Three keynote speakers at this year’s Common Ground Country Fair will address the work being done on Maine farms and the interconnectedness of the farming community and how working together can solve some of the problems facing agriculture worldwide.
The fair, now in its 42nd year, focuses on organic living, sustainability and local food production.
It is expected to draw about 60,000 people over three days to the fairgrounds at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in Unity. Gates open at 9 a.m. Friday through Sunday and the fair runs until 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and until 5 p.m. Sunday.
“When we look for potential keynote and featured speakers, we’re always looking for inspiring people who are doing something innovative or supporting their community,” said fair Director April Boucher. “We also like to feature local people and show the good work being done in Maine.”
Friday’s keynote speaker is Tristan Noyes, executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance, based in Skowhegan, and co-founder of Gromaine Organic Farm in Aroostook County.
Noyes will speak on collaboration across industries and how it’s strengthening agriculture in Maine.
“Tristan is just a powerhouse in the community as far as his work with the Maine Grain Alliance,” Boucher said. “He is really encouraging people to use organic and local ingredients, working on that infrastructure and educating the public.”
Admission for school groups is free on Friday and Boucher said students are a perfect audience for Noyes’ talk.
“I think it will be great for them to hear about interconnected communities and how it makes a difference to all work together towards a goal,” she said.
On Saturday, Baldemar Velasquez, president and founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, a labor union representing migrant farmworkers in the Midwest and North Carolina, will talk about how inequality and a lack of human rights tie into our food system.
“Baldemar has done amazing work for human rights and to shed light on inequalities,” Boucher said. “We’re grateful he was able to make it and talk about some policy that is really pertinent in this day and age.”
Sunday will feature Hanne Tierney, owner and operator of Cornerstone Farm in Palmyra and chairman of the board of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets.
In addition to the keynote speakers, the fair features a variety of quirky classes and demonstrations, including gymnastic dancing in harmony with a moving horse, how to make a milkweed bracelet and a log scooting contest. Food vendors will serve primarily organic and Maine-sourced meals.
At 1 p.m. each day, the fair will feature dairy cow milking demonstrations, something new this year that Boucher said is aimed at raising awareness around the dairy industry. The demonstrations will be led by Jacki Perkins, an organic dairy specialist at MOFGA, and Jason Tessier of Tessiers Farm in Skowhegan.
“The goal is to show people where dairy comes from and what it takes to raise and manage dairy cattle,” Boucher said. “Dairy farming is a lot of work and they’re losing contracts. We want to show people this is what dairy is.”
Also at 1 p.m. Saturday, the fair’s annual public policy teach-in will focus on the agricultural issues facing the state’s next governor.
Eliot Coleman, farmer and author of The New Organic Grower, will speak at 2 p.m Friday on what he has learned over the last 30 years since the original publication of his book on sustainable ways to grow organic vegetables.
“Eliot is very highly regarded across the nation as well as in Maine for his approaches, so I think a lot of people will be excited to see him,” Boucher said.
As in years past, fair-goers are encouraged to leave early to accommodate traffic to the fair and to try and carpool, bike or take the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad train, which runs regularly from Thorndike and Unity, to the fairgrounds.
Ernie Glabau, a vendor and agriculture coordinator for the Common Ground Country Fair, stakes borders Tuesday for a tent that will include his Entwood Bonsai tree booth. The three-day fair in Unity begins Friday. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel)
Jennifer Sansosti and Luca McCune work on signs with others in preparation for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association annual Common Ground Country Fair in Unity on Tuesday. The three-day fair starts Friday. (David Leaming/Morning Sentinel)
Volunteer coordinator Andrew Graham assists volunteer Edyche Morin with project ideas in preparation for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association annual Common Ground Country Fair in Unity on Tuesday. The three-day fair starts Friday. (David Leamin/Morning Sentinel)