September 18, 2013

Natural Foodie: Fermentation expertise bubbling up at Common Ground fair:

By Avery Yale Kamila

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The children’s vegetable parade is one of many food-themed highlights of the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, which takes place this weekend.

Photos by Avery Yale Kamila

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Among more than 40 food vendors, the Tic Tac Taco stand offers gluten-free tacos with either vegan or chicken fillings.

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"There is this sort of wealth of knowledge and sharing of craft," said fair director Jim Ahearne. "There are so many quality opportunities to connect with individuals or small groups everywhere you turn. You can wander into any place and discover something new."

From cooking demonstrations to farming how-tos, the fair offers an abundance of food-related events. A few of the highlights include:

• Husband and wife Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, well-known food writers and year-round Maine gardening pioneers, join together to provide related demonstrations. On Friday and Saturday at 1 p.m., Coleman delivers a demonstration called "Building the Modular Moveable Hoophouse." On Friday, Damrosch follows at 3:30 p.m. with a cooking demonstration focused on vegetables and eggs. On Saturday at 3 p.m., she'll follow Coleman's talk with a cooking demonstration centered on seasonal salads.

The Seafood Throwdown chef competition takes place at noon on Sunday. During this event, two chefs get a secret Maine seafood ingredient and funds to shop at the fair's farmers market. Then they each have one hour to prepare a dish for the judges.

• Heirloom fruit tree expert John Bunker offers his popular apple tasting of unusual varieties Friday and Saturday at 3 p.m. He'll also give a talk each day about the Heritage Orchard at the Common Ground Education Center with a focus on saving Maine's traditional apples and pears. Those talks take place at 4 p.m. Friday and Sunday and 11 a.m. Saturday.

• Author and Origins Fruit owner David Buchanan talks Sunday at 10 a.m. about his book "Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter."

• A series of events highlighting backyard chicken raising takes place at noon and 1 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday. One of the featured speakers is blogger Sharon Kitchens.

Of course, the fair serves up a seemingly endless buffet of delectables for food enthusiasts.

This year, 41 vendors will staff 53 booths in two food courts, serving everything from Thai food and tacos to sausage sandwiches and french fries. Whether you want seafood or lamb or you hanker for vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free eats, you'll have no trouble finding a tasty lunch.

The event, which is the largest fundraiser for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, requires food vendors to serve all-organic food and allows them to purchase ingredients from out of state only if said ingredients are not available in Maine.

Fairgoers also have the chance to shop at the state's only all-organic farmers market, with 34 vendors spread across market locations at both fair entrances. Other food makers -- selling everything from freshly baked bread to Maine maple syrup -- offer their wares in the general marketplace.

Each year, the three-day event attracts roughly 60,000 people interested in the rural, homespun lifestyle the fair promotes. This isn't a fair with a midway or fried Twinkies or tractor pulls. Instead, you'll find a children's vegetable parade, organic pie cones and draft horse demonstrations.

When New York Times writer Anne Raver visited the fair last year, she said it "felt like what has gone missing from America."

And it's true.

With its emphasis on artisans, scratch-made food and small-scale farming, the Common Ground Country Fair is all about learning how to live a more natural, authentic life.

For some of us, such authenticity can be found in a crock full of homemade sauerkraut. 

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelancer who lives in Portland, where she writes about health food and longs for the wholesome goodness of the Common Ground Country Fair all year. She can be reached at :

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


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Sandor Katz


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