The Common Ground Country Fair, one of Maine’s most popular fall agricultural showcases, will not host an event this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The annual fair in Unity, held on the third weekend after Labor Day, is the signature event of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) and draws tens of thousands of visitors.

Only a few days ago, organizers were holding out hope that they might be able to keep the fair on the schedule, but they announced their decision Tuesday.

“Governor Mills’ gradual plan to restart Maine’s economy has provided information and clarity about the months ahead as the COVID-19 pandemic continues,” fair director April Boucher said in a statement. “At this time the guidance we have received, along with information from our fellow Maine Agricultural Fairs, has led us to the decision to pursue a virtual fair and not have an on-site event this year. This decision takes into account the safety and need for advanced planning for our community and allows us to begin planning a marquee virtual event.”

More details about the virtual event will be released in the coming weeks.

Organizers hope next year’s event, which coincides with MOFGA’s 50th anniversary, will be bigger than ever.

Local reaction ranged from surprise to dismay. Some were happy that they would not have to deal with the fair’s traffic. Others who enjoy the fair expressed disappointment that it had been canceled. Owners of a nearby alpaca farm were counting their losses in the thousands of dollars because of the cancellation.

Penny Picard Sampson, chairwoman of the Unity Board of Selectmen, said just before 2 p.m. Tuesday that she learned about the cancellation on Facebook about an hour earlier.

“I was as surprised as everyone else,” she said. “They didn’t call to let us know ahead of time.”

She said the town and MOFGA do not really have a working relationship, so the nonprofit organization would not likely inform the town about its plans.

Sampson said she shared the Facebook post about the fair’s announcement on the town’s unofficial Facebook page.

“The few things I did see were some locals happy because the traffic is always a problem,” she said. “On the flip side of it, people are disappointed because they enjoy going to the fair.”

She said she thought the decision to cancel the fair this year was premature.

“Personally, I thought it was a little early to pull the plug on it because it’s only May 5th today and  the (fair) is 4 1/2 months away.”

Meanwhile, Sampson said the businesses likely to be impacted by the fair’s absence are grocery stores, eateries and businesses owned by the Amish.

“MOFGA will lose a lot of revenue, and some of the vendors – the vendors that rely on the income,” she said.

The fair’s cancellation this year will have a major impact on the Northern Solstice Alpaca Farm on Crosby Brook Road, just across from the fairgrounds.

“It means a huge loss of revenue – thousands of dollars in sales to be exact,” said Corry Pratt, who owns the business with her wife, Robin Fowler Pratt.

“We live right across the street from the fairgrounds, and we capitalize on the audience that they draw and rent space on our lawn for vendors.”

Corry Pratt said 60,000 people from all over the world come to the fair and many visit the Alpaca farm, which has a small farm store on site and a larger flagship store in Northport.

The Pratts give visitors free golf cart rides to the fair in Unity and drive them through their farm ahead of time and offer them business cards – which draws a lot of business, she said.

The farm store on the property offers curbside pickup now and customers also may purchase items online, Corry Pratt said. The farm has developed a program so that customers can go online and a virtual shopper walks through the stores for them, she added.

Several other fairs have canceled their events, according to the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs, and more are likely to follow.

Boucher, in her statement, said the decision was not made lightly but based on facts and feedback from the community.

“Our community is what makes the Common Ground Country Fair a vibrant and engaging celebration of rural living,” she said. “They are in the forefront of our minds as we monitor the pandemic and make this decision.”

Morning Sentinel reporter Amy Calder contributed to this report.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.