An uncommon fair, made in Maine

Posted Sept. 19, 2008, at 10:12 p.m.

UNITY, Maine — Common Ground Country Fair, which began its three-day run Friday, lives up to its name in many ways.

Where else can you see a blacksmith working next to a woman carving ducks next to a Native American crafting a canoe next to a woman braiding rugs? Or almost trip over a sign pointing the way to “Bean Hole Beans?” Or see a man, in a handmade wool sweater and sandals, standing atop a pile of rocks trying to get a cell phone signal?

You can buy a bumper sticker that promotes witch-craft or peace or women’s rights, support the rights of Cubans, Tibetans or veterans, have a bowl of Maine pea soup or watch kids learning to tie-dye fabrics.

Common Ground, held on the grounds of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners, is a true melting pot — with exceptions.

The fair has no midway, no carnival rides, no guess-your-weight magicians. It is an event that celebrates the earth and Maine’s connection to it. Every-thing sold at the fair must be made in Maine or grown here.

Once thought of as alternative fair, Common Ground is now one of the most popular events in the state. More than 60,000 people are expected to attend the celebration this year.

“I wait all year for this fair,” said Linda Leoniski of Boston. “I’ve scheduled my vacation around it.” Leoniski discovered the fair about five years ago and has returned every year.

Opening her tote bag wide, she displayed her purchases: a dozen bars of homemade soap, a hand-woven shawl, a wooden puzzle for her nephew and cat-nip for her kitty. “I haven’t even gotten over to the farmers’ market yet,” she said. “I’m going to get leeks for soup, apples for pie and garlic just because I love it so.”

Although many of the vendors said the day started slowly, once the sun warmed the air, business picked up.

“I’m happy. This is such a great event,” said silver jeweler Cara Romano of Bar Harbor. “I’m sure it will get busy this afternoon.”

If people were pinching pennies, they weren’t holding back on getting information. Agriculture demonstrations were packed and every informational workshop was standing room only.

“This is what Common Ground is about for me,” John Wilson of Levant said, as he listened to MOFGA’s Eric Sideman discuss winter and fall garden care. “Where else can I get this information?” he said. “Later today I’m going to find out about keeping a family cow and then I’m going to learn how to play the spoons. Isn’t this fantastic?”

Another popular area of the fair is the alternative energy and shelter section. Crowds gathered to learn about pellet stoves, wind and solar power.

“I’m really afraid for our winter fuel source,” Thomas Jaffrey of Holden said. “I heat with oil and supplement with wood but I’m looking to move completely away from oil and just use renewable resources.” Jaffrey said he was gathering information about windmills. “I don’t know if windmills are the answer for me but the fair’s energy area allows me to gather all the information I need in a non-confrontational or sales’ pressured situation.”

Jaffrey looked over the fair-grounds for a minute and added, “Besides, I’m going to go get some lamb for lunch while I’m here. Fabulous.”

The Common Ground Country Fair runs through Sunday at the MOFGA fairgrounds in Unity. There are hundreds of vendors, exhibitors, workshops and demonstrations of rural Maine life. Classes, entertainment and activities continue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

A full schedule of events may be found at www.mofga.org.

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