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Celebrating the Equinox: The Common Ground Country Fair

September 23, 2012

I’m a native of New England, a region in the northeastern United States that is renowned for its vivid fall foliage colors; so it’s not surprising that fall is my favorite season. This makes the autumnal equinox, which marks the transition from summer into fall, an occasion worth celebrating. And how better to celebrate the arrival of fall than to travel home to Maine for the annual fair of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

MOFGA was founded in 1971 and held its first Common Ground Country Fair in 1977. The fair is always held on the weekend of or the weekend immediately following the equinox, and its motto is “Celebrate Rural Living.” In the early years, the fair was held in rented fairgrounds, first in Litchfield, Maine and, by the time I started attending in the mid-1980s, in Windsor, Maine. In the 1990s, MOFGA spent years raising funds to buy land where they could hold the fair and also establish a year-round education center. The first fair at MOFGA’s new home in Unity, Maine was in 1998; and it has been wonderful to watch both the property and the organization’s educational programming develop since then. The Common Ground property now has several permanent buildings, innovative and efficient energy generation (including both solar and wind power), demonstration areas and display gardens, and an abundance of rural beauty.

mofga entrance mofga garden
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The Common Ground Country Fair has much in common with other agricultural fairs. There are lots of farm animals to see and interact with:

mofga calves

mofga sheep

mofga goats

mofga oxen

mofga horses

And farm produce being displayed and judged:

mofga pumpkins mofga beans
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But there are also differences. The food areas are full of fresh, organic offerings rather than fried foods and cotton candy. The crafts area focuses on the work of local crafters; and because space is limited, entrance is juried and competitive and the quality is high. mofga crafts2

mofga crafts1

There is also an agricultural products area, where you can learn about, sample, and buy local farm products.

mofga fedco

mofga moo milk

mofga maple

Maine grains

The fair also features educational programs. You can, for example,  go to a demonstration of how to clean and save seeds or a lesson on how to cook with certain foods. In addition, there are several speakers each day – this year revisiting Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring on the 50th anniversary of its publication.

And trash is handled very differently than at a typical fair.

mofga recycling

One of my favorite differences between this fair and conventional agricultural fairs is in what is on offer for children. There is no midway of carnival rides here. But there is a children’s area that features face painting, sliding down a grassy hill on cardboard boxes, and a twice-daily Children’s Garden Parade when children can dress up as their favorite vegetable, flower, or beneficial insect and parade through the fairgrounds. As we walked along the path through the woods from the parking area to the fairgrounds in the morning, my friend Joyce and I found ourselves walking behind a family with two little girls who were dressed in ruffled dresses with gossamer wings attached to the back. I asked the younger sister (about age 4) if she were a fairy or a butterfly. She replied that she was “a fairy, and a butterfly, and a princess, and a dragonfly, and a lady bug, and a strong woman!!” The future of our farms and gardens seems to be in good hands.

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2012 2:24 pm

    Sounds like fun, but couldn’t they fry at least some of the organic food?

    • September 30, 2012 3:56 pm

      Jason, I think I saw a fried dough stand — presumably dough made from local organic whole wheat flour and fried in organic oil! 🙂

  2. Sally permalink
    September 23, 2012 3:55 pm

    Beautiful pictures, Jean. Maine is my all time favorite state……I’m a Masshole:-)

    • September 30, 2012 3:58 pm

      Sally, I grew up in Massachusetts myself. 🙂 I think Maine is one of those places that speaks to many people. I visited first as a 14 year old; but it was when I moved there for a job 16 years later that I fell in love with the place and knew I wanted to make it my home forever.

  3. September 23, 2012 5:51 pm

    Jean this is bliss…what a grand model for other fairs…how I would love to see this and will add it to my list of things to experience once I retire…maybe I’ll see you there someday!!

    • September 30, 2012 4:00 pm

      Donna, There are a lot of out-of-staters who make it a point to come to the Common Ground Fair each year. My friend and I are always struck by the number of Vermont license plates. I think you would love it; definitely something to add to your “retirement experiences” list.

  4. September 24, 2012 7:43 am

    We were just up in The Forks, ME for a rafting trip on the Kennebec with some friends. I love my time up there, it is definitely different than Vermont and NH. I picked up a book by John McDonald called ‘A Moose and a Lobster Walked into a Bar’ and loved it. Off to visit friends in Booth Bay Harbor in a few weeks.

    • September 30, 2012 7:56 pm

      Reed, Forks is a beautiful spot; I haven’t been up th’at way in quite a few years. Maine is so rich in special places that it would be easy to spend all one’s vacation time in state and never get to everything. While you’re in Bar Harbor, you might like to see the Beatrix Farrand-designed Thuya Garden near Northeast Harbor.

  5. September 24, 2012 10:20 am

    I was very pleased to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post. Big thanks for the useful info………………..

  6. September 24, 2012 1:26 pm

    Hmmm. We’re in the midst of our Spring Festival and there are lessons here about how to include ‘green’ in our theme. Although you Americans have a way of celebrating community that is very different from ours 🙂 But there is material for thoughht in your post and I will copy and circulate it!
    \

    • September 30, 2012 7:59 pm

      Jack, I look forward to hearing more about your spring festival; are you posting about it? And, of course, the sociologist in me would love to hear more about the different ways of celebrating community. While flying north to Maine for the weekend is not a very ecologically responsible act on my part, attending the Common Ground Fair is an important way that I celebrate my membership in the community that is Maine.

  7. September 24, 2012 1:39 pm

    Sliding down the hill on cardboard boxes sounds like just what the doctor ordered!

    • September 30, 2012 8:00 pm

      I agree. Next year, I may have to bring a child with me so that I’ll have an excuse to join in 🙂

  8. September 24, 2012 2:00 pm

    Thanks Jean, for this posting. This is the first time I’ve missed Common Ground in a few years. It really is the most special gathering of people and offerings. Yes, their food is GOOD! Now, do they still allow smoking there? That seems incongruous. I still love it.

    S

    • September 30, 2012 8:04 pm

      Sharon, Don’t you feel bereft when you miss the fair? I didn’t get there last year because I got caught in a flash flood in Pennsylvania and never made it to the airport for my flight north — and I felt so deprived. I didn’t see anyone smoking this year, so they must have found a way to actually enforce (rather than just recommend) a smoke-free atmosphere. On the other hand, MOFGA seems to have given up on the attempt to make the fair a cell phone- free environment; so many people seem to experience their smart phones as parts of their body that it seems to be a losing battle.

  9. September 24, 2012 8:00 pm

    What an absolutely wonderful project, makes me wish we had something similar. Fall fairs are wonderful but seem to have gone so far into games and rides that the agricultural side is getting lost.

    • September 30, 2012 8:06 pm

      Marguerite, Keeping the rural/agricultural emphasis was one of the tensions MOFGA faced in choosing a permanent home. Some parcels of land were rejected because they were just too close to cities and suburbanization or just off the interstate highway. It makes the fair a little more complicated to get to (about 45 minutes on two-lane roads after you leave the highway), but it means that it really is a celebration of rural life.

  10. September 24, 2012 8:32 pm

    Jean, this is my idea of a day well-spent. Here on Long Island, there are several fairs billed as “country” — but they are all the same. Rides and food and crafts — not much in animals and judged foods and education. Your post makes me dream of another life. Thanks for sharing!

    • September 30, 2012 8:09 pm

      Kevin, It is also my idea of a day well-spent! I can’t tell you how much I look forward to this event each year. If you ever decide to spend an autumnal equinox in Maine, you should come and turn the dream into reality. (Under the last administration or two, Maine’s tourism slogan was “The way life should be.”)

  11. September 25, 2012 9:02 pm

    I love to go to events like this. How I wish I can experience it myself. It is more of a family affair than a country fair. Family and friends are all around.

    • September 30, 2012 8:09 pm

      Both a family affair and a country fair.

  12. September 26, 2012 8:22 pm

    I remember the first Common Ground fair fondly. There seems to be a lot of blue ribbons on those beans.

    • September 30, 2012 8:10 pm

      LOL, Carolyn, I think they give a blue ribbon for each variety of beans — and there seems to be one farmer who grows a gazillion different varieties and takes a blue ribbon for each of them 🙂

  13. September 30, 2012 3:48 pm

    It sounds like a great outing, and you have reminded me of days when I would slide down grassy hills as a child. It was a favorite past time, with or without the cardboard boxes! It was so much fun, it was worth the chigger bites.

    • September 30, 2012 8:13 pm

      Deb, We never slid down grassy hills in summer, but we did love to roll down them. The cardboard boxes seem to be a sledding alternative for the non-snowy months 🙂

  14. October 23, 2012 6:13 pm

    Vraiment sympa ce blog, où peut on trouver plus d information sur ce sujet ? Merci,

  15. November 29, 2012 2:50 pm

    We have enjoyed the Common Ground Fair only once so far. We camped on the grounds of the Friends Camp in South China. It’s a summer camp, closed for the season, but they open it all up for housing to fair-goers. We ate breakfast and supper there – nourishing, beautiful organic and vegetarian options. That also was an event!

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  1. Gardens Eye View » Blog Archive » Seasonal Celebrations Revealed-September 2012

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