Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
The Mendall family

By Peter Mendall

In 1978 my parents were teachers on North Haven Island in Penobscot Bay. We belonged to a local co-op, and once a month we volunteered our family van to go “off island” to pick up the group order and bring it back to the school gym where we would divide up all that fine produce. That September a group of the co-op members traveled to see the Common Ground Country Fair in Windsor. As a 10-year-old, my strongest memories are of the fine fiddling, The Buckfield Leather and Lather Traveling Variety Show, fresh crisp cider and all the long hair.

As the Fair has grown and matured over the last 35 years that I’ve know it, so has my family – and what it means to be a part of the MOFGA community. What was once a bunch of heretical ideas and radical thinking is now becoming mainstream. The Fair is now a hub of tested methodologies, sound land management practices and good mentoring programs ... all that and the fine fiddling and fresh cider to boot. The Fair is now a tradition with my children, and no summer can be properly put to bed without our pilgrimage to Common Ground and visiting our MOFGA family.
As a father of four home-schooled children, I’ve gotten great pleasure over the years to see the energy and creativity that my kids, and many of their friends, have put into their YEZ (Youth Enterprise Zone) projects. It starts with the “call to action,” in a real Joseph Campbell way, of friends interacting to figure out who will share a table with whom, what were the hot sellers of the previous year, what their forecasts are for the coming season, and the early commitment needed to secure table space at the Fair.

Then come the intervening months where the pace starts slowly with, “Oh, so much time to prepare,” leading up to the fury of the last couple of weeks before the Fair and getting everything ready. The third Thursday after Labor Day arrives well before it should. That’s the night when displays are finalized, products packed up, vehicles loaded with all the sundries (sleeping bags, chairs, lamps, tents, water bottles, shoes – “NO, Dad, we NEVER wear shoes at the Fair” – rain gear – same category as shoes ... “Please, kids, just put them in the car along with a warm sweater”).

Friday morning starts well before dawn. We usually come over the ridge in Palermo just as the sun is breaching the skyline to the east – the mist rising out of the Kennebec River Valley; the blossoming of fall colors; the cheery and sleepy faces of soon-to-be entrepreneurs. This quiet, beautiful moment of anticipation never ceases to touch me profoundly. The air rings just below auditory level with themes of bounty, community, pilgrimage, offering, giving and anticipation.

We usually hold our breath as we come up to the gate entrance: Will we make it in before the alarm sounds? Will we have to lug everything from the parking lot? Did anyone remember to bring the YEZ and parking passes?

We spill out of our vehicles among friends doing likewise. Hasty greetings are given. The kids scramble to find reserved spaces, unload and set up shop. Parents drive the cars off the grounds as the final warnings come over the speaker system ... The Fair has started!