Record crowd flocks to Common Ground fair

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 26, 2010, at 8:46 p.m.

UNITY, Maine — A larger-than-normal number of farmers, families, hippies and others came by bike, train and — of course — Subaru to this weekend’s 34th annual Common Ground Country Fair to celebrate rural living the Maine way.

They came to watch craftspeople ply their trades, to learn about techniques such as composting with worms, to take classes in subjects such as home funerals, to shop for perfect-looking organic vegetables and — at least for the smaller set — to pelt each other with hay.

According to Melissa White-Pillsbury of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, 15,000 folks came to the fair on Friday and a record-breaking 27,000 came on Saturday.

“It’s been a great fair,” she said Sunday afternoon.

This year’s fair served as the perfect ending to a growing season that some farmers have found to be almost overwhelmingly good.

“We had the best year ever,” said Philip Norris of Clayfield Farm in East Blue Hill. “We’re actually looking forward to the first frost so we can stop picking cucumbers.”

Isis Bell-Smith and her daughter Chloe, 7, of Orono were playing toss in the children’s area and having a good time listening to music and talking to people they knew.

“It’s so great, even though it’s not one of the sunny days,” Bell-Smith said.

That thought was seconded by many, including Sarah Robbins of Warren and her family.

“I have enjoyed coming back,” she said. “I came here when I was a kid.”

Her own daughter Sophie, 10, said that she made felt, petted bunnies, watched big draft horses and learned how to spin. Gracie Isabel Robbins, 7, was enjoying all the arts and crafts activities available in the children’s area — but what stuck out to her was something else entirely.

“I put a hot pepper in my mouth,” she said solemnly. “I was screaming because it was so hot.”

Two farmers at the fair, Sarah Lincoln-Harrison and Richard Harrison of True North Farms in Liberty, came to sell some tiny, red chili peppers and plump heads of garlic — and also to celebrate a summer growing season that they described as “awesome.”

“It just couldn’t have been better,” Lincoln-Harrison said. “We had water at the right time, and it’s been so nice to harvest in the sun.”

It’s the couple’s second season of commercial selling, and they seemed energized and looking forward to planning their third year. That’s not bad for two septuagenarians who decided they wanted to try something different after retiring from careers in Massachusetts.

“We decided we’re not beach people,” said Lincoln-Harrison, 72. “We wanted to keep our health and our edge.”

So they came north, found a parcel of land and started farming 3½ acres of vegetables. Their kids think they’re crazy, they said, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It toughens you up,” Richard Harrison, 71, said while showing off the farm’s catalog of 40 different crops and nearly 100 varieties of produce. “My son keeps saying, ‘Jeez, Dad, aren’t you overdoing it?’”

“They want us to take it easy,” his wife said. “Move to Florida. Play golf.”

“Boring,” Richard Harrison said, emphatically.

In addition to keeping busy with 10- and 12-hour days of farming, the couple also has found another avocation.

“This is something we want to encourage other people to do at our age,” Sarah Lincoln-Harrison said. “Seventy is the new 50.”

Her husband smiled.

“You don’t have to have a ponytail and dreadlocks to be a farmer,” he said.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/09/26/news/record-crowd-flocks-to-common-ground-fair/ printed on December 29, 2014