This weekend, close to 60,000 farmers, homesteaders, progressives, hipsters and hippies will converge on the small town of Unity for the 34th annual Common Ground Country Fair.
Billed as a three-day celebration of rural living, the fair lacks the honky-tonk of carnival rides and midway games and instead emphasizes organic farming, environmental sustainability, traditional skills and Maine folkways, with a hefty dose of music, exhibits, speakers, demonstrations and vendors.
The more than 60 food booths serving local, organic eats and the state’s only all-organic farmers market make the fair a must-attend for foodies. But with everything from a 5K run to a film series, the fair has a little something for everyone.
“There are so many phenomenal presenters at the fair,” said fair director Jim Ahearne of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which hosts the yearly gathering. “There are almost 700 unique events taking place over the three days. Even for me, it’s a little bit overwhelming.”
One of those events is the annual Manure Toss, sure to bring out the farmer in everyone who gives it a try. The competition takes place on Saturday, with the contest for distance at 10 a.m. and the contest for accuracy at 2 p.m.
If you’re not ready to get your hands dirty but want to see farm animals in action, check out the sheepdog demos taking place at regular intervals each day or watch the cow parade at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Friday and 4 p.m. on Saturday.
The Common Ground 5K goes off at 8 a.m. on Sunday, and while it’s too late to register as a runner, you can watch it before the gates open at 9 a.m.
Want to gain new skills or knowledge? Here are a few suggestions from the hundreds of daily offerings: How to start a fire with friction (9 a.m. Friday through Sunday and 3:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday); how to host a home funeral (2 p.m. Friday through Sunday); how to milk a goat (3:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday); how to access medical marijuana (10 a.m. Saturday); how to make wines with fruits and flowers (11 a.m. Saturday); how to commute by bike (noon Saturday); how to dye with indigo (1 p.m. Saturday); how to use a composting toilet (2 p.m. Saturday); how to protect children from toxic substances (noon Sunday); and how to weatherize your home to save energy (2 p.m. Sunday).
Other attractions include a folk art area, an environmental action tent, a social and political action area, vendor marketplaces, livestock barns, an exhibition hall, and a health and healing area.
“One thing that’s unique about the Common Ground Fair is all the vendors that are here, they have to apply,” Ahearne said. “We look for exhibitors that not only fit topically but also represent the best of what’s out there.”
Musical acts perform on four different stages all day throughout the fair. Highlights include Jerks of Grass (4:30 p.m. Friday), Emilia Dahlin (4:30 p.m. Friday), Over a Cardboard Sea (noon Saturday), The Toughcats (12:30 p.m. Saturday), Eric Bettencourt (12:45 p.m. Sunday) and Marie Moreshead (2 p.m. Sunday). All of the above perform on the Spotlight Stage with the exception of Jerks of Grass and Over a Cardboard Sea, both of which will be at the amphitheater.
On Friday night, the “Meet Your Farmer” film series will screen at 5 p.m. in the exhibition hall. The series consists of eight shorts produced for Maine Farmland Trust by filmmakers Cecily Pingree and Jason Mann.
At 5 p.m. Saturday, the fair hosts a screening of the documentary film “A Chemical Reaction,” which chronicles the efforts of a Canadian dermatologist to ban the use of landscaping pesticides and herbicides after she discovered a connection between her patients’ health and exposure to these chemicals.
With so many people arriving at the fair, the rural roads surrounding the fairground will get snarled with traffic backups. You can avoid the wait, and save $2 off the ticket price, by driving to a designated parking lot and then riding your bike the rest of the way to the fair.
Another option is to take the Brooks Preservation Society train directly to the fairgrounds from stations in Unity and Thorndike (an all-day train pass costs $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 10 and under), or go to www.mofga.org to find a carpool heading out from your hometown.
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]