Fair draws hippies, organic food
"We need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine." The words of Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, were on display at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine this past weekend, reflecting the fair's goal of environmental sustainability.
The Common Ground Country Fair is not the typical commercialized county fair event. There is no Ferris wheel, nor is there an arcade aisle, and the words "organic" and "hummus" are more commonplace in the food section that the words "fried" or "cheeseburger."
The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) puts on the Fair every year to help promote the rapidly expanding base of organic farms in the state. It not only supports the cultivation and consumption of organic food but also educates others about important environmental concerns and encourages them to do the same. This year, the Colby Organic Gardening Club invited students to volunteer at the fair as part of the composting and recycling team, an integral part of the Fair's eco-friendly mission statement.
Lindsey Hunterwolf '12 was part of the group that volunteered. "I didn't really know what to expect," she said. "We were basically sorting through garbage."
According to the MOFGA website, less than ten percent of fairgoers' garbage--both visitors and vendors--gets sent to a landfill. Large, in-your-face signs instruct visitors to sort their trash into recyclable and compostable piles before dumping it into a corresponding bin. Volunteers then sort through the bins and correct the mistakes of those who failed to comply. Thus the Fair sends only a small amount of trash away annually.
In the recycling and composting tent, volunteers arm deep in crumpled plates, apple cores and pizza crusts, sit at long tables, moving trash along like a conveyor belt and relegating it to the appropriate buckets.
"It was pretty disgusting, actually," Hunterwolf said. "And it smelled awful. I didn't think garbage that had only been sitting around for a couple hours could smell that bad." Nevertheless, "I was surprised by how many things were compostable," she said. "What looked like an ordinary plastic fork was actually biodegradable."
To reduce waste even more this year, the Fair coordinated with its vendors to standardize the cups, plates and utensils they provided. "The goal is to have all the food gear break down in the compost pile," a MOFGA volunteer said.
In the warm microbial environment of the Fair's compost pile, cornstarch forks, paper plates, waxed cups and food scraps decompose into a healthy compost mixture that is then used on the fairgrounds.
"If you see a plant growing on the fairgrounds," a volunteer coordinator explained, "our compost is enhancing it."
Volunteers from the College also sifted through last year's compost--now a large pile of dirt--to remove garbage that had escaped the sorting system.
Hunterwolf said, "I got my hands dirty, which really taught me to appreciate the collective effort it takes for everyone to live sustainably."