Leading up to the third weekend in September, dedicated attendees of the annual Common Ground Country Fair are abuzz with anticipation and excitement.
From the expansive offerings of local artisans and crafters to the informative agricultural demonstrations, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s 41st annual Common Ground Fair will greet fairgoers with all of their favorite tried and true attractions when it opens in Unity for three days, starting Sept. 22.
But something about this year’s fair will be very different, and it won’t be obvious to the casual observer.
After installing large solar arrays on top of five animal barns located on the fairgrounds this spring, MOFGA has banked enough solar-powered hours to power this year’s Common Ground Fair.
“We’re going to be a solar-powered fair this year, which is going to be something very exciting,” fair director April Boucher said.
The solar panels were the result of a partnership between MOFGA and ReVision Energy, and they are helping MOFGA achieve its longheld goal of becoming energy independent. The organization has been working to become energy independent since it moved to its Unity campus in 1998, where the fair has since been held.
In addition to the latest 102-kilowatt solar array, MOFGA’s grounds also feature a smaller solar array that heats the water for a sprinkler house, a small wind power generator and 23 newly installed heat pumps that are being powered by the most recent solar panel installation.
Aside from saving MOFGA an anticipated $20,000 per year in energy costs, according to building and grounds director Jason Tessier, the solar array will help MOFGA further is educational goals by providing members of its community with the opportunity to learn from MOFGA’s solar use.
With Common Ground bringing a large crowd of people — last year’s fair drew about 58,000 — to MOFGA’s home in Unity, the solar panels location on top of the popular animal barns are expected to draw attention. Boucher sees the solar panels and MOFGA’s energy independence fitting perfectly into the fair’s educational foundation.
“We definitely have found a great foundation [for the fair] in education,” Boucher said. “I feel like everything we do builds upon supporting that education.”
Another infrastructure change that fairgoers might notice is the reshaping of the amphitheater to make for more a comfortable lounging and listening space. Inside the amphitheater area, a range of musical acts will be performing each day, and the reconstruction still allows for 200-feet of sliding space on the backside of the amphitheater hill for the kiddos, Boucher said.
Starting Friday, the daily schedule will be packed with rotating workshops, panel discussions and talks covering a wide range of topics revolving around sustainable living and organic agriculture. This year’s fair will include a talk on the topic of organic landcare and how to better support pollinators, a panel discussion on equipment repair as well as a workshop on year-round indoor salad gardening. A full schedule of talks and workshops can be found on MOFGA’s website.
Until the fair gets underway, MOFGA staff and its large network of volunteers will be busy preparing the grounds and getting all of the facilities and materials necessary to put on such a large event in order.
Boucher said excitement is certainly in the air in Unity.
“There is a lot of excitement and anticipation among the staff members,” she said. “Everyone gets into the spirit, and it’s this great celebration Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”