Commonality Through Unity

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From Friday, September 22 to Sunday 24, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) held its 40th Common Grounds Fair in Unity, Maine. The MOFGA was formed in 1971 and is the oldest and largest state organic organization in the country.

Hundreds of people complete the pilgrimage to the Common Grounds fair each year to show support for small businesses that commit to sustainable, organic products. All products have to be produced and made in Maine, with the one exception being coffee, since it cannot be grown in this climate. Recently MOFGA began to accept coffee only if it was roasted in Maine.

Perhaps one of the most popular stands belonged to the Beehive Collective, an artist community that designs giant, intensely researched posters to advocate for various causes. The latest project of the Collective was the third installation in its anti-globalization trilogy. The campaign focuses on Mesoamerica’s rich history of resistance against the mega-development infrastructure of the Plan Mesoamerica project.

Jesse Saffeir ’20 worked with the Beehive Collective over the summer in Machias, Maine: “I made a digital archive of all their research and sketches for their latest graphic project. So the project took ten years to make and they compiled six binders of research and 500 sketches to go into it. I had to organize it all and take pictures of it,” she laughed.

In addition to the stands, the Common Grounds Fair offered talks and demonstrations on a sundry of topics, including Agricultural Demonstrations, Compost and Recycling, and Folk Art. One Country Kitchen Demonstration ended up going on a long, rather passionate tangent about medical marijuana uses.

The crafts area mainly consisted of three tents filled to the brim with crafts and folk art. One of the local businesses named Siena’s Maine Design Skowhegan Handwovens sold crocheted hippopotamuses. Susan Blaisdell has been running her business for five years.

“Heirloom crochet that just can be loved for years and years,” began Blaisdell, “It’s also ‘eco;’ I’m trying to focus on sustainable wool from Maine and just lovable works of art basically.” Blaisdell sells her products on Etsy and even teaches crochet tutorials on Youtube.

One of her most popular products was the “Happy Hippopotamuses,” designed by Heidi Bears. Her pattern can be found on Ravelry. “I crochet them with a worsted weight — all wool and yarn — and this yarn,” she points to the plump hippo, “comes from Bartlett yarns, so it’s right here in Maine,” said Blaisdell.

Another popular destination was Mooarhill Farm & Greenhouses, a business ran by Michele and John Pino. Large bushels of sweet annie and dried bouquets of flowers sold at Mooarhill farm were a staple good for seasoned fair goers.

“I like to have reminders of the garden through the long winter months,” said Michele Pino. “And those flowers that are there,” she pointed at the huge truck of flowers,  “the sweet annie, the celosia, and the amaranth— which is what quinoa comes from— will dry really beautifully. They darken up a little bit, but you can hang them upside down and dry them and make a swag or do whatever you want and you can have them in your house all winter. And then come spring when you can get fresh flowers again, you can just discard them. Actually the sweet annie will smell until next year’s fair.”

Mooarhill farm has earned its reputation over the years. According to Pino, “I’ve been doing this fair ever since it was in Litchfield was when it first started. The MOFGA used to have to rent fairgrounds before they owned this property. So originally, back in the 70’s it was in Litchfield, and then they outgrew Litchfield pretty quickly and they went to the Windsor fairgrounds for years and then they purchased this land…” she thought for a second, “maybe it was the early 90’s when they bought this piece of land and started developing it. I’ve come to the fair all those years, very long time.”

It is quite suitable that the fair took place in Unity, Maine. The atmosphere was safe, friendly, and full of good-will. Vendors were experts in their fields and eagerly shared their passion for their craft to fair goers. Many Batesies, after going to the fair for the first time this year, decided that they would like to take on a future in farming, and even sell their own craft at the beautiful Common Grounds Fair in the upcoming years.

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