"When people go hungry, it is not food that is short, but justice."
- Julius Kambarage Nyerere, President of Tanzania
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Welcome to the 25th Annual Common Ground Country Fair!

MOFGA Public Policy Teach-In: An Intriguing Look at the Maine Legislature

Welcome to the 25th Annual Common Ground Country Fair!
A Message from the Fair Coordinator: Heather Spalding

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been rummaging around in old MOFGA file-boxes, researching some of the correspondence and articles written about the early years of the Common Ground Country Fair. It’s been a fascinating experience, and one that rounds out my deep respect for the folks who conceived of the event back in January 1977, and worked their tails off to make it happen by the following September. I’ve been working on the Fair for five years and have had many great conversations with some of the fair founders. Like all good Mainers, these people are modest and humble and not given to exaggeration. The stories they share highlight the commitment to providing an alternative and educational celebration of rural living in Maine, while supporting the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. The Fair has grown considerably in size and the number of programs offered, but the original intent is the same.

While the Planning Team and volunteers who coordinated the first Fair at the Litchfield Fairgrounds didn’t know exactly what to expect for a crowd, they had a beautiful and clear vision of what they hoped would transpire. A description of the upcoming Fair, written by Bruce Finlayson and printed in the September-October 1977 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, is befitting, verbatim, today.

Many of the environmental, social and economic concerns facing rural Mainers at that time still are challenges today. But, it is clear that MOFGA and the Common Ground Country Fair have contributed significantly to the sustainable living movement in the region. With more than 4500 members, and 240 certified organic farms, MOFGA remains the largest state certification organization in the country.

Many of the participants in the first Fair still are involved today, and still are helping educate Mainers about alternative approaches to living with a healthy respect for Maine’s environment. Paul Birdsall, who fairgoers can see now demonstrating in the field plots with his beautiful team of Belgian draft horses, appeared on the cover of the post-1977 Fair issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. Matthew Strong, long-time member of the Fair Steering Committee and Planning Team, was at the first Fair with his brother, selling eggrolls to a crowd “eight rows deep,” according to that same issue. Matthew still works tirelessly year-round on Fair logistics, particularly traffic and parking. Skip Howard organized the first Fair Foot Race and has done so every year since. Mort Mather hosted the first Harry S Truman Manure Pitch-off, and has been slinging the stuff every year. And the Sagadahoc County Chapter of MOFGA served up refreshing cups of switchel to thirsty fairgoers – a tradition they honor today. One of the big first-fair events that has fallen by the wayside was a Maine Softball Championship. (Maybe we can find a coordinator and a location for this event in the future). The list of participants who have stuck with the fair for twenty-five years goes on and on. Many members of today’s Planning Team were just toddlers at the first Fair.

Featured speakers at the first Fair included John Cole, Editor of the Maine Times; Jim McHale, Special Advisor to Pennsylvania Governor Shapp on Agriculture; Helen & Scott Nearing, Authors and Homesteaders; Richard Spencer, Maine Legislator; Leandre Poisson, Director of Solar Survival; Jeff Cox, Associate Editor of Organic Gardening and Farming Magazine; and Dr. Thomas Eastler, Associate Professor of Geology, University of Maine. Now we have hundreds of accomplished farmers, writers, legislators, activists, business people and other professionals speaking throughout the day each day of the Fair. This year we are fortunate to have an amazing line-up of featured speakers including: Barry Dana, Chief of the Penobscot Nation; Ronnie Dugger, founder of the Alliance for Democracy; Jim Hightower, noted writer, speaker, radio-host and author; and Dr. Vandana Shiva, anti-globalization activist, speaker, writer, and scientist from India.

For a walk down Common Ground’s memory lane, fairgoers should make a point of visiting the Maine Folklife Center exhibit in the Folk Arts Area. Their exhibit will have historical photographs, posters, publications and other MOFGA items on display all weekend. Staff members of the Folklife Center, will also carry on with a wonderful project started last year to record MOFGA’s history, and the experiences of MOFGA’s earliest farmers. Funded in part by the Maine Humanities Council, the project is amassing interactive tape-recorded oral history interviews. The tapes are being transcribed for future reference and possibly a book of MOFGA’s history. All fairgoers are encouraged to listen to the interviews and even participate in asking questions if they wish. A schedule of interviews will be posted at the Maine Folklife Center booth.

In September of 1977, I was an 8th grader at Waterville Junior High. I didn’t attend the first Common Ground Country Fair, though something tells me I would have been thrilled by the experience. Though I’ve been involved with MOFGA now for several years, sometimes I still feel like a newcomer. I hope that my children will one day be old-timers at the Fair, and that articles written today about our mission and our goals will be reprintable and appropriate, while noting steady progress of a community dedicated to producing healthful food, practicing environmentally sound farming and supporting the local economy.

MOFGA Public Policy Teach-In:
An Intriguing Look at the Maine Legislature

Saturday, 1 p.m., YEZ Tent

How does the Maine legislative process work and how can citizens participate most effectively in the process? A teach-in organized by MOFGA’s Public Policy Committee will address these questions on Saturday, from 1 to 3 p.m. in the YEZ Tent at the Common Ground Fair this year. It will ask: What works and what doesn’t? How much power do ordinary citizens have to affect the legislative process? How can they strengthen their power? Do paid lobbyists for industry organizations really call all the shots? What’s the role of campaign finance in determining legislative outcomes? Are votes bought and paid for? What works, in winning your legislator’s votes for an issue that’s important to you, and what doesn’t? How important is it to ensure that the citizen’s referendum process is preserved?

Coming on the heels of MOFGA’s busiest legis­lative session ever, the panelists will explore these issues in the context of the pesticides and genetic engineering legislative proposals and their fate in the legislature this year. The audience will have ample opportunity for questions and participation.

Sharon Tisher, Chair of MOFGA’s Public Policy Committee, will chair the panel discussion. Panelists include Representative Linda Rogers McKee (D-Wayne), chief sponsor of MOFGA’s successful genetic cross-contamination legislation and co-chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; Representative Paul Volenik (D-Brooklin), a member of the Agriculture Committee and chief sponsor of the unsuccessful bill to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods; Conrad Heeschen, former representative from Wilton; Evelyn deFrees, chief lobbyist for 10 years for the Natural Resources Council of Maine; Sherry Streeter, with Co-op Voices Unite; and Lori Conner, with Maine Right to Know.



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