There were so many useful things my family might have done at the Common Ground Country Fair, a three-day celebration of organic-farming life held each fall in the hilly pasturelands of central Maine. We could have learned to forage for mushrooms, grow corn without pesticides, or weave alpaca purses to store the heirloom seeds we got at the seed swap. But we didn’t. We are, alas, not a farming family. If you must know, we’re not even that nice to our houseplants.
What we did do, however, was hurl ourselves into the fair’s addictively simple kid offerings. By preference of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which has organized the fair since 1977, there are no carny barkers or flashing Tilt-A-Whirl rides. Instead, what you see are activity tents, greenhouses, and the occasional bongo player. Electricity is largely courtesy of windmills. And given that the fair’s food must be healthy and, for the most part, locally grown, there’s not a puff of cotton candy in sight—though you can sink your teeth into whole-wheat fried dough drizzled with honey. Amid all the wholesomeness, there is really nothing to which a parent need say no.
And being permissive, my husband and I discovered, is exceptionally relaxing. Our kids—ages 2, 5, and 7—wandered wide-eyed, drawn to anything they could touch. They sculpted at the clay-play table, hammered nails into wooden planks beneath a sign that read, charmingly, Kids Nailing Logs, and pitched themselves from hay bales. Then a bearded young farmer showed up, towing a mama goat with patient eyes. Our kids stroked her soft ears, pressed their faces to her warm sides, and immediately they had notions. “Oh, please?” they shouted. “Oh, please can we get a goat?” I looked at my husband, and he looked at me. Our children’s cheeks seemed to bloom in the air. And at that moment I was ready to swap my whole life for a herd of goats and a patch of Maine farmland.
Crosby Brook Rd. (off Rte. 220), Unity, Maine; mofga.org. Sept. 19–21, 2008. For places to stay, see the fair’s website.