By Dennis Merrill
Chair, Common Ground Country Fair Steering Committee
“You need to sell shirts made in the U.S.” At the 2003 Common Ground Fair’s Country Store, we heard this comment several times. Good point. After all, one of MOFGA’s objectives is to support local production, and if not local, why not U.S. production, at least? But what an item is made from and how it is made are as important as where it is made. And, as with all products, maintaining quality is also important.
First, a bit of history. Through the 2001 Fair, MOFGA’s T-shirts were made primarily in the United States. The company providing the shirts at that time, Maggie’s Clean Clothes, then announced plans to move its manufacturing to Central America. For the 2002 Fair, we shifted to Beneficial T’s, a company owned by Patagonia, a well-known name in clothing. When we placed the 2002 order, Beneficial T’s production was in the United States. However, prior to the Fair, the company moved much of its production to Mexico. In the two years we have purchased T-shirts from Beneficial T’s, we have been very satisfied with the quality of the shirts we offer for sale in the Country Store, as well as those given to the many dedicated volunteers who make the Fair possible each year.
To round out the other items sold in the Country Store, we sell sweatshirts and nightshirts; the former are manufactured in Mexico, the latter in the United States. These two items were the only two this year that were not made of 100% organic cotton. We continue to search for a source of organic cotton for these. Caps sold this year were manufactured by Beneficial T’s in the United States and were embroidered by Black Bear Graphics in Kingfield, Maine. Our note card sets, posters and calendars are all printed in Maine. Aprons and tote bags are “Made in Maine for MOFGA.” We certainly would like to see this tag on many more items, not only in the Country Store, but in the entire Fair and, for that matter, throughout the state!
For many years, MOFGA has partnered with Liberty Graphics, located “right down the road” in Liberty, Maine. Liberty Graphics is the wholesale source for the garments, totes and aprons sold in the Country Store, and, of course, Liberty Graphics silk screens all of the annual art on these items. We are fortunate to have the expertise of the staff at Liberty Graphics to help us make the Country Store successful each year.
Conventionally grown, non-organic cotton depends heavily on chemical use, accounting for about 25% of the world’s insecticide use. In selecting goods for sale in the Country Store, our primary emphasis has been 100% organic cotton materials wherever possible. However, this goal does limit alternatives. Working through Liberty Graphics, we have found only a few viable suppliers who can meet the Fair’s need for some 8,100 long and short sleeve T-shirts for both kids and adults. While not exactly a major force in the garment trade, MOFGA’s needs are too great for many small, specialty vendors dealing in a wide range of organic products.
So where do we go from here? The long-term goal for the Country Store is for all of the products sold to be totally consistent with MOFGA’s objectives. Each item should be completely organic (or recycled paper, in the case of printed materials), produced locally or as nearly so as possible, and made in a socially responsible manner. Each year we look for suppliers who can meet these goals and, at the same time, can ensure dependable, quality products. We have been unable to find a producer of organic T-shirts in the United States who can produce the number of shirts we need.
While all of the proceeds from the Country Store go directly to support the Fair and MOFGA’s other educational programs, we are pleased to be able to provide Fairgoers with mementos of their visit to Common Ground each year. To that end, we welcome comments, concerns and questions about the Country Store; these may be directed to the MOFGA office in Unity.