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Scenes from the Common Ground Country Fair

If you put snapshots of the Common Ground Country Fair into a time capsule and some historian opened it 500 years from now, he might have a hard time pinpointing the exact time period. Free-spirited hippies, young and old, in their tie-dye tees, maxi skirts and flower wreaths might make him think of the 1960’s.  Was it Woodstock?  Bearded men in overalls pulling horse drawn plows might make him guess the 1800’s or earlier. Hipsters in straight leg pants and thick framed glasses sampling smoothies and kelp chips, well, those images just might make him reference the early 21st century.

common ground fair Touted as a celebration of rural living, the 38th annual Common Ground Country Fair, which drew about 60,000 people to the small town of Unity, Maine this weekend, was much, much more than that; it was more like a rural renaissance. Scores of booths and demonstrations of organic vegetables and meat, solar power, wood products, tiny house living, Old World crafts like spinning and sheep shearing – the list goes on as long as Rip Van Winkle’s beard.

The festival was definitely worth the drive, and all the traffic, which rivaled rush hour in Boston any day of the week, the likes of which, I am sure, Unity, Maine, population 2,099, sees but once a year.

Here are some fleeting moments of the 2014 Common Ground Country Fair:

common ground country fair common ground country fair Above: Braids of onions and garlic and bunches of dried statice. Below: Bins of organic potpouri, photographed in between bobbing heads savoring whiffs of the heavenly scented stuff.

common ground country fair common ground country fair common ground country fair Above: the Wednesday Spinners, who mostly spin on Wednesdays, but often on other days as well. Bottom: Cashmere goats and their graceful horns.

common ground country fair Above: No one plays the fiddle better than a young woman taking a break from work in the fields.

Circa 2014.

All photos: The Garden Spotter

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5 Winter Vegetables To Grow Now

This time of year, you might be thinking it’s time to mulch over that vegetable garden and call it a day.

But not so fast.

While conventional wisdom tells us that it’s almost October and the growing season is winding down,  there are vegetable garden whisperers out there urging you to keep that hoe out just a little bit longer. Among them is the organic farming guru Eliot Coleman, who grows year round on his Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine.  His 2009 book, The Winter Harvest Handbook, elaborates on his techniques of growing food through the winter, devised through years of experimentation. Among those techniques are using hoop houses and cold frames, planting cold resistant crops and planting ahead of what he calls the “Persephone Period.”

The Persephone Period, according to Coleman, is the time of  year when daylight drops below 10 hours a day and plants virtually cease growing. In Maine, that period is roughly from November 5 until February 5. Further, Coleman advises that if plants reach 75 percent maturity before that date outdoors, harvesting of fresh food can go on through the coldest of the winter months.

Here’s a short list of good performing winter harvest vegetables:

1. Kale  – The darling of foodies everywhere because of its high antioxidant and fiber content, kale is one of the most cold hardy plants of all. In fact, according to growers, cold temperatures and frost can even enhance the sweet flavor of varieties like Toscano and Winterbor.

winter vegetables
Sue Salisbury

2. Carrots – Carrots are easy to grow, and delicious tasting any time of year. They mature in about 70 days, which means they should be planted right about now in cold regions for winter harvest. For a change of pace, try colorful varieties such as Amarillo, Lunar White or Spanish Black.

winter vegetables
The Garden Spotter

3. Chard - Swiss chard is rich in vitamins A, C and K and therefore invaluable as a winter crop. Rainbow varieties are reportedly not quite as cold hardy as the white stalked varieties. Think about classic Fordhook Giant or the baby leafed Magenta Sunset.

winter vegetables
The Garden Spotter

4. Turnips – Another cold-enduring root vegetable, turnips are a welcome addition to hearty winter soups.  Seed to harvest is only 55 days for a variety like the Purple Top White Globe.

winter vegetables
Hans Bruxmeier

 5. Spinach – Another leafy green favorite, spinach holds up well to whatever winter wants to toss its way. For dependability, try Tyee or Space. 

winter vegetables
Daniella Segura

Additional Resources: Johnny’s Seeds Winter Growing Guide

Cultivating Artwork at the Common Ground Country Fair

In less than a week, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association holds its 38th annual Common Ground Country Fair, a celebration of rural living.  MOFGA is the nation’s oldest and largest organic agricultural organization, with 11,000 plus members, and the fair that takes place in early autumn each year is its biggest annual event, drawing nearly 60,000 people from all over the region to the small central Maine town of Unity.

Almost as old as the fair itself is its annual fair poster contest. MOFGA uses the winning artwork on all its advertisements for the fair, including posters, bags, t-shirts and online promotions. The artist, usually a Maine resident or MOFGA member, also gets $1,000.

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This year, the winning artist was Kate Seaver of Up-Beet Farm in Porter Village, who told the Portland Press Herald that her bright, cheerful floral design, pictured above, was inspired by her own garden of flowering and medicinal plants such as echinacea, feverfew, chamomile, comfrey and nettles.

Over the years, the Common Ground Country Fair posters have depicted many aspects of the event, from organic vegetables to antique gardening tools to farm animals and insects. The posters, past and present, are available on the MOFGA website for $10 each, and make great gifts or framed art for the office, barn or potting shed.  The online store is temporarily unavailable, however, until after the fair, scheduled for September, 19, 20 and 21.  common ground country fair
common ground country fair
common ground country fair

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