Kathryn Cody Russell didn’t know that the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association was celebrating their 50th anniversary when she designed her submission for the organization’s 2021 Common Ground Fair poster contest.

Instead, her riff on MOFGA’s iconic logo — replacing the tree’s trunk and boughs with colorful produce like carrots, peppers, blueberries and potatoes — came from a brainstorming session with her husband, Michial, the final week before the submission was due.

“I’ve always been very drawn to trees, both in nature and in artwork,” Russell said. “I was sketching and drawing and then I was like, ‘Oh yeah, duh, the MOFGA logo is a tree — what if this was made of vegetables and fruits?’ Everything sort of fell into place. I wish I could say I wanted to do the MOFGA logo because it was 50 years, but it was just a happy coincidence. I was very excited when I found out.”

The 2021 Common Ground Fair poster, designed by Kathryn Cody Russell. (Photo courtesy of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association)

The poster contest, held yearly, is open to Maine residents and MOFGA members. The winning design is chosen by a committee, which judges designs’ style, beauty and adherence to the organization’s mission and educational opportunities.

On January 14 at its annual meeting, the organization unveiled Russell’s design as the contest winner the 2021 Common Ground Country Fair poster. April Boucher, director of the Common Ground Fair, said that Russell’s design was chosen out of 53 submissions.

“The selection committee really loved how [Russell] highlighted many of the fruits and vegetables that we grow, eat and enjoy in Maine in such a creative way and thought it would be the perfect image to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and our 45th Fair,” Boucher said.

Meet the artist

Russell was thrilled to hear the news that her design had been chosen. Though not an artist by profession, she double majored in religion and studio art in college and has maintained the hobby sporadically in her adult life. She is the director of the Mercy Center at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.

“I’ll have friends or family that might commission me to do a piece but it’s more so just a hobby,” Russell said. “It’s also both a journaling medium for me and a tool that I use for prayer and self reflection. Since 2017, I’ve been submitting to the Common Ground Fair poster contest. It’s nice when you find those kinds of things because it reminds you, ‘Oh yeah, I should be creating things.’”

Russell grew up in Massachusetts, then lived in Montana and moved to Maine when she found her current job in 2012.

Artist Kathryn Cody.

“I like to joke that I’m on year nine of a four year plan,” Russell laughed. “I came here and thought, ‘I’ll get work experience and see what’s next,’ but I really fell in love with Maine and the community and the work I ended up doing. “

Russell started volunteering at the Common Ground Fair in 2015. Her husband, who has worked the fair for over a decade and used to work on the organization’s steering committee, introduced her to the organization and the event. They have been volunteering together ever since, and now own a farm called November’s Harvest Farm.

“To be honest, I know I wouldn’t have gone and started a farm by myself but it’s so much in line with the way that I think,” Russell said. “Now that we do have a farm, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

The Common Ground Fair and other MOFGA events like its annual Farm and Homestead Day have been important resources to Russell as a new farmer.

“Both of those events are just a treasure chest of just knowledge and practical education,” Russell said. “I’m so grateful we have something like this in Maine.”

The winning design

Russell entered designs in the contest in the past, but her previous design submissions mostly focused on farm animals. She had seen them in past posters designs, such as the 2019 winning design by Kevin Martin featuring two Dexter heifers. But her favorite Common Ground Fair posters from years past are the ones that focus on Maine.

“I love all the designs, but I really do love the 2008 hay barn design,” Russell said. “The Common Ground [Fair] is such a Maine event so something that makes you think of Maine, maybe that’s the reason I love that hay barn. I can picture having driven past that.”

As such, she wanted her design this year to show the fruits and vegetables that she felt truly represented the state’s agriculture.

“I knew I wanted to include blueberries and potatoes because those are such Maine products but I haven’t seen them in a lot of the posters,” Russell said. “Once I had the carrot as the trunk of the tree, it really was a matter of running through my head the different produce that we grow and we create. It really had to do with what [we can] grow in Maine and what fits in with the shapes here and how [they can] connect together.”

She crafted her design with colored pencil, which gave her the control and ability to blend that she needed to render the image the way she wanted it.

As in years past, the design will appear on Common Ground Fair paraphernalia that will be available for purchase at the fair and online on MOFGA’s website.

Though last year’s Common Ground Fair was held online in light of the pandemic, the 45th Common Ground Country Fair is expected to be a live, in-person event. It’s slated to be held on September 24, 25 and 26, 2021, at the MOFGA fairgrounds in Unity. However, Boucher advised potential fairgoers to keep an eye on MOFGA’s website for any changes to the plan, as the pandemic could still change things.

“We are dedicated to supporting a safe and healthy fair experience and will follow the state, federal and [Centers for Disease Control] mandates and guidelines, and will continue to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic carefully as it evolves,” Boucher said. “To ensure we can have a great 2021 fair experience for the community, we are actively preparing on-site and online fair offerings. The decision regarding the fair’s onsite status will be made in early May 2021.”