Fair season is in full swing, and for vegetarians there is no contest when it comes to the agricultural event with the largest selection of meat-free options. The Common Ground Country Fair wins the blue ribbon for consistent veg-friendliness year after year.

Hosted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the annual event begins Friday and runs through Sunday in Unity.

What began in 1977 as a countercultural alternative to carnival midways and oxen-pulling competitions has matured into a must-attend event for cultural creatives, organic food devotees and vegetarians.

Among this year’s 52 food booths (set up in two food courts and representing 41 vendors, since several have more than one booth), will be two new, all-vegetarian options: the Raw Food Mobile from Up-Beet Farm and strawberry shortcakes from PAKS Farm.

Since July, Peter Sheff and his wife, Kim, have been harvesting berries from their 2,300 Seascape everbearing strawberry plants at PAKS Farm in Troy.

“We go out and pick a couple gallons each day,” Peter said. “We immediately freeze them, and then we’ll process them at the fairgrounds.”

Like all the vendors, the Sheffs had to develop their strawberry shortcake recipe using all local and all organic ingredients. (Vendors can use organic food from out of state only if there is no organic, Maine-produced option available.)

“The challenge was finding something that would make the syrup agreeable,” said Peter, who retired four years ago from Bank of America and now farms 21/2 acres. “We experimented with maple syrup, but that was too maple,” he said. “Then we tried maple sugar and finally settled on raw honey.”

The macerated strawberries will be ladled onto biscuits made with Maine wheat flour by Weavers Bakery in Waldo. Once they’re topped with organic whipped cream, the berry shortcakes will sell for $6.

Near the New Hampshire border in Porter, Kate and John Seaver are preparing their Raw Food Mobile for its maiden voyage.

“We have always wanted to take a different approach to farming,” said John, noting the stiff competition for customers at farmers markets and for paid subscribers among farmers who use the CSA (community supported agriculture) model. “We want to be as complementary as possible to other local farms.”

Developing their portable food trailer is part of this alternative strategy. Kate has studied with Girl Gone Raw chef Elizabeth Fraser in Portland and used what she learned to create a raw, vegan menu featuring produce from the couple’s Up-Beet Farm.

However, the first step in their nontraditional marketing plan took shape three months ago, when John and Kate opened a natural food grocery store across the street from their farmhouse on the Ossipee Trail. The Good Health Grocery offers the farm’s produce and other organic fruits and vegetables, bulk goods, natural groceries, spices, dairy products, baked goods, beverages, organic meats, vitamins and prepared foods, including sandwiches.

“We’re taking what we’re learning about at the store and trying to bring it (to the fair),” Kate said.

The Raw Food Mobile’s menu at the Common Ground includes a hummus sandwich made from summer squash instead of the usual chickpeas, topped with chutney and wrapped in either a kale or collard leaf; nori rolls filled with carrot, cucumber and cauliflower “rice”; zucchini noodles in coconut curry sauce; tomato-carrot soup and garden salads, teas, wheat grass shots and infused waters. Prices range from $6 to $12.

Eventually, the Seavers hope to bring their raw vegan food trailer to festivals, music events and other gatherings.

Many returning food vendors also are offering vegetarian fare this year. Among the all-vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly food booths (some with names, some known simply by what they sell) are Solar Café, Shiitake Farm, Tic Tac Taco, Local Sprouts, Enchanted Kitchen at Firefly Farm, Lemongrass & Jasmine Thai Food, the eggplant and hummus booth, Pie Cones and, of course, French fries.

Common Ground Fair director April Boucher said the fair has always served vegetarian food because MOFGA has always had vegetarian members. In addition, offering vegetarian food helps cut costs for fair-goers.

“The vegetarian options are usually on the more budget-friendly side, since organic vegetables are not quite as expensive as organic beef,” Boucher said.

There are hundreds of talks, demonstrations and events at this year’s fair, and they include a number of vegetarian or vegetable-related events. A few highlights from the cooking demonstration line-up include:

Easy Raw/Live Vegetarian Dishes, 9 a.m. Friday. Masanobu Ikemiya of Peace Farm will show how to make raw corn chowder, hummus, pasta, pesto sauce, wraps and desserts.

Bean Flour Dinner Party, 1 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Galen Young of Argyle Acres will show how to prepare a full meal – appetizers, a main dish and dessert – using bean flour.

Herbal Condiments, 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Betsy Williams, author of many herbal and gardening books including the Mrs. Thrift series, will show how to make herb butter, vinegars, pestos, herbed nuts and mustard.

Each day at noon, bean hole beans (in both vegetarian and traditional salt pork versions) are served in the Folk Life area.

Talks and workshops of interest to vegetarians cover everything from growing sweet potatoes to processing acorns into flour.

Taste unusual apple varieties both Friday (2 p.m.) and Saturday (3 p.m.) with John Bunker, the state’s leading expert on rare Maine apples. Apple lovers also will enjoy a talk at 11 a.m. Saturday by James Beard Award-winner Rowan Jacobsen, author of the new “Apples of Uncommon Character.” He will speak on “How Heirloom Apples are Leading the Biodiversity Renaissance.”

At 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, micro-farmer and “The Market Gardener” author Jean-Martin Fortier will talk about setting up a profitable market garden. On Sunday, Tom Seymour, the author of “Wild Plants of Maine,” offers a foraging walk at 10 a.m. and a talk at 2 p.m.

Finally, the fair holds the state’s only all-organic farmers market. Actually, it’s two farmers markets, with a cluster of farm stands at both the north and south gates. This year, farmers will sell everything from fire-roasted peppers and Greek yogurt to stone-ground cornmeal and raw milk. Everywhere, pumpkins and squash are stacked high, dried garlic hangs in braids and cornstalks decorate booths. The smell of the herb Sweet Annie drifts on the wind.

As fair director Boucher said, “As soon as you enter the fairgrounds, you’re surrounded by the bounty of the harvest.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer, who lives in Portland. She can be contacted at

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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