40th Annual Common Ground fair delights visitors

The weekend of September 23 through the 25 marked the 40th annual Common Ground fair, held in Unity, Maine by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). The fair celebrates the rural and agricultural traditions of Maine with outdoor activities, lectures, and discussions that support healthful and sustainable food production as a means to achieve thriving communities. This year, MOFGA held fun outdoor activities such as a 5K race through the farmland and the Harry S. Truman field events competition.

There were also various animal celebrations, such as donkey and mule shows, riding opportunities, draft horse shows, and sheepdog demonstrations. Some of the most popular fair areas were the farmers’ market, the social and political action tent, and the Maine marketplace. As usual, fairgoers also enjoyed buying fleece products at the fair’s popular fleece show.

This year’s keynote addresses were given by agricultural luminaries, Will Allen and Amanda Beal. Mr. Allen spoke on Friday. His accolades include being a farmer, a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, and the founder and CEO of Growing Power, Inc., an organization which helps develop food production systems in underprivileged areas to create youth employment and empower communities. On Saturday, incoming President and CEO of the Maine Farmland Trust, Amanda Beal, spoke about her ‘New England Food Vision,’ an effort to achieve sustainable farming and fishing, which she stated will lead to thriving communities.

MOFGA states that the fair is meant to both provide a fun community event and create a platform for ideas that will lead to better environmental practices. One aspect of this mission is to communicate the benefits of agricultural initiatives such as organic farming and sustainable practices both to the consumer and to the environment as a whole. For example, a one talk explained that not only does organic produce provide a more nutritious diet, but also preserves the quality of soil. This leads to better nutrition amongst consumers, and more sustainable farming, supporting Maine’s robust agricultural industry, much of which participates in the fair.

A directory of all participants is available on the MOFGA website. Another goal this year was to promote limited harmful pesticide use. In line with this message, the fair had a public policy lecture about home use pesticide products. This informative talk was held by Mary Cerullo, associate director of the South Portland marine conservation organization, Friends of Casco Bay. It featured speakers such as Jay Feldman, who co-founded the advocacy group Beyond Pesticides and has directed it since 1981, environmental journalist and Mainer Avery Yale Kamila, and chair of the Harpswell Conservation Commission Mary Ann Nahf, among others.

Colby continued its engagement with the fair this year by providing transportation to and from the fairground. Colby students enjoyed the outdoor activities and festive atmosphere. Merrill Read ’19 said that she “liked how many different types of shops and food they had” and that she “especially liked the French lavender store.” She also added that her “favorite activities were sliding down the hill on cardboard and getting to see cute animals.”

Both cute animals and outdoor spontaneity are perennially popular among Colby students, so it’s no surprise that the fair has become a part of fall at the College. Will Levesque ’18 said that he wanted to go this year because he “heard it was a lot of fun and it’s nice to hang out with the local community.” Other students said they especially enjoyed the horse pulled cart that brings people into the festival grounds and the live music. One student recalled his roommate eating a “raw meal” with vegetables straight from the ground, which he said contributed to the eco-friendly environment of the fair.

Students who enjoyed the Common Ground Fair should be looking forward to Maine Maple Sunday. This is a springtime event that celebrates Maine’s maple production with local sugar-houses and farms. Maple Sunday continues the fair’s message of more informed food consumption through participating locations offering free maple syrup samples and demonstrations of how pure Maine maple syrup is made. Just like the Common Ground Fair, many locations also provide games, activities, tours, music, and similar festivities. Maine Maple Sunday isn’t until March 27 this year, but mark your calendars to prepare for an even sweeter Common Ground Fair experience.

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