“Common Ground”

August 29, 2022

What follows is a collection of stories from MOFGA members, staff, volunteers and the community in response to the theme: “common ground.” These stories first appeared in the MOFGA Stories segment in the fall 2022 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.

I went to my first Common Ground Fair sometime around 1992. I had moved to Maine about a decade before, and was loving the beauty of this rural state, the kind, friendly people, the clear night sky, the rocky shores, the deep forests. There’s something about Mainers that I profoundly identify with: a relaxed, laid-back friendliness and generosity that touches my heart. But experiencing the Fair, well, that added another layer to the connection. Attracted by MOFGA’s distinct purpose, here was a whole fairground of people with whom I shared values that were not always to be found in your average crowd.

The Common Ground Fair: a shared experience for a couple days on the same few acres, perusing the many informative booths, eating yummy organic food, appreciating the farmers driving their well-trained cattle across the field, marveling at the sheepdog demos and the beauty of artists’ work, picking out our favorite foods and flowers from the garden bounty overflowing the marketplace, listening intensely to the gifted speakers sharing their knowledge with us under the tents, dancing to the live music streaming out over the crowd, smiling at the kids in costume prancing in the parade.

But, also, we are walking the common ground of a deeper sense of connection and purpose, of support and community. Sharing a love for the Earth that is so strong we need to hold it as the basis of our lives and express it through our actions. Wanting to protect the land that we all rely on by using the safest practices possible. Honoring our bodies by eating the healthiest foods we can grow. Honoring the animals we share this planet with by treating them with respect and kindness. And, especially, learning from each other, because the Fair is a beautiful living example of what can be created organically to nourish and support the people of this planet. This fun, enriching and unique opportunity feeds our essential human need to share ourselves, to reach out to others. Especially in these challenging times it is supportive and healing to know we have this community around us.

When I’m at the Fair, it’s as though I am soaring through the clouds in a flock of swallows, each of us unique and different but all flying through the same air, feeling the same sun, singing the same notes, briefly having the same experience. Coming close to each other for a short time as we twist and turn through life. We are sharing a temporary space with a new family of strangers, whose names we may not know but whose regenerative, creative, cooperative, healing, loving values run through us all. 

Kat Coriell, Durham, Maine

Back in the early 2000s, my dear friend Eileen and I were happy fifty-somethings, feeling in the prime of our lives. We were also volunteer coordinators in the Volunteer Check-In Tent (Eileen, bless her, continues to do this important job). It was a Sunday afternoon, the winding down of the Fair. We were organizing things for the eventual packing up. It had been a good fair; things had run smoothly. We were tired but otherwise happy with ourselves and our work.

Outside the tent, two women were conferring about something. They were within earshot and sort of in our field of vision. Eventually one of them said, “Let’s go ask those two old ladies over there.” As they simultaneously turned and looked in a particular direction, we both also turned our heads to see to whom they were referring. Imagine our surprise when we realized (just a moment later) they were looking at us. Guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

June Zellers, Gardiner, Maine

In the late afternoon, I head to my volunteer shift at the Common Ground Country Fair. The fairgrounds start to grow still, as dusk falls on the yellow and white circus-like tents. The social dust of the day settles and people tote their wagon-riding kids back to the parking lot, donned in flower crowns, with arms full of vegetables. Still sweaty from the day, I throw on my first sweater of fall and weave between pop-up tents to the light and savory aroma emanating from a screen door on the side of the Exhibition Hall.

Outside I pass a picnic table of people slicing peppers, wheelbarrows of compost waiting in the corner. Upon entering the kitchen, the door slams loudly behind me but then becomes a percussive beat to the organism that is the Common Kitchen. Oven doors crash open and close, pumping the scent of sage, basil and cornbread into the air. The kitchen sprayer blasts stainless steel to a sheen, knives thumping on cutting boards. Everyone is focused but having fun. If you don’t get into rhythm quickly there’s probably someone walking behind you with a hot pot of soup to push you along.

A friend summons me over to a vat of tomato sauce. “Come check what spices this needs.” I throw on an apron and embolden the soup with heaps of oregano.

As we work, familiar, nameless faces I see every year appear from the crowd. I share a smile and eye contact with the cutie I swung at the contradance the year before.  

The calm kitchen manager calls the steps in this dance. Enough of us know them, we can pull others into the line. The kitchen manager tasks me and another volunteer with making cake, then cookies, then more cake. We all mingle and search sometimes fruitlessly for bowls, eggs and open countertops in this communal space, but feeding the fair volunteers with donated produce and goods from Maine always seems to work out. A feast of salads, rice curries, muffins is laid out buffet-style on folding tables outside. We drink hot apple cider.

After the day’s activities, I head across the fairgrounds to the guerilla volunteer contradance where that yellow-and-white tent is now filled with thick human air and warm light. Fiddles come into tune as we gather in lines and breathe the smell of cooling, dewy grass outside. We all know the steps, so the caller’s muffled microphone instructions aren’t required.

We pull partners in from the folding chairs that surround the unfinished wooden dance floor. Tucking in elbows. Spinning in open spaces. Leaning on each other in the tight ones, a familiar give and take from the home dance where creating space is a learned skill made easier with the right dance partner. Socked feet snag but do not stick on the splintered floor.

Danielle Walczak, Portland, Maine

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