October 1, 2010

DENIS THOET: Common Ground Fair this year ‘absolutely intense and enjoyable’

A farmer goes to the Common Ground Fair…

Not that unusual, but our Sunday at the Fair was absolutely intense and enjoyable.

First event: The MOFGA 5K Road Race, which starts at 8 a.m. Sunday.

Sunday morning is normally sacred to me. Fifty-one weeks of the year, it means getting up late (7:30-8:00 a.m.), retrieving two big Maine Sunday newspapers from the front boxes; building a breakfast of eggs, cheese, home fries, toast, orange juice, sometimes bacon, and coffee. Then come the next two hours of reading, laughing and the ritualistic “Reading of the Lottery Numbers.” Some day we’ll win.

On the 52nd week, the MOFGA 5K road race demands that I forsake all else and leave the house at 6:15 a.m. sans newspapers, register to run and begin the ordeal at 8 a.m.

This year, Long Meadow Farm fielded its fifth CSA team to run the race, coming in first once again in the CSA Farm Team category. Unfortunately, this category is not recognized by race officials or anyone else, and, as far as I know, no other CSA fields a team. That’s why we won.

Usually, an apprentice or two or a CSA member runs with me. This year, my sole running mate was a neighbor and friend, Heidi Peckham.

My strategy was to start slow, and then go slower. At the end, we would pull it out with a big kick. My secret weapon was a pair of newly purchased, dazzlingly white running shoes that would blind nearby runners.

We ambled along the hilly race route, chatting about books we have read and movies we had seen. Most of the other runners cruised by us, although we passed a couple of walkers along the way.

Our kick was nearly ruined by a determined young dad with a twin baby carriage who muscled in ahead of us at the finish line. I heard the kids crying, so I was happy to let them go ahead. Those kids had a tough race, too. Our ending time was a bit more than 34 minutes.

After a quick change, Michele and I went directly to the Farmers Market at the fair, where we checked the prices, photographed the best displays, and gathered intelligence so we could do a better job at our Gardiner Farmers’ Market.

On to the discussion about food security with panelists Russell Libby, executive director of MOFGA; Dave Colson, a greens grower; and Stewart Smith, former Maine agriculture commissioner. They pretty much agreed that legislation in the works would not help small, diverse farms like ours, and probably not prevent major disasters coming from the industrial growers.

The legislation already on the books and working its way through the House and Senate were “ideologically and politically based” in Colson’s words. I prefer “reality based” legislation.

The three-day fair posted a record crowd of 59,000-plus. The real news, however, was the hundreds of booths and tents occupied by farmers, tool makers, craftspeople, food sellers and artists who earn most or all their living from their work.

These are the true members of Maine’s local economy. They are the promise of Maine’s economic future and an antidote to big box stores full of Chinese imports, and fast food restaurants that make Mainers fat and unhealthy.

Our last destination was a workshop titled Cool Bots, or how to turn a small insulated room into a walk-in cooler, hosted by Andrew Marshall, MOFGA’s educational programs director. Marshall had built two already and enthusiastically praised their merits.

The idea is simple: Make a superinsulated space (about 8-by-8-feet, install a conventional air conditioner (about $250-300), and add a device ($300) that overrides the thermostat so you can bring temperatures down to between 30 and 40 degrees, perfect for cooling meat, cheese and vegetables for market. Running continuously, Marshall estimated it would cost $30 a month to operate, well below the energy cost of a walk-in.

Our idea is to turn our 8-by-10-foot root cellar into a summertime walk-in cooler to keep greens and other vegetables overnight before market or share-up days. The root cellar rarely went above 60 degrees during the hottest days of last summer, and with a little tightening up, we are sure it could meet the task a few days a month.

Our day was nearly complete — the ride home was timed to pick up the Patriots-Bills game about midway through. As we rolled into our driveway, the game ended 38-30, Patriots. Perfect day!

Denis Thoet and his partner, Michele Roy, own and manage Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner, longmeadowfarm@roadrunner.com

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