September 21, 2011

Natural Foodie: Gluten-free options join Common Ground fare

By Avery Yale Kamila
Staff Writer

Last year, fair-goers asked for gluten-free options at the Common Ground Country Fair, and this Friday when the fair opens, they'll find them at the Tic Tac Taco stand.

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Chai Wallahs of Maine won the award for the best new food vendor at last year’s Common Ground Country Fair, and the wood-fired pizza booth is always a popular stop.

Photos by Avery Yale Kamila/Staff Writer

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Traditional staples such as french fries and fried dough are served, the difference being that both are made with organic, Maine-grown ingredients when served at the fair in Unity.


WHEN: 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Common Ground Country Fairground, Unity

HOW MUCH: $10; $8 for ages 65 and older; free for MOFGA members and children ages 12 and under; $8 and valet bike parking for those who bicycle to the fair

INFO:, where there is a searchable directory of the more than 700 fair events

BRING YOUR OWN BOTTLE: Bottled water will not be for sale. Instead, be sure to bring a water bottle, which you can fill at free bottle filling stations throughout the fairgrounds.


Best Beverage – Sunweavers' Blood Juice

That's Some Different! – Caldwell Farm's Roast Beef Sundae

Tradition! (best interpretation of a traditional Maine recipe) – Tuva's Blueberry Pie

Best Bite for the Buck – Local Sprouts Cooperative Cafe

Best Maine-Made Product – Yogi's Crab Roll

First Impression (best new food or drink) – Chai Wallahs

Taste, Not Trash – Pie Cones

Where's the Beef? (vegetarian) – Lemongrass & Jasmine

Where's the Cheese? (vegan) – Hi Bombay's Pumpkin Soup

Better than Chocolate (dessert) – Maple's Organic Dessert

Best in Show – Caldwell Farms

Run by Juliana Hoffmann, who recently moved back to Maine from New York City, where she owned a health food cafe, the new booth will serve three varieties of gluten-free tacos. Two – the black bean and the winter squash – will be vegan, and the third features pulled chicken.

Piled on scratch-made corn tortillas, the tacos will include a toasted pumpkin seed and red pepper pesto; a choice of salsa; a cabbage, carrot and onion slaw; and an option of cheese.

"Everything will be made from scratch, including the salsas," said Hoffman, who grew up on the organic Blueberry Hill Farm in Jefferson, where her parents still live.

Because these tacos will be sold at the 35th annual Common Ground Country Fair, like every one of the more than 50 food vendors, Hoffman had to take extra steps to procure local and organic ingredients.

"The vendors all fill out food ingredient forms that tell us every ingredient in every food and where they get it," said Jim Ahearne, the fair director at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which hosts the fair each September in Unity.

"On the major items, we often circle back to the source and ask if they will be supplying the item. At the fair, we do a receipt check to make sure they're selling what they said they're selling and have the paperwork to back it up."

Hoffman has sourced vegetables such as dried hot peppers, onions, carrots, tomatoes and cilantro from Sheepscot General, Crown O' Maine Organic Cooperative and Treble Ridge Farm, which is run by her step-brother.

The chicken comes from Bridge Farm and Tide Mill Organic Farm; the cheese comes from a creamery in Whitefield; and the spices come from Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants.

The only ingredient she had to buy from out of state was the organic corn masa flour she'll use to make the tortillas.

"I had a tough time sourcing the organic corn masa," Hoffman said. "The only place I could even find an organic corn masa was in California."

Hoffman won't be the only new vendor at the Common Ground Country Fair dishing up Mexican-inspired food. Burritos will be available at a booth run by Cornerstone Farm and Fail Better Farm, and fish tacos will be sold at the Enchanted Kitchen at Fire Fly Farm stand.

This year's fair also adds a second farmers market. The new market will be located near the Pine Gate, and the original market will continue in its spot by the Rose Gate. These are the only all-organic farmers markets in Maine.

"As the popularity of the farmers market has grown, we've added vendors," said Ahearne. "But it's gotten to the point where it's spilling over the sides, and it was way over the capacity of the area."

Not only does the fair offer fresh and prepared food, it offers more than 700 events related to cooking, agriculture, natural health and homesteading. Since this year marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of MOFGA, the oldest organization of its kind in the nation, each day's keynote speaker will touch on the history and future of the organic agriculture movement.

On Friday, Mort Mather will talk about how far the organic movement has progressed in Maine since the 1970s. Mather was the organization's third president, and now grows organic vegetables for Joshua's in Wells, which is owned by his son.

Saturday's keynote address comes from current executive director Russell Libby, who will talk about "Putting the Pieces Together – Our Next Food System."

On Sunday, Barbara Damrosch will discuss how organic agriculture can feed the world. Damrosch is the president of MOFGA's board, the author of "The Garden Primer" and a columnist for the Washington Post. She grows vegetables with her husband, Eliot Coleman, at Four Season Farm in Harborside.

On the jam-packed workshop schedule are sessions on wild plants, herbal medicine, apple tasting, cooking over an open fire, beer making, bread baking, canning, edible mushrooms, cooking with bean flour, green smoothies and processing acorns into flour.

With so many things to do at the Common Ground Country Fair, you'll want to be sure to carve out ample time to visit the event's two food courts.

"It's not your typical fair food," said Hoffman, who grew up attending the fair. "It's like the ultimate food court for someone like me. And it's all so good and fresh. You have to definitely go on an empty stomach."

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

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


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