September 22, 2010

At Common Ground Fair, food rules challenge vendors

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Most commercial barbecue sauces come filled with preservatives, artificial colors and the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup.

click image to enlarge

FAIR OFFERINGS: Among the more than 60 food vendors at this year’s fair will be Lemongrass & Jasmine Thai Food, serving stir fry cuisine; and Solar Cafe, serving smoothies, vegetable juices, tofu scrambles and quesadillas, all prepared using solar power.

Portland Press Herald file photo by Avery Yale Kamila

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COMMON GROUND COUNTRY FAIR

When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Common Ground Country Fairground, Unity

How much: $10; $8 for seniors ages 65 and older; free for MOFGA members and children ages 12 and under

For details: www.mofga.org

Coffee drinkers take note: While coffee (as long as it's organic and fair-trade-certified) can be found at the fair, bottled water will not be for sale. Instead, be sure to bring a water bottle, which you can fill at special fountains throughout the fair.

The scratch-made barbecue sauce slathered on chicken and roast pork that the folks at Tide Mill Organic Farm will sell at this weekend's Common Ground Country Fair won't have any of those artificial ingredients.

"We're in the process of making barbecue sauce out of tomatoes and sweetened with maple syrup," said Aaron Bell, who runs the family farm in Edmunds with his wife, Carly DelSignore.

Tide Mill Organic Farm will be among more than 60 food vendors who will fill two food courts at this year's fair.

"The food vendors, more than any other vendors, really earn their place at the fair," said Jim Ahearne, fair director for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which hosts the event. "We don't make it easy for them."

Common Ground organizers require that all the food served at the fair, which is now in its 34th year, be Maine-grown and organic whenever possible.

"Well over 90 percent of the food is grown, raised and processed right here in Maine," Ahearne said.

Bell admitted that "it's a huge hurdle going with all Maine-grown, organic ingredients. You have to get creative about how you source stuff."

The payoff from all this effort is food that is both good-tasting and good for you. In addition to barbecue, a huge assortment of prepared foods will include such offerings as lamb, falafel, soup, smoothies, lobster rolls, stir fries, salads, gyros, french fries, curries and wood-fired pizza.

Those looking for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free eats will have plenty to chose from.

Of course, prepared meals aren't the only food-related offerings at this popular event. Not only does the fair feature the state's only all-organic farmers market, it also offers almost 700 events and presentations that range from how to grow grains to solar cooking.

One of the fair's big draws for foodies no doubt will be the Saturday keynote speech by venture capitalist Woody Tasch, founder of the Slow Money movement. He'll talk about efforts in Maine and across the country to connect investors with small food producers and farmers.

Tasch is scheduled to deliver his speech at 11 a.m. at The Common, and at 2 p.m., he'll host a meet-and-greet in the Railcar Speakers Tent.

Friday's keynote address comes from Kerry Hardy, author of "Notes on a Lost Flute: A Field Guide to the Wabanaki." He is speaking at 11 a.m. at The Common.

"Kerry is going to take a look at what he calls the Dawnland Diet," Ahearne said. "What were the original native Mainers eating?"

Even though it's potato harvest time, organic farmer Jim Gerritsen will take a break from the fields to deliver Sunday's keynote speech. Gerritsen will speak about the growth he's seen in Maine's organic farming community during the past 35 years.

On Sunday at 9:30 a.m. a panel will discuss how food safety regulations crafted in response to agribusiness operations affect small farms.

"The regulatory climate is such that a lot of solutions are not appropriate to the scale of the farms in Maine," Ahearne said. "The solutions that might be appropriate for a large hog farm in the Midwest might be onerous for a small diversified farm in Maine."

However, don't think that all the events take such a serious tone. At noon Saturday, there will be an Iron Chef-style competition called the Seafood Throwdown in the Country Kitchen Demos Tent.

During the contest, two professional chefs will be given a secret seafood ingredient. They will then have 15 minutes and $25 cash to go to the farmers market and purchase other ingredients. Finally, they'll have one hour to prepare, cook and serve a meal for the judges.

There's no word yet on who the chefs will be, but the event always draws a standing-room-only crowd.

While the fair's food is known for being both healthy and wholesome, it doesn't mean you need to skip dessert. Sweets to look for include ice cream, gelato and even organic fried dough.

Should you want to sample an original Common Ground Fair treat, be sure to visit one of the two Pie Cones booths. Invented by Frances Walker of Freedom in the early 1990s specifically for the fair, the Pie Cones feature a crispy, conelike crust filled with pie or cheesecake fillings and topped with real whipped cream. "It's kind of like an ice cream cone, but instead of ice cream we have fruit filling," Walker said.

This year's filling choices include strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, apple, blueberry, pumpkin cheesecake and chocolate cheesecake. The crust is made from organic flour, canola oil and cinnamon. The stand also serves an Indian pudding in an edible dish.

"Some people tell me they only go to the fair for the Pie Cones," Walker said. "It's very gratifying to hear. People line up to buy Pie Cones, even when it's raining."

 

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