Heather Spalding. English photo.
A Message from the Fair Coordinator: Heather Spalding
This has been quite an exciting year for me. After celebrating our first Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, I had a couple of months to prepare for the birth of my son, Rusty. He arrived on a Thursday evening, while the Fair Steering Committee met in Unity to discuss plans for the coming year. I try not to miss any important meetings, but that one I just couldn’t make!
I was fortunate enough to have three months at home with Rusty and my husband Will. In March, I came back to work full-time and was able to have Rusty along for the ride. Juggling motherhood with directing the Fair can be tricky at times, but there is one thing that keeps me going strong – the faith that our work will have a significant and positive impact on the lives of Maine’s children.
It’s encouraging that the Children’s Rights Council in Washington, DC voted Maine the best place in the US to raise kids. The report measured rates of many sociological problems. Maine may have come up on top in this study, but let’s not rest on our laurels. Despite our standing as the best child-rearing population, we all face serious environmental health threats that we just cannot escape. There is no place on Earth to run, no place on Earth to hide. And we Mainers have a long way to go before we can call our environment safe for our children.
Recent scientific studies indicate that humans are exposed to dangerous man-made chemicals from the earliest stages of fetal development. Report after report indicates that industrial activities adversely effect the endocrine system of each of us whether we live on a lush, green farm in Maine, an industrial barrio on the US/Mexican border, or an arctic island in northern Canada.
One study, conducted at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, indicates that industrial chemicals can be measured in the amniotic fluid surrounding a fetus in the womb, and that even small levels of exposure during a baby’s development could have profound effects later in life. Some of the detectable chemicals have been banned from the US for decades, but still are persisting in the environment and showing up in our food supply and in our children’s bodies.
In recent years, I have become more careful about the foods I eat. I try to eat mostly organic, locally grown foods, and steer clear of processed foods with more than three or four ingredients – especially now that most processed, conventional foods are likely to contain genetically engineered substances. I do this for myself and for Rusty. But, I struggle with the concerns about the lifetime of toxins in my system that are being mobilized into my son’s little mouth. Of all human food, breast milk is the most contaminated. As author, researcher, cancer-survivor and recent mother Sandra Steingraber explains, breast milk is “about 10 to 100 times more contaminated with dioxin than the next highest level of stuff on the human food chain, which are animal-derived fats in dairy, meat, eggs, and fish.”
In Maine, we face certain threats from our food supply that are direct results of industrial pollution and agrichemical use. Maine women of childbearing age shouldn’t eat fish from inland waters because of the heavy metal and dioxin contamination. Maine blueberry fields are sprayed with guthion, velpar and other toxic pesticides. Monsanto has genetically engineered some of our potatoes and we have no way of knowing the long-term, ecological repercussions or human health risks. We even have to proceed with caution when consuming our famous Maine lobsters – avoiding the tamale altogether – due to exceedingly high levels of dioxin. How can a state that has committed itself to securing the lives of its children, go on so complacently ignoring its food supply and the sanctity of its environment? It is clear that progress will not be made in the Augusta State House. Food safety and security will be achieved in Maine incrementally and organically. It only will be realized by public citizens committed to an alternative paradigm. It will be planned by neighbors who order, grow and buy food together. It will be popularized by demonstrators, exhibitors and vendors at public gatherings and farmers’ markets. It will continue to be supported by people who attend the Common Ground Country Fair. And it will be passed along to future generations by parents who know that their children’s future depends on a clean diet.
Yesterday I had a wonderful experience walking around Common Ground and through the MOFGA woodlot with members of the Maine Low Impact Forestry Project. Lifetime logger Mel Ames shared with us his wisdom of the woods, and said that he could see right away where the lot had come from and where it was going. Mel said that we will have a very nice and valuable woodlot in the future if we manage it properly. A hermit thrush trilled from atop a stump, and a pine beetle creaked rhythmically as it gnawed a tunnel through a downed red pine. Rusty chattered away too as we walked softly across the forest floor. We all felt hopeful about the decades to come in MOFGA’s woods.
Like Mr. Ames, when I come to Common Ground, I see a history and have a vision for the future. I think of Fairs to come and imagine towering shade trees with brilliantly colored foliage, fruit bearing orchards, vibrant perennial gardens, a journeyperson’s family living in our modern homestead, a building for children’s activities and games, more people riding their bikes and taking public transportation to the Fair, more organic farms surrounding MOFGA for miles and miles, more livestock barns for educational demonstrations and entertaining contests, more organic farms selling their goods in the Farmers’ Market and Agricultural Booths, and an even greater diversity of heirloom submissions to the Exhibition Hall. I look at Rusty’s oak tree planted right outside of my office, and I think about a Fair that started out strong and grew ever stronger becoming a model for other agricultural fairs.
I wonder what MOFGA’s Common Ground will look like in 250 years. What progress will we have made? What ground might we have lost? Which descendants of MOFGA members will be using the Exhibition Hall for planning meetings, workshops and pot-luck suppers?
Every mother dreams about her child’s future. Every mother worries too. When I think about the lifetime filled with joy, laughter, disappointments (I hope they are few), thrills, adventures, challenges, accomplishments, and love that Rusty has before him, I take extra comfort in knowing that MOFGA and the Common Ground Country Fair will be part of him. I’ve met hundreds of Fair kids since I started working with MOFGA, and I’ve witnessed the positive outcome of this nurturing community. Thanks to everyone who has played and will play a positive role in Rusty’s life and the future of all Maine children!