help.

    • We have to balance our love of ditching it all and travelling with having a home place with roots spreading down. Right now, we’re focused on setting down roots. And enjoying it mightily. A turn with each is a good thing. If you live long enough, there’s time for both.

  3. I love the Common Ground Fair. In recent years, I’ve gone with a different friend each year and found myself focusing on different parts of all that is available. Because, you are right, you can’t see all of it in one day. (By the way, I live in Poland — you know, not far from Paris and Norway and Lisbon and Mexico and Peru 🙂 )

    • It’s special, isn’t it? We had such a good time and it just left me wanting more. There were so many workshops i wanted to attend and I could have spent a whole day in the artisan/craft tents.

      So you’re in Poland–I’m vaguely familiar with the area and recall it as lovely. I am continually struck by Maine’s quirky place names. So many clusters and themes. I’m looking forward to digging into some local history.

      I enjoy your blog.

    • The inherited garden was such a sweet bonus. It was a treat every morning this summer to get up, head out with my coffee, and see what was new. Next year we will be tackling the old apple trees that we also inherited.

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