Sheep run as a herding dog directs them where to go during a demonstration at the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Sept. 24, 2022. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

It may well have been the longest line in Maine over the weekend, but no one was complaining. The thousands of people queuing up to enter the Common Ground Country Fair gates on Saturday had been waiting for three years. Another 30 or so minutes hardly mattered.

At times, the line stretched from the entrance at the Unity Fair Grounds through the parking field, across Crosby Road and all the way back to a nearby alpaca farm.

There was no head head count available on Saturday, but estimates placed attendance in the thousands by early afternoon.

Common Ground Fair is organized and put on by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Now in its 46th year, it is recognized around the country as one of the premier events celebrating farming and a sustainable lifestyle. The last time the fair was held was in 2019. The 2020 and 2021 fairs were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children work a small field at the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Sept. 24, 2022. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

It draws an eclectic mix of people. Over the weekend longtime Maine homesteaders chatted with fairgoers from small towns around Maine to major metropolitan areas from around the country about everything from sheep shearing to herbal remedies.

For Lynda Jo Shlaes, this weekend’s Common Ground felt a bit like a reunion with fellow MOFGA members. Shlaes divides her time between Mount Desert Island and Chicago and was last at the fair seven years ago as a volunteer.

“Living close to nature is so important and protecting our resources is such a big deal,” Sales said. “Being around all these incredibly like minded people of all ages from the teeniest babies to the oldest grandparents is just so heartening.”

An angora rabbit patiently undergoes a shearing as part of a demonstration at the rabbit barn during the Common Ground Fair in Unity this weekend. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

There was something for all of them. Over in the rabbit barn adults and children alike oohed and ahhed over fluffy angora rabbits and tiny weeks-old bunnies.

Five-year-old CeCe Pinkham was captivated by the rabbits and was actively encouraging her mom — with the help of her big sister Dory Pinkham — to adopt one into the family.

“They are so cute,” CeCe Pinkham said. “They are so snuggly and fluffy.”

Rabbit barn co-coordinator Mary Merriam, a longtime Western Maine Rabbit Breeders Association member, was on hand to answer any questions. Often coming to the fair is the final push people on the fence about adopting a rabbit need.

“We are as happy to give them information so they can stew about it for another year as we are in actually getting them started,” Merriam said. “We want people to be successful with rabbits.”

Near the large enclosure where prize cows were being shown off, Valerie Parent was spending a few moments with her pet donkey Roscoe who had taken part in the donkey show with her other donkey Wilber that morning. Wilber had just been crowned the day’s donkey champion.

Valerie Parent spends a tender moment with her donkey Roscoe at Common Ground Fair in Unity. This was Parent’s first time at the Maine Farmers and Gardeners Association event. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

“We can’t even leave them alone because there are so many people coming to see them,” Parent said as a mother encouraged her two small children to pose for a photo in front of Roscoe. “I don’t think people see [donkeys] very often and these [donkeys] are so good and they just love people.”

Michael Jones had been waiting three years to set up his stand showcasing and selling heritage bean seeds at the fair, saying the cancellations gave him more time “to dial in my business and get my products.”

Michael Jones had waited three years to talk about his heirloom seeds at the Common Ground Fair in Unity. The fair took place this weekend after a two-year hiatus thanks to COVID. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

In addition to animal exhibits and vendors selling Maine-made food and products, fair goers could sit in on musical performances or listen to speakers address topics including Indigenous peoples issues, food sovereignty, herbal medicine or human waste composting.

“The thing I love is everybody calls it ‘the fair,’” Shlaes said. “The people in the know know what it is [and] there is a newly reopened store in Southwest Harbor that’s been there since like 1900 where it says on the door ‘Saturday, closed for the fair, see you at the fair,’ and that just says it all.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.