UNITY, Maine — The Common Ground Country Fair is a crossroads for hippies, homesteaders, political activists, environmentalists and people who just want to marvel at the sheep dog demonstrations while eating treats like pie cones and fried dough.
But it’s also a place where children can come into their own. From entrepreneurs to young farmers, the fair is a fertile ground for kids and teens to play, practice new skills and show off hard-earned accomplishments.
One of them, Sam Benson, 14, of Scarborough, also had a financial hope pinned on this year’s fair.
At his Super Salvage stall, the teen sold homemade dog treats and dog toys made from recycled tennis balls, fleece and other goods. It was his third year of selling in the fair’s Youth Enterprise Zone, and amid the hustle and noise of young people clamoring to close a deal Sunday afternoon, Benson was doing steady business.
“I love being an entrepreneur and making my own things,” he said. “It makes me really happy.”
This year, he’s trying to make $1,000 for a trip to England. It sounds like a lot, but there’s precedent. In a prior year, he had set his sights on making $500, enough to cover his part of a school trip to Costa Rica.
He made it.
“It was amazing,” Benson said. “I felt like I enjoyed the trip more because I raised the money myself.”
Another young entrepreneur, 11-year-old Isabelle Harrington of Benton, had a very different type of product arrayed on the table in front of her: homemade slime in a rainbow of colors.
Her business, “Izzy’s Slime,” is in its second year at the fair, and she’s already learned some of the downsides of running your own business. She used to come to the fair and play with friends, but that has changed.
“Now I just have to sit,” she said.
Still, Isabelle practically bounced out of her chair when talking about the things she wanted to do with her slime money.
“I’m actually saving up for a cruise with my grammy, and saving up for a hoverboard and a scooter,” she said.
Meanwhile, Oliver Wilkinson, 5, of Damariscotta, was in full-on play mode. He was working a little patch of sand near the Johnny’s Selected Seeds demonstration area with a garden tool in between grabbing bites of an afternoon snack.
His favorite part of the fair?
“Everything,” he said at first, before changing his mind. “Eating the maple sugar candy.”
His mom, Anna Meyer of Damariscotta, said she was enjoying taking the fair at a child’s speed.
“Everything’s just slow-paced and laid-back,” she said. “There’s no rushing. I can just sit here and watch him have fun. It’s really nice.”
Other kids with jobs to do included Zachary Lee, 8, of Freedom, whose family owns Sandy Stream Farm. He was camping at the fairgrounds all weekend in order to help care for the Saanan dairy goats they were showing.
One good thing about staying there is that he now knows the fairgrounds very well, but there’s a downside.
“No showers,” he said.
Another youngster whose time at the Common Ground Country Fair was more work than leisure was Wiekko Sillanpaa, 10, of New Vineyard. His family owns Maple Brook Farm, which came to the fair for the first time with its steers and oxen. Two of the steers on display were a pair named Speck and Dust, which Wiekko had raised from the time they were little calves.
“They like to be nosy, like me, and they’re energetic,” Sillanpaa said of his animals.
Robert Sillanpaa, his father, said that it was the family’s first time participating in the Common Ground Country Fair, but hopefully not the last.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “There are lots of traditional things.”