Four Common Ground Country Fair volunteers smile for a group selfie taken in MOFGA's Common Kitchen.

Meet MOFGA Volunteer Devon Salisbury

Winter 2022-2023
By Sam Schipani

Photo credit: From left to right: Common Kitchen coordinators Devon Salisbury, Jeremy Pesko, Rosa Libby and Clara Kazarov. Photo courtesy of Salisbury

Over the course of the Common Ground Country Fair, the Common Kitchen prepares thousands of meals for the volunteers that make the three-day event possible. With several dozen volunteers all working to plan, prepare and serve the dishes, the kitchen needs to operate like a carefully-tuned orchestra — and, in many ways, Devon Salisbury is its maestro conductor.

As one of the Common Kitchen coordinators, Salisbury makes sure each volunteer has a role in meal preparation where they feel useful and comfortable — whether they’re a former chef or have never even used a chef’s knife — and that the approximately 2,000 other volunteers throughout the Fair have tasty, healthy meals to keep them going through their shifts.

“We want to make sure everyone who volunteers in the kitchen has a great time,” Salisbury says. “Everyone pitches in and they do such a great job.”

Like many of the Fair’s volunteers, Salisbury worked in different capacities over the years, from ticketing to the Children’s Area. When she first volunteered in the Common Kitchen in 2009, she knew it was where she belonged — but she also saw room for it to grow.

With so many volunteer mouths to feed — and the Fair growing every year besides — Salisbury noticed that the fairgrounds’ small indoor kitchen setup was crammed and its capabilities were maxed out. At the time, she was working as a caterer and thought about how they were able to build whole — and temporary — outdoor kitchen setups in order to serve their clients. What if, she thought, the same could be done at the Fair?

Salisbury worked with Bill Whitman, then the Fair’s director, and volunteer Tim Johnson, who also ran the Maine Fiddle Camp kitchen, to double the footprint of the Common Kitchen, adding an outdoor kitchen with rented ranges, flat tops, ovens and — perhaps most important — prep space.

“It changed the ability of the kitchen to be able to produce more food and more variety because of our ability to have different equipment,” says Salisbury.

Logistically, running the outdoor kitchen can be challenging. Salisbury arrives the day before the event begins, and starting Friday morning, the kitchen is open 24 hours a day until the Fair is over on Sunday. The outdoor kitchen is at the whim of the weather, too. Salisbury has seen temperatures range between 22 degrees and 98 degrees under the tent depending on the year, but, she says, the volunteers are resilient and committed to making everything go off without a hitch.

The menu at the Common Kitchen is different every year, too. All of the food is donated, so the volunteer chefs never know quite what they’re going to get.

“There are years that we have tons of meat and there are years where we’re begging for scraps of meat to make soup with,” Salisbury says. “In 2018 or 2019, these guys came in and brought us 1,600 pounds of beets. I think my hands were red for two weeks after the fair from handling so many beets.”

Salisbury says the most innovative dish that they ever made was a meal, lovingly dubbed “roadkill vindaloo,” made from a deer that a fairgoer had hit outside the fairgrounds. They cleaned and broke down the animal via headlamp during the night (all within food safety guidelines, of course).

“If somebody brings it to us we will cook it,” Salisbury laughs.

She hopes that someday another ambitious young volunteer will come in to take the helm from her with a new innovation to make the Common Kitchen even better.

“I brought my idea and saw it through,” Salisbury says. “The Common Kitchen is going to continue to grow and evolve as MOFGA does and eventually there will be some other person that you’re interviewing about what they’re doing for the Common Kitchen. That’s my hope.”