| Vicky Burwell
Vicky Burwell – Full of Beans: But in a Good Way …
by Marada Cook
“I’m not sure if I’m the right person to interview – there are so many people who do so much more!” True as this may be, Vicky Burwell’s modest exclamation leaves a lot unsaid. In her role as one of (three) Common Ground Fair Folk Arts Area co-coordinators, Burwell supervises the annual ritual of bean hole digging. She lights blazing fires and tends them all day on Thursday. She shops for pounds of organic lard, shortening and spices. She buries 11 pounds of beans in two steaming cauldrons, and when the moment is right, she and a team of volunteers and a tool raise them from the earth to offer unto fairgoers.
The Unity-born speech therapist doesn’t just dole out the Dixie-cups, though; she garnishes each portion with explanation. “Bean hole beans are the original crock pot,” is her sales pitch. Before they know it, even glassy-eyed middle school students stand jaw-dropped beside a hole in the ground. “You mean you cooked that in the DIRT?” they often ask. “Yep,” Burwell replies, and then she’s got her big opening: Maine history, logging lore, culinary know-how, made-from-scratch culture: Burwell has three to five minutes to change the lives of Maine youth. “It’s like playing with kittens,” she laughs. “They all light up and start saying, ‘WOW!’
“Of course,” she admits, “often they just want to know where the next thing on their school (‘To see’) list is. But sometimes I get the parents hooked too!” She describes return fairgoers who “did the bean hole thing” at a summer barbeque or family reunion. “They love it – like it’s the latest organic party trick or something.”
Burwell’s course to the bean-hole involved culinary school and contra dancing, social work and state government and hardscrabble gardening. It took 30 years, multiple professional burnouts, and one prophetic dream echoing a Kingsolver novel to get her back to Thorndike where she currently lives. “I had this dream about Quaker Hill Road in Unity, where I grew up. I was standing in the sunlight coming through the maple trees thinking, ‘Why on earth would anybody want to live anywhere else but here?’ Then I woke up. I thought, ‘I guess it’s time to move home.’”
The move was good – especially for MOFGA. “When you live 5 miles away from an organization you believe in, it’s pretty hard not to get involved.” Burwell is a long time contra-dance buddy of Folk Arts coordinator Anu Dudley. “I needed a steady hand at the [bean hole] helm,” Dudley says, “someone who had no other distractions during the Fair.” Burwell stepped up, and since 2004 not a single bean has been burnt under her watch. “We had one soggy batch,” she says modestly, “but the broth was delicious!”
Burwell now sits on the Fair steering committee and meets other committee members once a month to plan the upcoming Common Ground Fair. She tips her hat to Melissa Bastian who covers a lot of bases for the Folk Arts Area “that no one else does,” and to Anu Dudley, who is “really the Queen of the Folk Arts Area.”
Dudley says she values Burwell’s ability to manage things well and adds a quick aside: “Did I mention Vicky is a supreme knitter? We bring our knitting to the Fair, and when things are calm we sit beside the bean hole and knit.” The two friends, the bean hole, the middle school students, the earth, the fire and the baked beans … how much better could it get?