Thirty Years at the Fair
by John Bunker, MOFGA President
One way or another, whenever September rolls around, I find myself at the Fair. Although I’ve never served as Fair Director or been on the Fair Steering Committee, I have had the privilege of participating in a number of different ways, and the good fortune of never missing a Fair. I’ve also been keeping a journal these past 30 years. Recently I took a trip through the dust on the living room shelf to reminisce.
The first Fair caused great excitement. I don’t even recall how I came to hear about it. Lines of communication were far more underground back then. I owned neither a radio nor a phone. Somehow I heard that a new fair was going to happen in Litchfield and that it would be different from any other. I knew I had to go.
1977 Sunday September 25: A real nice sunny day and a fine fair for sure. A great success! Many ideas about goats, mules and other livestock. Films on Dickey-Lincoln project, Nearings, spinning wool, incredible food (from Pinch of Love, Hungry Hunza, Mary’s and an egg roll and bread group). There was only one hot dog stand!
I was totally wowed by the incredible group effort that made the Fair happen. The food co-op system was in full swing back then, but this was something completely out of my experience. It represented a new level of cooperation. I knew I had to be part of it. The following four years I ran a food booth at the Fair. I sold sprout salads and green drink smoothies (not a big money-maker as you might imagine). The booth did provide a perfect spot for all my friends to hang out and deposit their stuff during the Fair. One of my favorite moments was one Friday when a bunch of school kids came running up to my display. A young boy looked at a bowl of sunflower, buckwheat, alfalfa, radish and other miscellaneous sprouts and proclaimed, “Gross! Salad from plants!”
1978 Saturday September 23: At 11:30 began selling salads. At 2:00 the last salad was sold. At last, a chance to see the rest of the Fair. Ice cream stands, cookie stands, pizza stands, taco stands, egg rolls, smoothies, you name it… pottery and woodwork, weaving, Fedco, MOFGA, Deer Hill, honey bees, wood stoves, Apple Farm, chain saws, motherhood, blueberry pie. Goats, donkeys, fowl and pigs, sheep and beefalos, 300# pumpkins, jars of green beans, beets and carrots.
1981 Sunday September 27: Some frost last night. Went to the Fair and Morris danced, checked out the animals, vegetables, wool, food and had more fun. Had a good time listening to Stuart Brand. Ate baked beans and farted around.
I did the sprout salad booth for one year after the Fair moved to Windsor. Then, in the early ‘80s, I sold cider wholesale to vendors each day before the Fair. That was a great innovation, since I never made much money selling sprouts, and this way I could have the Fair to myself.
1982 Saturday September 25: Went to the Fair and sold out [of cider] Then I proceeded to lose my wallet! In a panic I ran to where I thought I’d lost it and, as if by gift of God, someone handed it to me, having realized it must be mine due to the disbelief and shock on my face. Heard Wes Jackson speak. He’s promoting perennial grasses in the Midwest.
1983 Saturday September 24: Heard Mike Noble sing “House Husband Macho,” which was quite good.
1985 Saturday September 21: Listened to Kent Whealy speak about Seed Savers Exchange, seed saving, preservation, vanishing varieties and the crisis facing us as we destroy our vegetable heritage. The genetic diversity we once had is quickly slipping away. The Fair is a good place to learn.
In 1986, my daughter Phoebe attended her first fair. I became a fair parent.
1986 Friday September 19: We went to the Fair today and had fun. I spent most of the time at Maine Tree Crop Alliance. Phoebe [age 1-1/2] loved it. When we told her we were going to the Fair she’d reply “hot” thinking we were saying “fire.” She loved the animals.
By the early ‘90s I was employed most of the year by Fedco. The Fair became – for me – a Tree Catalog “release party.” In ’93, we moved our display from the old animal stalls to a tent. I then became an Ag Booth vendor.
1993 Friday September 25: Clear and Cool. Banner day at the Fair. The Fedco booth was in a tent for the first time. It was a big success. Bill did a potato display of 60+ varieties. We had an apple display of 45 varieties and a tomato display of 30-40 varieties. Useful workshops with Will Bonsall on the subject of plant diversity, seed saving, breeding.
1994 Saturday September 24: Heavy rain. 4” in 24 hours. Fair is a flooded mess. Very few people there. Tent is saturated in 6” of water.
During the years of the Windsor fairgrounds, we lived only 10 miles or so from the Fair. Every bed and cabin was filled with friends.
1997 Saturday September 20: Rain off and on. Then cold front blew through and the temperature plunged in 10 minutes. Lots of interesting chatter – a new Kavanagh [apple] tree in Arrowsic. Huge dinner at home. 16 of us.
Then the Fair moved to Unity. Shortly after that I joined the Board of Directors. At the Fedco booth we began to do apple tastings; sometimes they were wild occasions. My daughter eventually moved to the West Coast, and my mother discovered the Fair.
1998 Friday September 25: Traffic a problem but the site is good. Huge crowds. Good talk by Steve [Page] and Bob [Sewall] on organic apple growing. Very dusty.
1999 Saturday September 25: Highlight. Peter Vido talking about scythes and tai chi. Home very late.
2002 Friday September 20: Warm and busy. MFB [my mother!] came to the Fair. Good display. Fun [apple] tasting. Canadian Strawberry was third. Cox [Orange Pippin] second and Chestnut [crab] was first. Put up wanted posters [for lost Maine apple varieties.]
A year ago I spent my first Fair as MOFGA president. I devoted a great deal of time to wandering around the Fair, checking it out, almost the way I did that first year in Litchfield, back in 1977. Once again I was overwhelmed by the incredible collaborative effort of thousands of people who work together in countless ways to create this amazing thing we call Common Ground Country Fair.
2005 Friday September 23: Rain stopped just as the Fair opened. Had fun with Ken Parr (93 years old!) who drove over from Vermont to see the Fair for the first time.