Thursday, December 12, 2013
UNITY — Thousands of hungry fairgoers will flock to the Common Ground Country Fair this weekend for a celebration of rural living, farming and the traditions of Maine.
Jeff Dec and Lily Joslin sort bread dough Thursday that will help feed volunteers at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity the next three days.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Dusty Dowse, left, and other bakers prepare dough Thursday for 500 loaves of rye bread to feed volunteers at the upcoming three-day Common Ground Country Fair in Unity. Others making bread, from left, are: Jeff Dec, Lily Joslin and Dan Rivera, in background.
Staff photo by David Leaming
The Common Ground Country Fair
When: Friday-Sunday; gates open at 9 a.m. each day; vendors are open until 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Common Ground Country Fair fairgrounds, off Route 220 in Unity. More information on transportation and getting to the fair, including maps of the area and the fairgrounds, is available at www.mofga.org.
Cost: Admission is free for Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association members, children age 12 and under and handicapped citizens. It costs $10 each day for ages 13 to 64, and $8 each day for ages 65 and over. Only cash is accepted at the ticket gate, although ATMs are available inside the fairgrounds. Bicycling to the fairgrounds saves $2 on admission.
Friday: Sandor Katz, author of “Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Food,” will speak on fermentation and food relocalization.
Saturday: Deb Soule, founder and owner of Avena Botanicals, will speak on women as farmers and gardeners.
Sunday: George Siemon, co-founder and CEIEIO of Organic Valley, on cooperatives and their future role in agriculture.
All keynote addresses are scheduled for 11 a.m. at The Common.
In addition to the folk music, agricultural exhibits and speakers, part of what draws crowds to the annual fair is the food — all of which is organic, and mostly from locals sources.
Unlike most state and county fairs, the one organized by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association does not have carnival amusement rides or games. The fair is meant to reflect the mission of the organization, which works closely with farmers and gardeners to grow organic food, protect the environment and support local and rural food production.
Volunteers are an important part of making sure the fair, which in recent years has drawn about 60,000 people over three days, runs smoothly, according to volunteer coordinator Anna Libby.
“They’re an integral part of the fair’s infrastructure. Our volunteers are working year-round to do the preparation that really powers the fair,” she said.
Making sure that the fair’s roughly 2,000 volunteers don’t go hungry always has been a priority of fair organizers, director Jim Ahearne said, but this year extra effort is being made to make sure the food volunteers receive is on par with what is sold at the fair. Last year, about 4,600 meals were served to volunteers during preparation and the weekend of the fair, Ahearne said.
He said serving and selling organic food is important not just because it tastes good, but also because it is in line with MOFGA’s goals of promoting and preserving local agriculture.
On Thursday about 15 bakers, including attendees from July’s Kneading Conference and fair volunteers, gathered near the fairground’s main building to bake wheat and rye loaves for other members of the volunteer population. It was one of just many events going on at the fairgrounds Thursday, the final day of preparation before the start of the fair, which opens at 9 a.m. today and runs through Sunday.
Dusty Dowse, vice chairman of the board of directors of the Maine Grain Alliance, and the project’s organizer, said the group expected to make 1,000 to 1,100 loaves of bread over the three days.
The Maine Grain Alliance is a nonprofit organization based in Skowhegan. Its mission is preserving and promoting the use of traditional grains and providing access to locally baked bread. The alliance hosts an annual Kneading Conference in July, which brings together farmers, bakers and chefs from around the region and the country, for a three-day conference on growing and milling grains and baking bread.
Dowse said the conference was a good place to recruit volunteers to help produce bread for the fair, an idea that the fair committee also supported.
“It’s something we’re trying out this year. A lot of food vendors support us, but one of the things we have been trying to find is more organic bread,” Ahearne said.
Among the bread bakers Thursday was Allie Heller, 22, who traveled from Portland, where she works as a baker for Chef Harding Lee Smith’s chain of The Rooms restaurants. She said she heard an announcement about the project at the Kneading Conference and was excited about an opportunity to participate in the fair.
“It’s really fun. I love how much people can learn, and I think its important to make these traditions available and pass them on in a light-hearted way,” Heller said.
Lily Joslin, 25, a fair volunteer who never had made bread before, said she learned a lot about the process Thursday, including how to create the right ratios of yeast, flour, water and salt. Most of the flour was donated by King Arthur Flour in Vermont. Ahearne said the demand for local flour did not make it feasible for the fair to get enough flour to produce all of the bread with locally grown grains, although a small amount of flour was produced locally.
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