Keynote speakers with expertise in permaculture, pesticides and the history of the fair will be featured speakers during the 2014 Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, which continues today through Sunday.

The fair, organized and presented by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, draws about 60,000 people annually to a three day celebration of agriculture and rural life.

While the fair is absent rides or a midway, crowds from New England and beyond will descend upon the fairgrounds to shop at the rows of vendors, enjoy local food and listen to talks on subjects ranging from composting to public policy.

Fair Director April Boucher said keynote speakers include founding Common Ground Country Fair director Chaitanya York; author of “The Resilient Farm and Homestead” Ben Falk; and Andre Leu, president of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements.

York, the first executive director of MOFGA, spoke Friday about the organization’s early accomplishments and the momentum that has carried it to where it is today.

Falk will deliver the keynote Saturday at the Commons, talking about farm and homestead resiliency and self sufficiency.

Falk, founder of Vermont-based Whole Systems Design LLC, will talk Saturday at 11 a.m. about permaculture, methods for making self-sufficient and sustainable agricultural systems.

According to his online biography, his business worked on projects that tested the viability of rice in a cold climate, tried out new and underused perennial species, extended the production season and worked on erosion prevention and nutrient capture.

“It’s not only taking care of the environment, but it’s being able to do an intelligent design in the landscaping,” Boucher said.

The topic of permaculture has widespread appeal in Maine, and Falk’s speech should be well attended, according to Boucher, who said one of Maine’s permaculture groups, The Resilience Hub, which attracts people from around the Northeast to its course, will be presenting at the fair.

“Permaculture is something there is a lot of interest in from people in the area. Many of the people who are interested in organics are also interested in permaculture,” she said.

The third keynote speaker, Leu, will speak Sunday at 11 a.m. on problems associated with pesticides, which he addresses in his book “The Myths of Safe Pesticides.”

Boucher said the topic of pesticides is one of high importance to MOFGA, which works to lower toxins in the environment.

“There are no synthetic pesticides that are allowed in certified organics. Toxins in our environment is definitely something MOFGA is interested in providing information on to the public,” she said.

She said MOFGA is also pleased to have the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements, of which Leu is president, at the fair.

“We’ve worked with them in the past on an international level, so it will be great to have him here at the fair,” she said.

On Saturday, the fair will offer a public policy teach-in, “Antibiotics and Your Dinner Plate.”

“It’s talking about the role of antibiotics, and what does this mean for our health,” she said. “Organics is also not only about our health, but about taking care of the land and our livestock.”

The panel will discuss public policy concerning non-therapeutic doses of antibiotics used to boost growth and prevent the spread of disease among livestock.

The four-person panel discussion, to be held at 2 p.m. on the Spotlight Stage, will go over why and how antibiotics are in meat and dairy production, what can be done to reduce antibiotic use and what certified organic farmers do in connection with antibiotics and livestock.

Panelists include Stephen Sears, chief of staff at VA Maine Healthcare System Togus; Don Hoenig, Maine’s former state veterinarian; Alice Percy, a certified organic farmer and vice president of the MOFGA board of directors; and Jennifer Obadia, New England coordinator for Healthy Food in Health Care.

Boucher said this year they also will be expanding the youth enterprise zone, where entreprenuers learn business skills and can sell their wares to fair attendees.

She said the youth participants, ages 11 to 18, make a range of crafts from jewelry to bookmarks to hot sauce.

“We even have a young blacksmith participating,” she said.

She said the youth zone was previously restricted to Friday but this year will also run on Sunday.

“We’ve added a second day this year, because we’ve had so many youth interested,” she said. She said other vendors got started in their field by first selling at the youth enterprise zone.

The participants operate like the other vendors, and Boucher said it is a way for them to try their hand at an agricultural or rural business.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

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