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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: September 10, 2018

Never been to a Maine fall fair? Here’s some of what you’ve been missing

Written by: Ray Routhier

It’s nearly fall, and you’re starting to think this is the year you’ll finally get out to one of Maine’s famous country fairs. But if you’ve never been to one – and, sadly, some Mainers haven’t – how do you know what you’ve been missing?

Well, the short version is farm animals, funny contests, food, antique tractors and all kinds of fun. Most Maine fairs are a celebration of small-town agricultural life, so they’re full of events that show off what working farm life in Maine is about or has been about, from oxen pulls to pig wrangling to sheepdog trials. But they’re also the biggest show to hit those towns each year, so they often have carnival rides, live music and an epic amount of fried food. Even monster trucks rallies and demolition derbies make their way to some Maine fairs.

Of the major fairs left this fall, only one, Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, doesn’t have carnival rides. It’s a relatively new fair – 42 years old, compared to more than 140 years for the others – and the focus is more on organic farming and environmental stewardship.

Here is a little primer on the Maine fall fairs coming up, so you can know what you’ve been missing and, well, stop missing it.


FARMINGTON FAIR (Sunday through Sept. 22)

The oldest of the big fall fairs, this will be the Farmington Fair’s 178th edition. The fairgrounds is nestled in the state’s western mountains, about two and a half hours from Portland, so it makes for some great fall scenery. It’s a classic Maine fair mixing agriculture, food, entertainment and small-town hoopla. There’s the Miss Farmington Fair Pageant, for instance, on Sunday, with plenty of chances to participate. There’ll be crowns for Little Miss Farmington Fair, JR Miss Farmington Fair, Miss Farmington Fair and the Collegiate Miss Farmington Fair. The contestants are interviewed, display talents and write an essay.

There are animals pulling their weight, literally, in the various pulling competitions for oxen, horses, etc. And then there are animals interacting in crazy ways with humans, like in the Mutton Bustin’ competition. Kids try to show their chops by riding sheep as long as they can, before the sheep sheds them. Like a rodeo, except with Maine farm animals.


COMMON GROUND COUNTRY FAIR (Sept. 21-23)

No rides here. It’s run by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, so it’s less about giving farmers a show once a year and more about promoting Maine farmers and specifically organic practices, all year long. The fair attracts 60,000 people and has some 800 events, workshops and educational opportunities. Topics range from shaking cream to make butter, stone working, goat milking, wind power, wooden spatula making, garlic planting, mowing with a scythe and beekeeping.

That’s not to say there’s no fun in organic stuff. Manure is organic, and the fair features the annual Harry S. Truman Games, on Saturday and Sunday, where people pitch manure for both distance and accuracy. And there is fair food, like ice cream, it’s just made with local organic ingredients. There’s no cotton candy, but there are sausage sandwiches, pizza and other treats made from Maine’s bounty.


CUMBERLAND COUNTY FAIR (Sept. 23-29)

This is Greater Portland’s fair, though with very old roots in a small farming town – 147 years, to be exact. So it’s got all the animal barns and demonstrations, plus a midway of rides and food, plus a demolition derby on Sunday, plus a Monster Truck show on Wednesday. The Monster Truck show replaced a rodeo a few years back, and fair organizers say the rodeo may reappear at some point.

But every day, there are reminders of the fair’s roots and the farmers who started it. A big attraction is the giant pumpkin weigh-ins, on the Sunday of the fair, with specimens as big as a tiny house. On the Saturday of the fair, there’s a pig scramble, where youngsters are put in a ring with squealing piglets and told to go get one. Farm children did this as a chore; now, it draws cheering, laughing crowds. The scramble goes way back. Fair president Mike Timmons was in it when he was 12. He’s 76.


FRYEBURG FAIR (Sept. 30 to Oct. 7)

The ribbon on the package that is fair season, Fryeburg Fair is your last chance to take in a Maine fair until 2019. It’s also on the fringe of the state’s western mountains, and foliage is usually in full form. Fryeburg has some of everything the other fairs have, and more. Like pig scrambles, they have two. One is for kids who live in the fair society’s towns, and one for everyone else. During its week run, the fair usually attracts about 200,000 people. On the Saturday of the fair, there’s a huge parade and traffic through tiny Fryeburg can get snarled on the weekends. So here’s a tip: Even if you’re leaving the fair to your home in southern Maine, head north. Park right in the fair lot and leave from the north end (where the campers are), then head north on Route 5. You can take Route 93 back to 302 toward Portland. It’s longer in miles, but can save you from being stuck.

For odd contests, Fryeburg has an anvil throwing competition and a skillet throw. One really fascinating competition is the sheep dog trials, on the first Sunday of the fair. Dogs, mostly speedy and focused border collies, have to guide a flock of sheep through various obstacles and into a pen, guided by their master’s voice and whistle.


FAIR WEATHER FANS: A list of Maine’s upcoming fall fairs.

FARMINGTON FAIR

WHEN: Sunday through Sept. 22
WHERE: Farmington Fairgrounds, 292 High St., Farmington
HOW MUCH: $8 to $10 for adults; $4 to $5 for ages 8 to 11, free for ages 7 and under; free parking
INFO: farmingtonfairmaine.com

COMMON GROUND COUNTRY FAIR

WHEN: Sept. 21-23
WHERE: 294 Crosby Brook Road, Unity
HOW MUCH: $10 in advance, $15 at the gate, free for children 12 and under; free parking
INFO: mofga.org

CUMBERLAND COUNTY FAIR

WHEN: Sept. 23-29
WHERE: Cumberland Fairgrounds, 197 Blanchard Road, Cumberland
HOW MUCH: $10, free for children 12 and under; free parking
INFO: cumberlandfair.com

FRYEBURG FAIR

WHEN: Sept. 30 to Oct. 7
WHERE: Fryeburg Fairgrounds, 1154 Main St., Fryeburg
HOW MUCH: $12, free for children under 12; $5 for parking
INFO: fryeburgfair.org

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