SKOWHEGAN — Yearly attendance at the Maine Artisan Bread Fair is on the rise.

Organizer Dusty Dowse estimated more than 3,000 people arrived Saturday at the Skowhegan State Fairgrounds for live music and about 40 vendors selling organic produce, handmade products and, of course, bread.

“I think it was our best year,” he said.

Four years ago, Dowes started the fair to coincide with Lammas Day — one of four days that mark the halfway points between the equinoxes and solstices. The other three days, known collectively as cross-quarter days, are marked by holidays All Saints Day, Groundhog Day and May Day. Lammas Day, however, is seldom recognized.

“It used to be a huge holiday in the Middle Ages to celebrate the first wheat harvest of the summer,” said Dowes, 67. “So, I said, ‘Let’s have a fair.'”

The fair was an offshooot of an annual two-day conference on breadmaking — the Kneading Conference — that began in Skowhegan in 2007. Then, in 2009, Dowes decided to add a third day for the fair, which is open to the public for a $2 parking fee.

Dowes said the event is meant to bring attention to local foods, particularly grains and bakeries.

“The energy here is about local bread — real bread — as opposed to library paste,” he joked.

Dowes said he was overwhelmed by the response to the inaugural fair.

“We thought we would give it a try to see what would happen, and people really came,” he said.

Patty Jones of Lamoine traveled about 90 miles with her two young children to get to the fair.

“I’m a bread fanatic,” she said.

Jones said a handful of Saturday events in Somerset County, including the nearby Canine Performance Events, made for a satisfyng outing for her and the kids.

Brent Bailey of Bangor drove about an hour to get to the fair with his wife and two kids.

“It’s great for us, because we like to cook and we look for ingedients you can’t always find very easily,” he said.

Baker Donna Mionis brought 800 loaves of bread to the fair and they were selling briskly. Mionis owns Daily Bread in Levant — a town with a serendipituous name.

“It means a ‘place of leavening,'” Mionis said.

Mionis, 49, has been baking since she was 12 years old, but opened her business six years ago. Her bakery delivers bread all over central and coastal Maine, she travels to 13 farmers’ markets every week and attends about 40 bread-themed events every year. Saturday marked her third time at the Maine Artisan Bread Fair.

“People love bread, and this is just a great venue,” she said.

Mionis said she wakes up between 3 and 4 a.m., seven days a week to bake, but it isn’t tiresome.

“I love it. I’m a mother of six children, so it’s a nice, quiet time for me,” she said. “I am convinced that bakers are philosophers.”

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

[email protected]

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