Cruze Da Costa of Rockland carries a snack Sunday as his mother, Leslie Sison, follows at the Union Fair/Maine’s Wild Blueberry Festival in Union. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

UNION — Nine-year-old Emma Meserve was in control as Brownie and Sundae, her team of oxen, strained to drag a metal sled, weighed down with a large concrete block, across the dirt of the pulling ring Sunday, the first day of the annual Union Fair/Maine’s Wild Blueberry Festival at the Union Fairgrounds.

Reaching the end of the ring, she issued commands — haw for left, gee for right — and hit their flanks with a skinny stick to get them to turn around and pull the laden sled back to the other end, pausing to give them rest breaks several times.

Brownie and Sundae pulled the sled about 300 feet in the allowed timeframe, earning them third place and earning Emma the “Teamster Award” for demonstrating the best use of voice and stick to control the oxen in the 16-and-under age class of oxen pulling. The contest is part of the eight-day fair’s focus on agricultural events for its first three days, Sunday through Tuesday, when admission to the fair is free.

When they finished, Emma’s dad, Foster Meserve, who had been following behind Emma and the team, unhitched Brownie and Sundae and helped walk them out of the ring. Father and daughter then lingered to watch how the other young competitors — all boys — did with their pulling teams.

Foster Meserve has been training and competing with pulling teams for 40 years, he said. Brownie and Sundae, both about 2 years old, weigh about 1,000 pounds each.

Hillary Arsenault of North Anson sprays her Swiss Holstein steers Truex and Junior before competing with them Sunday in the Steer & Oxen Show at the Union Fair/Maine’s Wild Blueberry Festival in Union. Arsenault says she is spraying the animals with water to keep them cool. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The oxen are cared for every day and train regularly at the family’s 12-acre farm in Wales, dragging a roughly 400-pound set of tractor trailer tires about a mile a day.


They’re brushed and bathed and treated like pets, Emma said, clarifying that they are outdoor pets. “They’d trash a house,” she said.

Manny Simas, of Hammond, Maine won both first and second place in the youth oxen pull, going almost 700 feet with Bear and Moose for first place and coming in second with the team of Pete and Dozer pulling the sled. Simas has been pulling since he was 4 years old and his family competes at about 20 fairs a year from their home north of Houlton in Aroostook County — a roughly four-hour trek to Union.

“It’s just fun, it gives me something to do in the summertime,” Manny said of his time-intensive hobby. “And I get to see all my friends here.”

Judy Gross feels the same way, seeing the fair as a happy place where she gets to see all her friends and make many new ones. She’s one of 24 trustees, as is her husband, George, who help organize and run the annual Union Fair. Together, she said, the trustees volunteer “a gazillion” hours getting the fairgrounds ready before the fair. Many people in this corps of volunteers camp on the fairground for the duration of the fair to run events that range from animal pulling and showing to competitions in Moxie chugging and blueberry pie baking.

“It’s contagious, I guess, I wouldn’t give it up for anything and I’m 81,” said Gross, superintendent of the fair’s Blueberry Acres building where, according to the fair schedule, 500 to 600 handmade, individual-sized blueberry pies will be given away Friday afternoon until they run out. The building also hosts events that include selecting the 2024 Blueberry Queen, and blueberry pie baking and pie eating. “We just love it, love interacting with people having a good time,” Gross said.

Jen Walker of Whitefield looks over her working steers Sailor and Stout on Sunday during the Steer & Oxen Show at the Union Fair/Maine’s Wild Blueberry Festival in Union. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The Union Fair, since 1960, has also served as the Maine Wild Blueberry Festival.


This year the fair schedule emphasizes agricultural events for the first three days, with the midway amusements to open Wednesday.

Due to the difficulty of securing an amusement ride midway for the fair, which are in short supply, Gross said, Smokey’s Greater Shows midway is expected to arrive by Wednesday and remain open until the fair’s conclusion on Sunday, July 14. It’s the second year the fair does not have a midway for its full run.

Admission to the fair is free through Tuesday, before the midway is expected to arrive, then $20 Wednesday through Friday and $25 Saturday and Sunday. Admission to the fair includes all rides, shows, entertainment and parking.

Lexie Leeman, 18, of Bath leads her show steers Moon and Shine away from the barn Sunday to the show ring during the Steer & Oxen Show at the Union Fair/Maine’s Wild Blueberry Festival in Union. Leeman says she and her steers won ribbons, shown at left, for first, second and fourth place. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Exhibits include the Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage, which has more than 10,000 artifacts reflecting Maine history and life, and a Moxie Museum with memorabilia including a 32-foot tall Moxie bottle, in honor of Union native and Moxie creator Dr. Augustin Thompson.

Entertainment during the fair’s run includes a Friday performance by “American Idol” singer Julia Gagnon, numerous bands and solo musicians, truck and tractor pulls, a demolition derby, a magician, Axe Women Loggers of Maine demonstrations and a “Tuff Truck” competition.

Food for sale at the fair included fried dough, tacos, cotton candy, French fries, chicken strips and a wide variety of blueberry items, including pies, muffins and — good for the forecasted hot weather — blueberry lemonade.

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