UNITY, Maine — From low-impact forestry to Scottish Highland cattle to contra dancing, the 38th annual Common Ground Country Fair is a celebration of Maine’s rural and agricultural traditions. Tens of thousands are expected to gather this weekend on 50 lush acres in Unity for the three-day fair that captures the essence of Maine and the bounty of the harvest season.
“We strive for community and education while highlighting agriculture,” April Boucher, fair director, said.
Run by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the fair unites leaders in agriculture like Ben Falk, author of “The Resilient Farm and Homestead,” with locals like Lisa Fernandes, who runs The Resilience Hub, a permaculture center in Portland.
Both are speaking about permaculture, this year’s theme, which focuses on designing ecological landscape systems that work in harmony with nature to restore balance. As more and more people embrace the do-it-yourself lifestyle across Maine and the country, these age-old practices of homesteading and low-energy use are being re-examined for modern times.
“These techniques are ancient, done by indigenous people. But permaculture really synthesized in 1970s,” said Fernandes, who teaches classes on ecological design, which she described as “an extremely practical and hands-on way to take action outside your kitchen door.”
Beyond conserving and preserving the land’s dwindling resources, Fernandes said, “we can make this place sing with abundance” by creating optimal growing conditions and planting harmonious crops.
In her talk, “Eat the Suburbs! A case study in edible landscapes,” held Friday and Saturday, Fernandes will share tips on how she turned one-third of an acre in Cape Elizabeth from a lawn into an edible, perennial ecosystem.
The specialty talk is among many held under tents and in open air this weekend. Others tackle topics like cider making and goat rearing. An estimated 60,000 people are expected to come together for the celebration of the land.
“A large part of why people want to come to the Common Ground Country Fair is to find that community,” Boucher said. “If you go to a talk, there are so many people that are interested in that topic, be it on tinctures, herbalism, textiles — it’s a shared enthusiasm.”
Just beyond the fair gates, farmers showcase the fruits and vegetables of the season.
“As soon as you come in, you are greeted with the bounty of Maine,” Boucher said, adding that many shop at farm stands and picnic on the fairgrounds.
Some come to relax, others to get edified or learn a new way to stay warm during the upcoming winter. Dedicated zones, such as energy and shelter, showcase new and sustainable heating methods, and a fiber marketplace provides a window to the weavers and the woolers among us.
A host of others come to relax, meet their neighbors and sample all Maine has to offer. Food and entertainment is a top draw.
There are four stages with live performances, from Vaudeville acts to puppeteers to roving performers. This year, a group will attempt to pull off the largest drum circle in the world on Saturday at 10 a.m. They are going for the Guinness Book of World Records. All are welcome.
And, of course, there is food, too. Nearly 50 food vendors, from a local tofu producer to farmers selling raw food wraps, nori rolls and strawberry shortcake, will be on hand.
“All food at the fair has to adhere to the MOFGA food policy. Many vendors source the food for the festival,” Boucher said.
Days before the fair, first-timer Kate Seaver was feverishly cutting vegetables from her organic Up-Beet Farm in Porter. Seaver and her husband, John, will create an “all raw menu, [with] nothing cooked over 118 degrees,” for the weekend.
Look for Seaver’s The Raw Food Mobile, where you can find hummus made with summer squash, lettuce wraps and raw noodle dishes consisting of cucumbers and zucchini drenched in raw coconut curry sauce that will keep fair-goers sated.
“People will be surprised at how filling these meals are and the clean energy you get from eating raw,” Seaver said.
For more food entertainment, two Bar Harbor chefs also are competing in a reality show-style mystery fish throwdown on Sunday.
“People come to keep that community going through the year. It’s a big refresh. A highly anticipated event to get excited for the winter and keep refueled with new energy and ideas and share what you have to offer,” said Boucher. “People just inhale it.”
The Common Ground Country Fair takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Gates open at 9 a.m. Vendors close at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults in advance and $15 at the gate. For more information, visit mofga.org.