In a frank essay published on her blog a few years back, author, farmer, and Radical Homesteader Shannon Hayes came clean about what she dubbed "a new cadre of women — the Über-Moms. We are the over-educated over-achievers, sidestepping the conventional rat race in favor of an alternative maelstrom." She counts herself as a member of that cadre, but she admits that the lifestyle isn't always sunshine, rainbows, and beautifully preserved heirloom tomatoes.
"[W]hen you approach us at the weekly market, we offer to sell you our eggs, or a grass-fed steak or freshly processed chicken," she wrote. "But really, we are selling you more than that. We are selling you our lifestyle. 'Buy from me,' it feels as though we're saying, 'because I represent your values.'
"But what I really feel like saying is 'Buy from me, because I want to pick up a bottle of gin on the way home.' Somehow, on our paths toward this noble life, one more group of girls has fallen prey to another impossible feminine ideal. And I, for one, am crumbling under the pressure of Über-Momming."
It's the sort of honesty MOFGA Common Ground Country Fair attendees can expect from Hayes's keynote speeches this year. She'll join hundreds of experts and between 50,000 and 60,000 fairgoers at what has become one of the most anticipated agricultural events of the New England autumn.
Other major speakers at this year's event include:
• Jay Feldman of the Washington DC-based Beyond Pesticides organization, whose Saturday afternoon talk marks the 50-year anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
• David Hackenberg, a renowned beekeeper who is credited with the discovery of so-called Colony Collapse Disorder, will appear with several other local and national bee experts on the "Where Have All the Bees Gone?" panel on Saturday.
• Harvey Ussery, a Virginia farmer known for his expertise in small-scale and backyard poultry. Do you keep chickens in a backyard coop? You'll want to hear Ussery's ideas.
• Maine farmer Sarah Smith, who co-owns the Grassland Farm in Skowhegan and helps run a multi-farm CSA in the region. Recently published in the Greenhorns: The Next Generation of American Farmers anthology (see "This Agrarian Life," by Deirdre Fulton, August 3), Smith will speak on "Farming, Family, and Community" on Sunday afternoon.
• Just announced! Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan — named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2010 — will be speaking on Sunday afternoon. Merrigan is known for her work relating to organic labeling and rural farmings.
There are also a few behind-the-scenes developments enhancing this year's fair. Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association fair director Jim Ahearne notes that there's a new interactive fairground map (produced by the young company Maps for Good), and a smartphone app is in the works for people who need real-time assistance navigating the fair's myriad venues and vendors. Look for both of these things on the MOFGA website.
"In many respects it's a very traditional fair and what we're celebrating is very traditional," Ahearne says. "But we also embrace what's contemporary and available in terms of new technology. We want to make the fair as accessible and relevant as it's ever been."
MOFGA Common Ground Country Fair | September 21, 22, and 23 in Unity | Tickets are $10 per day, with discounts available | Find a full schedule of events or sign up for a volunteer position (and get into the fair for free!) at mofga.me