Common Ground Fair

One of the big annual events in Maine is the Common Ground Country Fair. It’s not so splashy as the Fryeburg Fair, and doesn’t have the harness racing or the midway, but people do seem to know about it. It’s run by MOFGA, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. You would be correct if you deduced that it has a sort of new-age, counterculture orientation. Or maybe leftover ’60s orientation.

It’s pretty much in the center of the state, thirty or so miles northeast of Augusta, which makes it almost 100 miles from Casco. We hadn’t been able to go in past years because if fell on or too close to Rosh HaShanah; but this year it didn’t. We set the alarm for 5:45 so as to get there early and beat the traffic (remembering the traffic jam going to the Fryeburg Fair two years ago.)

Well! We were completely unprepared for how big the event was. Though it’s not nearly as big as the Fryeburg Fair, we were worn out walking by the end of the day and we’re pretty sure we didn’t see everything.

There were lots of very real agricultural exhibits, including a tent from the Maine Forest Service and the Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine (SWOAM) which we possibly should join. There were craft demonstrations, including a canoe building display. There were native american craftspeople, including a booth where kids were decorating birchbark with porcupine quills. There were as many yarn and roving vendors as at the Fiber Frolic, and more fleeces for sale than at that event.

If you were looking for people to do henna designs on your hands, you could have found three booths. If you wanted to hear about Amnesty International or sign a petition in solidarity with the people of Burma, this was the place. If you wondered what were the best-looking organically grown leeks, or gourds, in Maine, you could have seen them.

(the rule for vegetables at fairs seems to be that you display three of whatever it is, to show that you can grow uniformly good stuff. Just one superb vegetable could be dumb luck, but three all just as good means you’re a good gardener or farmer.)

Or if you were looking for gourds painted as christmas tree ornaments.

There were several tents full of top quality crafts. I mean booths that would have been at home at the ACC crafts fair in Springfield or the Paradise City crafts sale, or at least could have applied to those shows with reasonable hope of being accepted.

I stopped for a while to watch a woodturning demonstration from a woodturning school we had passed on our way to Pemaquid Light three weekends ago. The guy was using a Jet Mini lathe that I’ve read a lot about on the woodturning newsgroup and that a lot of people seem to be very fond of.

What I liked even better was a guy who was really trying to demonstrate how he makes chairs, carving the seat out of a thick slab of wood; but when I started talking to him, he pointed out his treadle-driven lathe and told me I could try it. It was a blast, though I think it would take an awful lot of practice to turn a smooth cylinder with it since you only get one treadle’s worth of turning at a time. But it’s how woodturning was done from ancient Egypt until the development of electric motors.

My other favorite demonstration was a guy doing rush seating with real cattail leaves.

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