Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2012 Common Ground Fair

For more details about Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners, quarterly newsletter and membership information, and the complete Common Ground Country Fair schedule and information, visit
My History with the Common Ground Fair 
I can’t remember which year was my first at MOFGA’s Common Ground Fair; my elementary school took us to the Windsor Fairgrounds on Friday, the free-for-school-kids day, so I remember being a Fair aficionado by the time I was in 7th or 8th grade.  
I have memories of someone teaching people how to tightrope walk with a rope about three feet off the ground, Jud the Jester performing, a Punch and Judy show (in a fit-up to make Riddley Walker proud), amazing fried rice, Sal’s Calzone and of course, the nectar of the Gods, birch beer.
One year there was a face-painting artist who painted a detailed dragon on my cheek for a dollar; I kept it intact until I had to go to bed that night.
I think my parents started taking us on Fair weekends once they were involved with MOFGA, so I also got to start seeing the organizers in action, the behind-the-scenes work that made it all come together.

My Family and the Fair
One year, at the Fair on a Saturday with my dad, we got hummus sandwiches on whole wheat pitas with sprouts and Tahini dressing. As a kid, it tasted to me like someone had put glue onto some dry woody bread and threw grass on top with some weird sauce that looked good but tasted all wrong.   As an adult I would probably enjoy that meal now - funny how things change.
I kept going to the Fair through High School, since my parents were members and volunteers. I helped set up the sounds systems one year. Another year, we went around putting up signs. Endless signs.
Amy and I met in the Fall of 1990, and with one thing or another, we did not make it to Windsor that first year. However, we have every year since. We volunteered together, one year doing evening security and wearing large trash bags over our clothes to try to keep the downpour of rain out. We kept going each fall, and when the Fair moved to Unity, we experienced that first year where there was so little water and such dusty fields everywhere in that very warm fall. 
The Fair and Kids
Once Adam and Olivia came along, we found that they wanted to spend most of their time in the Children’s Area. We were glad to be with them, and realized that we could help out in a big way. So we signed up and managed the Children’s Area for four years. It was an amazing amount of work on the first year, learning where to find things, organizing everything, and getting rid of so much junk! Once the supplies were organized and the junk tossed and the mothballs cleared away (who came up with that one) we just had to figure out how many volunteers we needed, when and where, and also how the live music and performances would fit and what to do when someone cancelled.

Where does everything go?
I kid you not, I made about 20 versions of a Visio diagram to scale and worked over and over where things could go. Do we have the nursing tent in the shade where it might be less visible, or in the sun where everyone can see it but it will be beastly hot? Can we fit the art tent next to the stage, and can we keep that open area in front of the woods? Does face painting need a huge tent, or only a little one? Where do the port-a-johns go? 
What is going on?
Activities – would the Maine Apple Tent people be there? Would the papermaking guy? Do we have paper rolls for painting? What about clay? What about boards and hammers and nails for nailing? It was a huge responsibility, keeping everyone’s kids safe and entertained during the Fair weekend. 

A lot was great – paper bag crowns, Rhonda and Taran, Dahby, the Wall of Sound, The Garden Parade, paper making. 
A few things were not; missing out on most of the Fair for four years, dealing with 200+ volunteers each year and having the 1 or 2 who would a) do nothing b) give attitude or c) both. Handling the School groups or Church groups who wanted to volunteer, but who would not do anything unless the request came from the teacher or a God, I suppose. 

As our kids were becoming interested in things outside the area, and it made sense to move on. We’ve spent the past six years enjoying the Fair at our own pace. 
Two years ago, I stood in the cold, sipping hot cider, and listened to Jim Gerritson's inspiring Observations from Thirty-five Years of Watching the Maine Organic Community Grow. Here are a few bits of his keynote:
  • "If you are a new farmer I think the best thing to do is to grow vegetables. Vegetables return a high gross income, and startup costs are modest. Once you become competent you can sign up CSA subscribers and sell to them every year."
  • "Start your farming small, avoid debt, and put off getting into debt until you’re stable and know what you’re doing. 
  • "In the state of Maine we’re small farmers, we’ve got to make our living from quality and working the margin, because we don’t have the scale to make it on the volume." 
  • "The final thing I’m going to say is, it took Megan and me many years to develop our niche. We've been farming for 35, so for about 15 years we tried growing strawberries, and dry beans and vegetables and beef and sheep and a CSA. Don’t get frustrated. Your niche is out there; you just have to be open to finding it. Grow what you love."
Last year, I was inspired by Russel Libby's keynote, Putting the Pieces Together – Our Next Food System. Here is one of many excellent quotes: 

"A few of us have been part of conversations about how much more farmland would need to be in production to meet 80 percent of New England’s food needs – and one thing it would mean [is] about 2 million acres in production in Maine, up from about 800,000 acres now."
I'm continuing that inspiration, dreaming of a homestead farm that just needs some trees cut to make room again for fields, and planning out my visit to the Fair. 

Here is the schedule of what I want to do this year:

10 am The Holistic Orchard: Growing Healthy Fruit
11 am Keynote: Unraveling Consumerism, Shannon Hayes 
12 pm Build Local Resilience with the Transition Model
1 pm Microhydro for Stream & Tidal Current
2 pm The Culture & Horticulture of Elderberries
3 pm The Organic Tool Box: Orchard Pest Management
4 pm Wild Mushroom Foraging for Beginners

1 pm Poly-Culture Orcharding in the 21st Century
2 pm Apple Tasting or Homemade Rocket Stove Demo 
4 pm Radical Homemakers Reading & Workshop

9 am The Soils of Maine
10 am Farmland & Tree Growth Property Tax Programs
11 am Woodlot Pruning for Profit
2 pm Lacto-Fermentation: Sauerkraut and Beyond

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