Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

November-December 1977 Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener
Phil Johnson of East Lebabon, Maine, with his display of historic farm tools
Phil Johnson of East Lebabon, Maine, with his display of historic farm tools, accompanied by a fairgoer enjoying a candied apple.
Jack Henstridge building the cordwood house in miniature at the Fair. Photo by Charles H. Merrill.
Jack Henstridge building the cordwood house in miniature at the Fair. Photo by Charles H. Merrill.
 


THE FAIR – by Chaitanya York

COMMON GROUND COUNTRY FAIR
Good Opportunities – Good Memories

by Lloyd Ferriss


THE FAIR

By Chaitanya York
1977 MOFGA Executive Director

The Common Ground Country Fair was one of the most joyous and satisfying experiences in which I have had the privilege to participate. It was indeed a celebration of rural living, shared by nearly ten thousand people. A unique and warm spirit permeated the grounds and dispelled rain when it was showering all around us.

The success of the fair has a direct relationship to the people who supported and worked on this event, particularly the planning team. The team shared an optimism that prevailed over sometimes mountainous organizational problems. Working with these people was for me a special opportunity for personal growth and I can’t thank them enough.

On behalf of all the people who profited from Common Ground Country Fair I want to acknowledge and thank all the people who helped bring this event about: the planning team, the volunteers, sponsors, speakers, booth people, demonstrators, exhibitors. Special acknowledgement goes to members of the Litchfield Farmers Club whose cooperation, advice and help was crucial to the success of the event. Thank you! The fair grossed almost $19,000.00 and after expenses about $11,000 of right livelihood money is available to pay staff and operating costs for another four months. We were able also to handle back pay for staff who have worked at half salaries for the past two and a half months.

The planning team met almost immediately after the fair to discuss what did work, what didn't, and how to do a better job next year. Work is beginning on next year's fair; the first planning team meeting is in November. Help us. Share your constructive criticism of this fair; suggest how we can do a better job in '78. Volunteer to work on the fair. There is plenty of space, and it's fun.

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COMMON GROUND COUNTRY FAIR
Good Opportunities — Good Memories

By Lloyd Ferriss

Fifty years ago the American author Sherwood Anderson wrote a beautiful story called “The American Country Fair.” In it he described the great mixture of sights and sounds and sensations that are a part of this tradition.

“The fair,” he wrote, “is something special in the country … something pagan, everyone feeling it.”

I couldn’t help but think of Anderson’s story during the three days of the Common Ground Country Fair. Because it seemed that everyone who was there felt that something unusual and something good was unfolding in Litchfield. It was a fair that did indeed show the revival of the American country spirit. It also educated people in a lot of fascinating ways and, like Anderson’s fair of 50 years ago, it was good pagan fun.

The Common Ground Country Fair was really too big to define in words. One is left with a lot of pleasant memory pictures; a lot of good thoughts. I will never forget, for instance, that incredible tent that looked a bit like an Egyptian pyramid or a star. And what food there was beneath it: The Strong Brothers’ egg rolls for which people lined up 50 deep, the Hungry Hunza sandwiches loaded with cheeses and sprouts and other good things, Mary’s home-made ice cream with hot apples, Krystina’s delightful bakery goods and that fine swichel (if I’m spelling it right) cooked up by the Sagadahoc County Chapter of MOFGA. It was a kind of hot cider mixture, they told me, consumed by workers long ago during haying season.

Popularity of that whole concession under the tent and beyond proved, if nothing else, that people are attracted by wholesome food when it is made available. How much better than cotton candy and soda and their sickly aftertaste! There was such a nice geometry of patterns at the fair — really a photographer’s field day.

Morris Dancers with their bright colored costumes and bells were all jumping and dashing in circles. The contra dancers moved in simple lines to the music of the Pine Hill String Band, while beyond them the rows of old clapboard buildings so stark and stable seemed to accentuate these patterns.

But the fair was clearly more than aesthetics and simple fun. The array of wood stoves and heating devices showed some of technology’s latest answers for a society rapidly running out of conventional energy sources. Then there were the wood splitting devices, saws, composting demonstrations — and off in one corner Jack Henstridge, down from New Brusnwick to show Maine people how to sidestep impossibly expensive building contractors by putting together a durable and good looking house made mostly of Portland cement and cordwood logs. Jack mixed cement and placed his logs right in front of his tent — and in three days his little wall grew.

Just as fascinating was Phillip Johnson from East Lebanon, who probably has more antique grain harvesting tools and machinery than any other person in the state. Bringing his own sacks of home-grown wheat, he put to rest the notion that Maine people must depend on the west for all their grain. They can grow it in their fields.

At one point in the fair I walked into the middle of a lecture by James McHale, the former Pennsylvania commissioner of agriculture. He was describing at the time the agribusiness method of growing corn that depends so heavily upon so many diverse chemicals that soil becomes little more than a medium to hold a plant. “Is there any wonder there is so much cancer?” he asked. And the fact he could ask that question — and be taken seriously by a mixed audience — showed that considerable strides have been made. For me, the fair was a joy because I could participate. It was more than just observing a lot of things, or “treating” my children to sweets and expensive midway rides.

With some hesitation, for instance, I entered at the exhibition hall my two home-baked loaves of whole wheat sourdough bread fortified with such things as sesame and sunflower seed and a bit of millet. They weren’t quite so shapely or good as a loaf baked by another man, but they got a yellow and red ribbon now hanging from a light above my kitchen sink.

And I won a 10-kilometer foot race that was sponsored by MOFGA and organized largely by Skip Howard. I won it by outdistancing 20 others who, along with me, poured out energy along 6.3-miles of rolling dirt and tar road surrounding the fair grounds. Of the 50 or 60 races I’ve entered these last two years, it was the only one I ever came in first.

After it was all over, after my nine-year-old son had patted me on the back during my little moment of glory, it occurred to me that people make opportunities for such things to happen. Opportunities for a foot race, for a demonstration in the art of glass blowing, knitting, wrought iron work, poultry showing and a lot of other diverse skills of mankind.

MOFGA made it all happen at the Common Ground Country Fair.

In 1977, Lloyd Ferriss was a feature writer for the Portland Sunday Telegram.

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