by Russell Libby
MOFGA Executive Director
As the economy moves into a downturn or a recession or something else that will have a new name, long after the fact, most of the news seems to focus on individual solutions, on what people should buy or whether they should sell stocks now. In the end, these decisions don’t really make a large amount of difference. What will make a difference is how we act, day-to-day, in our communities.
The Common Ground Country Fair shows what is possible at many levels. First, over 1,000 volunteers come together to make the Fair happen, from coordination of different areas, to picking up the recycling, to leading the Children’s Garden Parade each day. At another level, by making connections with vendors, fairgoers support many Maine businesses.
Sometimes it takes awhile to realize what’s right in front of you. This past year MOFGA was getting ready to buy chairs for the library, and after looking at the quality of some that were available through national retailers, we ended up buying Maine-made wooden chairs from a long-time Fair vendor. They cost a little more money up front, but they are likely to last long after the inexpensive chairs have gone back through the recycling system.
Finally, by making connections with some of the many thousands of people who attend the Fair, you can learn skills or solve problems in a way that is hard to do in other places in Maine. My first years at the Fair were spent trying to figure out who knew what I wanted to know, and then listening and learning.
We also need to take these conversations forward after the Fair. Regardless of the name – downturn, recession, depression – this looks like it will be a challenging winter for many people in Maine and beyond.
One of the most elegant community-based solutions that I’ve heard about over the past year is happening in Eastport. Scallop fishermen have gotten permission to work together to self-regulate the local scallop fishery, and over a couple of years have begun rebuilding both stocks and the size of the scallops harvested. With more scallops comes a need for a small processing facility, and some efforts to do marketing together. Since the processing facility is used for scallops only during the winter harvest season, it can also be used by area farmers in their busy season. Some of the farmers and fishermen, and others in the community, started a food cooperative doing pre-orders. Instead of a cost-based surcharge, they decided to charge 10% and donate some quality food to the local food pantry. None of these pieces, separately, is transformational. Together, they start to build a solid foundation that can last.
It’s taken decades of deliberate policies that favor centralization and “winner-takes-all” to get us where we are now. It’s up to all of us to figure out solutions that will work. The Common Ground Country Fair is a place where you can start that conversation, and then continue it year after year, both in Unity and at home.