March 4, 2010

All-organic fair highlights best of Maine in many ways

— The Common Ground Country Fair has come a long way since its humble beginnings in my hometown of Litchfield 33 years ago. What began as an alternative to traditional agricultural fairs has blossomed into a massive event celebrating Maine-grown organic food and community self-reliance.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

The fair has moved twice to accommodate the growing crowds, and last year, 60,000 people converged on the sleepy town of Unity to eat the fair's amazing food, watch cooking demos, shop at the farmers market, see live music, tour the animal exhibitions, explore folk art, connect with social and political causes and learn about renewable energy.

''There are over 700 different talks, workshops and events over three days,'' said fair director Jim Ahearne. ''It's mind-spinning.''

Among these events you'll find: a talk by Barbara Damrosch, Maine organic farmer and columnist for the Washington Post, who speaks on Friday at 1 p.m.; a keynote speech by Will Allen, the author of ''The War on Bugs,'' on Saturday at 11 a.m.; and a talk on Sunday at 1 p.m. by Colin Beavan of Manhattan, who is the author of the forthcoming book ''No Impact Man.''

There are always new vendors, speakers and musicians at each fair, and this year the beverage offerings will be different, too. For the first time since the original gathering, coffee will be served, with a handful of food vendors selling fair-trade organic coffee roasted in Maine. Rock City Roasting from Rockland will have a dedicated coffee booth, and Matt's Wood Roasted Organic Coffee from Pownal will serve up samples and offer educational information about coffee varieties.

In other beverage news, there will be no bottled-water sales at the fair. Instead, attendees should bring a reusable bottle and fill it for free at the numerous water stations located throughout the fairgrounds.

The food court is always a highlight, as it features prepared foods made from locally grown organic ingredients. This includes everything from meat and seafood meals to vegetarian and vegan eats.

Because of the crowds, you're likely to get stuck in traffic if you show up later in the day. The best advice is to go early or bring your bike and park at one of the designated park and bike lots and cycle in from there. Not only will you be able to zip past the slow-moving cars, you'll also get $2 off the admission price and free valet parking.

''The thread that runs through most of the fair-goers,'' Ahearne said, ''is they're Mainers who feel a deep connection to where they live, where their food comes from and their local economy. There's a progressive, back-to-the-land ethos that drives a lot of the fair. But there's also that traditional Maine practical, conservative approach to life. It really is an event that reflects the way we live here in Maine.''

You won't want to miss it.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

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