Bennett Collins started creating the wood-fired Harvest Moon Pizza he’ll sell at this weekend’s Common Ground Country Fair last fall.
That’s when he sowed the organic garlic at his Broadwing Farm in Bremen that will be used in the sauce. During the winter, he spent time tracking down organic and Maine-grown ingredients, and more recently, he’s been making sauces and dough.
At this year’s fair, taking place Friday through Sunday in Unity, he’ll offer pizza with cheese or maple garlic sausage toppings and a choice of tomato sauce or butternut squash sauce.
“We keep it kind of simple for the fair because it’s a crazy three-day event,” said Collins, whose organic pizza is a familiar sight to shoppers at the Rising Tide Community Market in Damariscotta. “It’s a long, busy lunch time. A lot of people go to the fair for the food offerings because there are a lot of different varieties of food.”
The Common Ground Country Fair, the major fundraiser for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, has strict regulations governing ingredients used in the food served at the event. First, everything must be organically grown. Ideally, the all-organic ingredients should be grown in Maine. But if a particular ingredient is not available from Maine, or in the quantity needed, vendors can purchase certified organic products from out of state.
In years past, Collins was able to get organic cheese from a farm in Maine. But when rising grain prices forced the farm to supplement its organic feed with conventional feed, Collins had to switch to buying Organic Valley cheese, a national brand.
“Every year there are more and more ingredients produced in Maine,” Collins said.
He also grew his own onions for the pizza and typically grows some of his own tomatoes for the red sauce, but late blight wiped out his crop this year, so he had to buy them from California. The sausage comes from Treble Ridge Farm, the squash is sourced from Sweetland Farm, and much of the whole wheat in the dough comes from Aurora Mills.
“I hope to be using all Maine grain next year because of the opening of the Somerset Grist Mill,” Collins said. “Aurora only does a couple varieties, and everybody wants it. There’s not enough supply.”
While this will be the third year for Harvest Moon Pizza at the fair, Taylor Mauck, who runs the Solar Cafe, has been a Common Ground Fair vendor for more than a decade.
“The hardest part is really getting the quantities you need, because Common Ground is a large fair,” Mauck said. “You can sell a bunch of food.”
The event typically attracts about 60,000 farmers, gardeners and food lovers over three days to the rural fairgrounds, located three hours north of Portland.
The Solar Cafe, which powers all its blenders, juicers and refrigerators on solar panels, runs two booths at the fair and sells smoothies, juices, veggie wraps and coffee. In years past, the Solar Cafe been swamped with so many customers that it has run out of ingredients, causing Mauck to make a dash to the on-site farmers markets to restock.
During the rest of the year, Mauck travels around the country with his sun-powered Solar Cafe, selling food at major music festivals, such as Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Wanee in Florida. The Common Ground is the only fair where Solar Cafe sets up shop.
“We have alterative foods in the sense that we’re all vegetarian and vegan, which really doesn’t work at the other fairs,” Mauck said, “where the Common Ground Country Fair concentrates on whole, healthy foods.”
In addition to pizza and smoothies, the event’s two food courts offer up 49 booths with an atypical array of fair food.
Traditionalists can find fair staples such as french fries and fried dough (all organic, of course), but foodies seeking more diversity will be pleased to discover gluten-free tacos, lamb kabobs, gyros, falafels, Thai stir fries, Indian curries, barbecue chicken, salads and lobster rolls.
Since the early 1990s, the fair’s signature dessert has been the pie cone. Made with a crispy cone-like pie crust, it is filled with fruit or cheesecake and topped with real whipped cream.
Once again the fair schedule is packed with talks and demonstrations covering a wide range of food, farming and sustainable living issues.
“Every year it grows,” said fair director Jim Ahearne. “Right now, there are 775 items in our schedule. With some duplicates and cancellations, there are at least 750 unique events happening over the three days.”
In the cooking track alone, you’ll find sessions devoted to everything from wine making and acorn flour processing to juice detoxing and gluten-free living.
The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance is hosting the popular Seafood Throwdown on Sunday at noon. This year, Kerry Altiero, chef/owner of Cafe Miranda in Rockland, will compete against William Zyblot, sous chef at The SlipWay in Thomaston.
In this “Iron Chef”-style competition, the pair will first be given an underutilized species of Maine-harvested fish and a short window of time to shop at the farmers market. Then in front of the crowd and judges in the Country Kitchen, the two will see who can whip up the best dish.
For the second year, the fair’s farmers market – the only all-organic farmers market in the state — will include two locations.
Making it easy to grab farm-fresh food on the way out of the fair, there will be 26 farm vendors set up near the Rose Gate and 10 vendors set up near the Pine Gate.
A recent addition to the schedule is a talk at 1 p.m. Sunday by Kathleen Merrigan, deputy director of the United States Department of Agriculture. She helped develop the national organic labeling rules while heading the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service from 1999 to 2001.
The fair’s first keynote speaker is New York farmer Shannon Hayes, author of “The Grassfed Gourmet,” “Farmer and the Grill” and “Radical Homemakers,” who will talk about “Unraveling Consumerism” at 11 a.m. Friday on The Common.
Famed four-season farmer Eliot Coleman will talk about how to make hoop house structures at 2 p.m. Friday. Opening day will also bring a screening at 5:30 p.m. of Deborah Koons Garcia’s “Symphony of the Soil” film, followed by a question-and-answer session with Garcia.
Saturday’s keynote address at 1 p.m. comes from Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides, who will discuss “Fifty Years Since ‘Silent Spring.”‘ This is one of many events at the fair celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”
That morning, there will be a public policy teach-in event at
10:30 a.m. to address colony collapse disorder affecting bees around the world. At 11 a.m. on Saturday, farmer and author of “The Holistic Orchard” Michael Phillips will talk about his approach to growing fruit.
Skowhegan farmer Sarah Smith, who owns Grassland Farm with her husband, Garin, will talk about “Farming, Family and Community” in Sunday’s keynote at 11 a.m. on the Common.
Chef David Levi, who is working to open a zero-waste, local foods restaurant in Portland called Vinland, will offer cooking demonstrations each day of the fair in the Country Kitchen.
Other multi-day presenters include Harvey Ussery, author of “The Small-Scale Poultry Flock,” who will offer talks on whole systems poultry husbandry, whole systems gardening, using greenhouses and feeding poultry entirely from the farm; and internationally-recognized herbalist Gail Faith Edwards will deliver talks on “Herbs for the Digestive System” on both Saturday and Sunday.
With so many events to choose from, it can be a difficult task to remember where you want to be when at the fair. To help make it easier, an online calendar at mofga.org allows fair-goers to create an account or use their Facebook account to produce a personalized schedule.
“The schedule’s a little daunting,” Ahearne said. “Everybody always says you can’t go to it all.”
While it’s impossible to catch every happening at the Common Ground Country Fair, it’s also impossible to leave the fairgrounds hungry.
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]