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Thousands flock to Unity for the first Common Ground show in 3 years

This may have been the longest line in Maine over the weekend, but no one to complain. Thousands of people queuing to enter the gates of the Common Ground Country Fair on Saturday have waited three years. About 30 more minutes no problem.

Occasionally, the line stretched from the entrance to the Unity Fair Grounds, past the park grounds, across Crosby Road and back to the nearby alpaca farm.

No head count was available on Saturday, but it is estimated that afternoon visitors run into the thousands.

The Common Ground Fair is organized and hosted by the Maine Association of Organic Farmers and Gardeners. Now in its 46th year, it is recognized across the country as one of the premier events celebrating agriculture and sustainable lifestyles. The last exhibition took place in 2019. The 2020 and 2021 trade shows have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children working in a small field at the Common Ground Fair in Unity, 24 September 2022. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

It attracts an eclectic mix of people. Over the weekend, longtime Maine residents chat with exhibitors from small Maine towns to major metropolitan areas from across the country about everything from sheep shearing to herbal medicines.

For Lynda Jo Shlaes, this weekend’s Common Ground felt like a reunion with other MOFGA members. Splitting his time between Mount Desert Island and Chicago, Shlaes last volunteered at the show seven years ago.

“Living close to nature is very important and protecting our resources is a big deal,” said Sales. “To be with all like-minded people of all ages, from the youngest babies to the oldest grandparents, is so empowering.”

There is something for everyone. In the rabbit kennel, adults and children alike cheered oohs and ahhs at the furry angora rabbit and the little rabbit a few weeks old.

Five-year-old CeCe Pinkham was fascinated by rabbits and actively encouraged her mother – with the help of her older sister Dory Pinkham – to bring her into the family.

“They were so cute,” said CeCe Pinkham. “They are so cute and gentle.”

The Rabbit Cage Coordinator, Mary Merriam, a longtime member of the West Maine Rabbit Breeders Association, is on hand to answer any questions. Oftentimes, coming to the fair is the last push people have when it comes to adopting a rabbit.

“We are happy to provide them with information so they can wait another year on how we actually make them work,” Merriam said. “We want people with rabbits to be successful.”

Near the large barn where the award-winning cows are shown, Valerie Parent spends a few moments with her pet donkey, Roscoe, who has participated in the donkey show that morning with her other donkey, Wilber. Wilber had just been crowned the ass champion that day.

Common Ground Fair participants in Unity stroll through the food section of the exhibition, 24 September 2022. Photo credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

“We couldn’t even leave him alone because so many people came to see him,” said Parent, as a mother pushed her two young children to pose for Roscoe. “I don’t think people saw it [donkeys] very often and this [donkeys] very kind and they love people.”

Michael Jones had waited three years to set up his booth to showcase and sell traditional nut kernels at the event and said the cancellation gave him more time “to call my shop and get my product”.

In addition to animal shows and vendors selling Maine-made food and products, exhibitors can participate in musical performances or listen to speakers on topics such as indigenous peoples issues, food sovereignty, herbal medicine, or composting human waste.

“What I like is that everyone calls it ‘the fair,’” Shlaes says. “People who know know what it is [and] There’s a recently opened shop on Southwest Harbor that’s been around since circa 1900 that says on the door, ‘Saturday, closed for convention, see you at convention,’ and that’s it.”

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