In 1989, Jill Agnew started the first Community Supported Agriculture model, or CSA, in Maine at her 35-acre farm in Sabattus.

“It was a totally new concept, so no one really knew what it meant,” Agnew said.

It took eight years for the CSA to gain enough traction to be profitable, she said. Now Willow Pond Farm provides vegetables and meat to more than 120 households throughout Maine.

The venture was worth the trouble for Agnew, who wanted a way to stay on the farm but still keep her business afloat. While it’s difficult to maintain a farm of her size with little help, Agnew said the unique work and community it provides are worth it.

“Sharing the experience is really rewarding. Most people don’t get that much feedback to their work every day, which I do,” she said. “It validates the hard work. It’s like having a giant family, and you would do anything for your family.”

This Friday, Agnew will be talking about her 40 years of farming experience at the Common Ground Country Fair, where she is one of three keynote speakers chosen for the 41st annual celebration in Unity that’s hosted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, or MOFGA.


Agnew will present her talk, entitled “‘Community’ Supported Agriculture: Looking Back, Looking Forward, a 40-year Story,” at 11 a.m. Friday in The Common at the fairgrounds, which are at 294 Crosby Brook Road.

April Boucher, fair director for MOFGA, said Agnew was chosen to speak because of her extensive experience.

“There’s just so much to learn,” Boucher said.

The Common Ground Country Fair will run Friday, Sept. 22, through Sunday, Sept. 24. The gates open at 9 a.m. daily, and vendors stay open until 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and until 5 p.m. on Sunday. The Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad provides rides to and from parking areas in Unity and Thorndike to the fair to prevent congestion. Tickets, which include fair admission, can be purchased online and cap out at $23 for adults.

The fair features a number of local artisans, crafts and food, featuring everything from Alpaca fleece to Maine-made tinctures to organic maple syrup. Demonstrations and speakers are sprinkled throughout the three days, and a schedule of events can be found on MOFGA’s website.

Other keynote speakers include Sherri Mitchell, an attorney and founding director of the Land Peace Foundation, an organization that works to protect indigenous rights and preserve the indigenous way of life across the globe, and Jonathan Rosenthal, executive director of the New Economy Coalition and co-founder of Equal Exchange.


In selecting Mitchell, Boucher said the fair organizers wanted a way to highlight their connection with Maine Native American tribes, who usually come to the fair and sell their handmade items.

“We’re definitely very thankful that they’re part of our community,” she said. “(…) We thought it would be a great thing to highlight our interconnectedness with each other and our indigenous community.”

Mitchell will speak about indigenous rights movements and the need for unity at 11 a.m. Saturday in The Common.

Rosenthal, who helps organizations in the United States and Canada that are working to create “new economies” using strategies like cooperatives and public-ownership, was chosen by MOFGA’s public policy committee. At 11 a.m. Sunday at The Common, he will speak about finding social change through economic models.

The fair will also feature daily speakers, like Paula Kovesces, an expert in organic and sustainable gardening and owner of The Way It Grows, or TWIG, which should be “great for people with small gardens at home.” Peter Burke, author of “Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening,” will also speak both Friday and Saturday.

The fair, which draws about 60,000 people annually to the small town of just over 2,000, will also feature a number of infrastructural improvements this year.


In April, MOFGA unveiled a 102-kilowatt solar array, owned by ReVision Energy, that produces enough energy to power the fair for the full three days. More than 300 panels are spread out over the roofs at the Common Ground Education Center, saving the association nearly $20,000 annually.

Data and charts detailing the energy will be on display near the Common Kitchen, Boucher said, so people can see how much energy the panels gain over the weekend.

The amphitheater was recontoured to improve sound quality. The Gawler Family Band, known for their unique folk music, will perform Saturday afternoon, Boucher said.

The association also created a new demonstration area for oxen.

“It will be much easier for people to sit and enjoy seeing the oxen work and go through obstacle courses and learn about alternative power,” she said.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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