Keene State College’s students experienced a change in scenery when they spent the weekend living at an agricultural fair in Unity, Maine. Six members of the Campus Ecology club attended the Common Ground Fair from September 20 to 22.
“If you’ve ever been to the Fair, you know — and if you haven’t been, anyone who has will tell you — it’s an event like no other, that brings together so many people from so many walks of life, all in the spirit of celebrating the rural and agricultural traditions of Maine,” the Common Grounds Fair website stated. Eleni Guptil, a junior at KSC, just joined the ecology club this year. She found out about the club and the fair through one of her friends. “I decided to show up to a meeting and had a lot of fun. Then we spent three nights sleeping in a field, in a tent,” Guptil said. Guptil said since they volunteered, they got into the fair for free.
Campus Ecology President Kelly Marchione organized the trip with help from an advisor. Marchione said the fair promoted “eating organic food, and just living more eco-friendly.” “We worked in a compost tent, walking around carrying recycling baskets or wheelbarrows and would pick up the trash and bring it back. Most of us were too short to ride these, but they also had really old bikes with baskets on the front to fill up with trash and bring back to the stations. Or, we’d work at the stations, by helping tell people what waste went into which bins,” Marchione said.
Guptil said the meal was her favorite part of the fair. “The meals we got were worth all the work we had to go through.” She said if one volunteered, they got a free meal pass. Her group always went to dinner.
She said, “It was one of the best meals I have had, [it] felt like Thanksgiving, you can eat as much as you want. It was so delicious, homemade and natural.” She continued, “The first day was so hot, like seventy-nine degrees. So hot, the only thing that kept me going was the meal.” Guptil recalled that after their shifts they got to walk around and enjoy the fair. She said it was really fun to see all these animals, little stands of artwork and crafts that people have made. “A woman makes tableware out of pottery, and she got the clay in Maine by herself, and made it up herself, so that was really pretty.”
KSC junior Taylor Asher also attended the fair. This is Asher’s first year in the ecology club.
About Common Ground, Asher said, “We were really busy the entire time, we volunteered for the recycling and compost both Friday and Saturday. Basically, [we] volunteered for four hours each day. We got a free shirt and free meal. After, we enjoyed the rest of the fair. There were a lot of animals, and all the food was organically grown,” Asher said.
Asher said she saw food at the fair she had never seen before. “There was a lot of food; a lot of vegetables that I’ve never had, like yellow watermelon, so that was weird but really interesting.”
Asher also said the best part of attending the fair was being able to bond with everyone while camping. She said it was nice to go in with a group that enjoyed spending time together and enjoyed getting closer to them. Mary Jensen, Campus Ecology Advisor, said that the Common Ground Fair is a solar and harvest-fest show. Even though Jensen did not attend this year’s fair, she referred to Common Ground as a “really marvelous agricultural fair, the best one I’ve ever seen, a lot of information on energy and great component over-all.”
Jensen said almost everything at the fair is produced in Maine. “All food is locally grown or processed. There’s a lot of information on the art of hunting, dogs herding the geese or sheep, a kid section; I’ve seen kids sledding down hills on cardboard. You can also buy things kids have made, jewelry and workshops on how to forage for mushrooms, or how to do heat saving,” she said.
The fair is organized with Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association. Campus Ecology members go to volunteer their time at the fair, Jensen said.
They help pick up litter and other sustainable items in the community. They go to work by volunteering by cooking, recycling, and helping in the compost waste area she said. Students camp in tents outside for three days. Jensen stressed how intense their compost and waste management is there.
“They have one or two percent of their waste that actually turns into trash,” Jensen said.
She also said on campus, the ecology club works on cabling and awareness, partnering with the Fair Trade Club and the Outing Club on certain local events.
Bethany Riccardi can be contacted at