UNITY — The weekend’s Common Ground Country Fair gave people a chance to catch up with their friends and neighbors — about 59,000 of them.

“This is really a Maine fair,” said fair director Jim Ahearne, who added that 600 farms and businesses from the state took part in the 35th annual celebration of rural living.

“I’m a little biased but I think it was one of the best fairs ever,” he said, citing all free parking, an added farmers’ market and more Maine-made products for sale in the crafts area.

The daily attendance was spread roughly equally over the three days of event, resulting in a more pleasurable and manageable event for attendees and staff, Ahearne said.

Sunday, the best weather day of the fair, had the highest attendance, at 21,500. Saturday’s gate totaled 20,000 and Friday’s count was 17,500.

Among Friday’s 17,500 fairgoers, Ahearne said 6,000 were children, including 4,000 who came on school field trips in buses.

A good number of fairgoers of all ages arrived pedaling bikes or aboard a train.

Of the 20,000 who attended Saturday, Ahearne said 1,460 rode the rails from either Unity or Thorndike. Ridership figures for Friday and Sunday were not available Monday morning.

About 600 people also bicycled to the fair, Ahearne said.

To quench fairgoers’ thirst and hunger, Ahearne said 51 food booths offered a smorgasbord of treats from milkshakes to lamp kabobs, from lemonade to blooming onions and from pea soup to baked beans.

Food vendors who made the cut met strict ingredient guidelines, including having Maine-grown organic ingredients when possible.

During the fair, Ahearne said two staffers checked to ensure that food vendors sold what they said they would.

Food vendors who want to be considered next year’s fair must submit applications in December.

The advance preparation is necessary, said Ahearne. People selling organic lamb kabobs must ensure they’ve raised enough lambs so they have enough meat when it’s time for the fair.

“You can’t go to Sam’s Club with your credit card on Thursday,” he said.

Much of the garbage from nearly 60,000 people eating and drinking was recycled, but some wasn’t. About one medium-sized Dumpster filled with plastics cannot be recycled, Ahearne said.

About 2,000 volunteers helped set up, run and clean up after the event.

“It’s a community creation,” Ahearne said, adding that those who intentionally strive to create a sustainable economy and a healthy environment make connections at the fair.

“This is real,” he said. “It’s why we do it. it’s fun and it tastes great.”

Beth Staples — 861-9252

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