Tuesday September 24, 2013 | 08:01 AM

Saturday, September 21 saw record numbers at Common Ground.

The 37th Common Ground Country Fair came to an end Sunday having set record attendance numbers on Friday (approximately 20,000 people) and Saturday (approximately 27,000 people). Sunday, got off to a wet, but spirited start with dedicated fair goers arriving as the fair opened for its final day.

Organized by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), the annual country fair is one of the oldest of its kind in the country. A place where people can learn more about raising livestock, worm composting, utilizing solar and wind power, fermenting, cooking with herbs, and keeping bees.

“I get asked many times what makes Common Ground so unique and top of the list is really the community here in Maine, that ethos of sharing that ethos of distributed solutions and problem solving and community,” said Jim Ahearne, MOFGA Common Ground Country Fair Director. “It’s upon that, we built this fair. The other key piece is the celebration of organic farming and food as a pathway to personal health and environmental health and economic health. That’s MOFGA’s mission and the fair grows out of that and reflects that, but to take all this vision and all these ideas and convert them and bring them to life as food as tents as livestock exhibitors as the manure toss or contra dances all of that takes volunteers and it takes a collaborative and community effort.”

When writing his keynote speech “Cooperating with the Future”, George Siemon, CEO and founding farmer of Organic Valley, said he kept using the words “common good” in thinking how the largest cooperative of organic farmers in the United States makes decisions. “It’s about the whole community and not just the individual farmer,” Siemon said. “One thing (I’ve) really learned, people really can work together they just need to serve a common vision/mission together.”

MOFGA’s mission is to help farmers and gardeners: grow organic food, fiber and other crops; protect the environment; recycle natural resources; increase local food production; support rural communities; and illuminate for consumers the connection between healthful food and environmentally sound farming practices.

A new member of Maine’s community who will be helping MOFGA fulfill their mission is Ted Quaday, their new executive director. Quaday is relocating to Maine from Santa Cruz, California where he was the communications director at the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRA). He is a former program director at Farm Aid. His career began as a news reporter for radio and television stations in North Dakota.

Blue ribbon winners in the Agriculture Center at Common Ground.

I had an opportunity to speak with Ted Quaday at the fair.

SK: How has the transition to Maine gone?

TQ: I grew up in North Dakota, so just in terms of weather I know enough about Maine’s weather to know they're not going to throw anything at me that compares with how bad it can be in North Dakota. Besides which, I love winter sports. I love hockey, I skate, I ski, I cross-country ski and downhill ski so the winter is part of the reason I wanted to come back to the Northeast.

SK: How do you think your experience at Farm Aid and OFRA will help you as MOFGA’s new ED?

TQ: I’ve always sort of been in touch with the soil in a way, because my family always had a little garden when I was growing up and I grew up at a time when folks were talking about being aware of what was happening in the environment related to pesticides and the impact of fertilization on the waterways. That sort of thing was the basis for my interest in food primarily in soil and how soil is being impacted by the quote on quote industrial agriculture system, but I never really acted on that until I had the opportunity to go work for Farm Aid.

Farm Aid was really the first place as a professional I was now spending all of my time thinking of farms and foods. Small family farms, local food, organically produced or sustainably produced food. I spent 10 years working with farm and food groups all over the country, because the work I did with Farm Aid was to number one interact with farmers and make sure we were able to understand and articulate their messages and concerns, but also Farm Aid as an organization provided grant funds to grassroots organizations to do work in their communities. I was the person who was in charge of reviewing and recommending funding for all of those proposals that came in the door, so I had ongoing contact every day with organizations working in the farm and food arena and one of those organizations was MOFGA. Early on we were funding MOFGA programs and I was working with Russell Libby to get that process going. I’ve been aware of MOFGA as an organization the whole time I’ve been involved over 15 years.

That helps, and working on issues. There are a lot of issues that percolate in the sustainable agriculture arena and farms and food and so on and it goes all the way from whether it should be local or organic or local and organic, which I think is true and organic makes perfect sense to me whether like in Maine where we are talking whether we should label GMOs or not or whether or not we are going to have a Food Bill this year.

SK: What drew you to MOFGA?

TQ: MOFGA as an organization really is one of the oldest and strongest state based organizations around advocating for sustainable agriculture and organic agriculture. Knowing the organization has a long history of being involved in this movement is a huge draw to me. What I see is an organization that’s grown out of the grassroots, that emerged and evolved over time in the grassroots, so what the organization represents is a real commitment from its membership and it has a real strong membership. It has commitment from its membership that volunteer, create events, they produce this fair really literally through volunteer work. You just don’t see that kind of extraordinary commitment from an organization very often. Maine is almost unique in that regard. Knowing that history of the organization I just said this is a place to be. You want to be able to work with people who are committed and will carry their vision of what sustainable agriculture, organic agriculture ought to be forward. They are here and they are doing it.

SK: What should we look for from you and MOFGA in the next year?

TQ: I think this is a dynamic organization with lots of threads and lots of committed individuals who have really devoted themselves to the organization. My first challenge is to get to know those folks and get to know the membership of the organization and really listen to what it is they’re saying about what their concerns are and what they think MOFGA should be doing, because at the end of the day it’s a people organization. My job is to listen to the membership and then try with the staff to figure out how we implement their vision and that’s what I will be doing over the next year is listening and learning more about the organization and as we move forward then a new vision or a vision for the next period of time will emerge out of that and whether it’s the same vision, a different version, hard to say at this point. I really want to know what people want to do.

It will be exciting to check back in with Quaday when next year’s Common Ground Country Fair rolls around.

About this Blog

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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