UNITY — When officials made the decision to cancel the annual Common Ground Country Fair due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, local business owners opted to put together an event for those who still wanted to make the trip to central Maine.

The fair, usually held annually the third weekend after Labor Day, was canceled for the second year in a row due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the rising COVID-19 cases throughout Maine.

Earlier this month, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association officials called off the event that usually draws about 60,000 people to town over its three-day run. This would have been the fair’s 50th anniversary.

Organizers did not hold the in-person fair last year because of the pandemic. Instead, last year’s festival was an online event that featured video presentations.

This year, instead of an online event, a group of local business owners decided to create a passport tour in lieu of the fair. Saturday’s participants were able to make their way through the region, stopping at participating businesses to receive or stamp a “passport card.”

Bailey Heller offers a tour of the female alpacas to Jack Latourneau, 2, and Owen Bodyul, 9, Saturday at Northern Solstice Alpaca Farm in Unity. The farm was one of six stops on a passport tour offered in lieu of the canceled Common Ground Country Fair. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Six stops were included on the passports, which were available for pick up at each of the participating businesses located across parts of Unity and Pittsfield. Dozens made their way through the stops on Saturday, which included vendor markets, restaurants and a local alpaca farm.

“(The passport tour) was put together pretty fast,” said Susan Hunter, co-owner of TradeHers Market in Unity. “It was something that popped into everybody’s head after we found out that the Common Ground Fair wasn’t going to be happening this year.”

At TradeHers Market, Hunter and Colleen Mcguire offered outdoor space to farm and craft vendors who usually benefit from fair crowds. Though organizers were not sure what kind of crowd to expect for the event, Hunter said that people are making their way through each stop and already had dozens through their shop by lunchtime.

Jack Latourneau, 2, hangs out with the alpacas Saturday at Northern Solstice Alpaca Farm in Unity. The farm was one of six stops on a passport tour offered in lieu of the canceled Common Ground Country Fair. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We didn’t really know what to expect, we knew we were more out of the way,” Hunter said. “Working with the other businesses has helped a lot, a lot of people have started at other businesses and are making their way here.”

Across town at Northern Solstice Alpaca Farm, Robin Pratt led tours at the farm and hosted craft vendors in addition to the farm’s gift shop. Pratt co-owns the farm with her spouse, Corry Pratt, who bought the property in 1998 and purchased their first three alpacas in 2006. Now, 41 alpacas live at the Unity farm.

The Pratts offer tours six days a week, year-round. For them, the “Common Ground Fair just happens to come” and the farm’s relationship with the fair remains strong.

“Since COVID-19 we’ve been busier than ever and it’s a different clientele, we tend to see a lot of tourists and out-of-staters. This year we’re seeing a lot of local Maine people which is very exciting. We’ve been doing this for 17 years and we rarely see anyone from Maine,” Robin Pratt said.

The final stop of the tour is at Outland Farm Brewery in Pittsfield, where the raffle drawing is scheduled in conjunction with a locally sourced harvest dinner. The winner of the raffle will receive a gift basket with $400 worth of products from the participating businesses.


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