MONMOUTH — On Saturday morning, Audrey Walker wasn’t sure what to expect.

Early forecasts for AppleFest called for rain, and several vendors who had committed to come for demonstrations pulled out as a result.

At the same time, COVID-19 cases have been on the rise across the state, prompting some events like the traditional Common Ground Country Fair to be canceled and some volunteers to step aside this year out of concern for their health and their families’ health.

But as the annual one-day festival completed its first hour, Walker — standing under the tent in front of the Monmouth Museum where people were stopping by to buy apple pie, either whole or by the slice — was optimistic.

Booths had been set up along Main Street between Pleasant and Maple streets, and slowly but surely, people were arriving in Monmouth’s village area.

“How do you like our rainy day?” Walker said, raising her hands toward the sky.

Above, the clouds were parting and the bright sun of an early fall morning heated the air. David, Walker’s husband, was headed to their home around the corner to swap out some melting ice cream for a quart fresh from their freezer, and the hum of conversation along the street was rising.

A year ago, like many other events across Maine, AppleFest was canceled; the state of civil emergency at that time was limiting public gatherings and vaccines weren’t yet available. Even so, Walker and her corps of volunteers devised a work-around for the event that is the chief fundraiser for the Monmouth Museum: a drive-thru pie sale.

“We said, we can cancel AppleFest, but not apple pie,” she said. “We did quite well for having a pandemic year. We still got pie out there for people. There was no crisis.”

While limits imposed for public health have been lifted, Walker said she wasn’t expecting people to come in the same numbers this year as they have in the past. Several standard events, like the community breakfast and tours inside the museum and barn and the wagon rides, were put on hold for this year. And while other events like agricultural fairs have hosted vaccine pop-up sites, that wasn’t contemplated for AppleFest, she said.

Jessica Lalonde said she enjoys bringing her family to Monmouth’s annual AppleFest, which was held Saturday along Main Street. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

Among those who came on Saturday was Jessica Lalonde, who came with her husband and four young children along with a friend and her three children.

“When we first moved to town three years ago, this was the first event we went to, and it was great,” Lalonde said, pausing with her stroller in front of the U.S. Post Office on Main Street.

“It’s nice to be be able to bring your kids, and be able to have the activities and buy things and support the different things here in town,” she said.

AppleFest has been  a staple of Monmouth’s fall activities for more than three decades. It started out as a bake sale to celebrate Monmouth’s history as one of the chief apple-growing regions in the state, Walker said.

“We have quite a lot of paraphernalia, different things from the apple harvest,” she said of the museum’s collection.

But slowly other ideas cropped up — balloons and games for children, a 5K road race put on by the Friends of Cumston Hall, breakfast at church, a craft fair organized by the Masons, a pie eating contest — and the event has grown to the point where Main Street has been closed to traffic, which was not always the case.

“I remember the first AppleFest, I would see people I hadn’t seen all year,” she said. “It’s a chance to get out and meet your neighbors before the winter sets in.”

As events were added, AppleFest became a destination event that other organizations could capitalize on for fundraisers, she said.

And in all that time, she said, volunteers can remember only one year when the weather didn’t cooperate. It was cold and wind shook the tents and canopies.

People shop at the Monmouth Lions Club yard sale held Saturday during AppleFest at the Monmouth Museum. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

One of those organizations has been the Lions Club. The club holds its main yard sale fundraiser the second weekend of June at Knowles Lumber on Route 202, but has added a second yard sale to coincide with AppleFest in the past few years.

On Saturday, in the Monmouth Lions Club parking lot just beyond the north end of the festival, three rows of tables showcased a wide variety of yard sale fare — housewares, tools, framed art, light fixtures, sombreros, games and anything else you might find at a yard sale.

“It’s an end-of season sale,” Robert Cyr, Lions Club president, said. Whatever is left over from the June yard sale and donations the club receives after that are offered for sale. The proceeds fund the programs the Lions support, including the local food pantry, providing eyeglasses and hearing aids, and scholarships for Monmouth Academy graduates.

The pandemic has brought unexpected bounty to the club, as people stuck at home have spent their time going through their belongings and shedding things they don’t want any more.

“It’s nice because all the money goes back to the community,” Cyr said.

In the moments before the live music by Samuel Jack Tea fired up at 11 a.m., Walker said in line with the streamlined festival, the number of volunteers has likewise been streamlined. Normally, the museum draws about a dozen, but this year between existing volunteers and ones she didn’t know would step up she had about a half-dozen.

“This is not what I would call a typical AppleFest,” Walker said, adding that it’s been like a rollercoaster with people vacillating until the last moment about whether they would take part. “We trust people to do what they need to do to keep themselves safe.”


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