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Updated: September 26, 2023

Nature-minded businesses shine at Common Ground Country Fair

Man spinning yarn Photo / Jim Neuger Jim Grant, of Bridgton's Good Karma Yarn & Soap, uses a machine to knit socks at the Common Ground Country Fair.

At the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Jim Grant sits barefoot at a circular machine to knit thick socks made from hand-spun yarn.

"When you do well here it means you're doing something good," he told Mainebiz as he stuck to his knitting for Good Karma Yarn & Soap, a small business he owns with his wife, Amy, in Bridgton. 

While Grant manned the yarn stand last weekend, his wife was selling the soap. Good Karma makes it primarily from olive oil.

Jim Grant has been knitting for more than decade, which he started "so women would take me seriously at fiber shows," he said. "It’s reverse sexism.”

Fair visitors on Friday appeared to be taking him seriously, and asked questions about his sock-making technique and speed. 

Quite different from Maine's agricultural fairs, the Common Ground Country Fair is an annual celebration of all things sustainable, organic and environmentally sound. The fair is hosted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, assisted by more than 2,000 volunteers.

The tradition started in 1977, when the first Common Ground Country Fair was held in Litchfield before moving to the larger Windsor Fairgrounds. In 1988, the event moved to Unity, on more than 200 acres of fields and forest purchased by MOFGA.

The fair and other MOFGA events have been held there ever since, attracting tens of thousands of visitors who come by car, bus and train.

More than 64,000 attendees 

Attendance at Common Ground this year was 64,162, the third-highest on record, April Boucher, the fair’s director, told Mainebiz by phone on Monday.

"It's wonderful that so many people came and [were] really looking to be part of this community and have a lot of fun,” she said. "So many people told us this was the best fair they ever attended, which gives you feeling that you are making an impact. Supporting our local economy is a big part of that."

Boucher also said that while organizers are prepared for any kind of weather with barns, buildings and tents, having "three beautiful days" this year was a big boost at the end of a rainy summer.

"It was a wonderful way to come together after a fairly challenging growing season," she said.

Farmers and food vendors 

In keeping with tradition, farmers and food vendors were out in full force.

"This is one of our main demographics," said Jeffrey Wolovitz, owner of Heiwa Tofu, a Rockport-based grower and wholesaler that was cooking and selling dishes at the event including crinkle-cut tofu fries with two sauces.

The Common Ground Country Fair offers "an opportunity to meet 60,000 of our customers and feed them delicious food," he said.  

While the hobby cook said he's not minded to open a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, he said he could imagine doing a "tofu on the road" as part of the business before turning his attention to the growing lunchtime crowd.

Food vendor at fair
Photo / Jim Neuger
Jeffrey Wolovitz of Rockport-based Heiwa Tofu gets ready to serve a plate of crinkle-cut tofu fries to lunchtime customers.

Grandy Organics was also drawing a lot of visitors. At its fair stand, the Hiram food producer conducted on-site taste tests pitting cashew against cashew in a bracketed competition for a new product launch.

The fan favorite was the Everything Bagel Cashew, which the company plans to start selling in bulk later this year.

person filling in brackets
Photo / Renee Cordes
Attessa Bradly of Grandy Organics fills in brackets for the cashew contest.

"The fair is always so invigorating," Attessa Bradley, head of marketing at Grandy Organics, said afterward. "We loved meeting so many loving, passionate Grandy consumers and introducing thousands more to our organic products. The weather was perfect and drew out so many amazing people. We love the crowd there."

Farmers in attendance included Megan Labbe from Snakeroot Organic Farm, a Pittsfield operation owned by her grandmother.

While a lot of people were stopping to take carrot photos, she said that tomatoes were the biggest seller. 

Farmer behind sign
Photo / Jim Neuger
Megan Labbe of Snakeroot Organic Farm in Pittsfield.

Wiscasset craft weaver

Among craft sellers at the fair, Hilary Crowell of the Cultivated Thread in Wiscasset was doing a brisk business. Under a tent, she sold woven towels, lavender sachets and gift cards made from discarded woven fabric ends. 

The event also helped her get the word out about other events she'll be participating in, including the Maine Craft Weekend, Oct. 7-8 in Bath, and a Holiday Market at the Hive, on Nov. 25 in Bowdoinham.

"This is a really special fair for me," she said of her first year as a vendor. She previously participated as a farm apprentice working with draft horses.

"I brought some things back home, which always feels good, but I brought home less than I came with," she said.

Photo / Jim Neuger
Hilary Crowell of the Cultivated Thread, a Wiscasset-based business, selling hand-woven towels and other wares at the Common Ground Country Fair.

Back at MOFGA on Monday, Boucher said that planning for the next year's event is already well underway.

"Even during the fair, we're making notes about updates or things we want to change or add," she said. "We're always open to people's thoughts and ideas."

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