Free horse-drawn wagon rides were featured during the 2019 Common Ground Country Fair in Unity. Organizers announced Friday that the 2021 fair would return to in-person, after being held virtually last year amid the pandemic. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

The Common Ground Country Fair is coming back in-person.

While it won’t be attracting the traditional crowds of 60,000-plus visitors who flock to the fairgrounds in Unity, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association announced Friday its plans to host an in-person, coronavirus-compliant fair Sept. 24-26.

Last year’s event was virtual, as were most other fairs and events, amid the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I know that people, really, really look forward to it every year and it will bring a lot of folks to town,” Unity resident Lucia Picard said Friday, reacting to the news. “It’s pretty exciting to see things getting back to normal.”

Common Ground Fair Director April Boucher said in a statement that the decision involved months of discussion, research and planning to determine whether they could support a safe onsite event. Even so, the fair “will look different this year,” she said.

“We also need more certainty from our robust volunteer community that they are going to help out or we may need to alter our course,” Boucher said.

A highlight of the Unity area since 1977, The Common Ground Country Fair celebrates rural living with exhibitions, vendors and educational talks. One of the most popular aspects of the fair is the food, including two all-organic farmers markets and a litany of booths with Maine-grown organic eats.

Attendance at the 2021 fair will be carefully managed, organizers said, so as to comply with Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention and Maine Department of Economic and Community Development guidelines related to the pandemic. There will be extra space between vendors to allow for physical distancing, expanded sanitation of high-touch surfaces and the requirement for face coverings to be worn at all times.

A survey to the association’s members gauging public interest and level of comfort in participating garnered nearly 4,000 responses, the majority of which were in favor of returning to an in-person event.

“This decision was not taken lightly and the health and safety of our community is our top priority,” MOFGA Executive Director Sarah Alexander said. “We would not be planning this event if we did not believe we could support a safe experience for all involved.”

The organization acknowledges event details could change depending on the pandemic situation. They are looking for volunteers; the fair usually has 2,000 of them.

“Our volunteer community is what makes this event possible each year,” Boucher said. “Now that we’ve decided we are planning on an in-person event, one of our top priorities is to ensure we have the interested volunteers to help make the fair a success this year. If we don’t have expressed interest from volunteers within the next several weeks we may have to rethink our plan. The fair cannot run without a tremendous amount of people power.”

Tamika Adjemian, owner of the Unity Kitchen restaurant on Main Street, hopes MOFGA is able to handle the number of people who might attend.

“While we want the vibrancy that the fair brings,” Adjemian said, “we’re also nervous about the amount of people that could come through town.”

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