What impact have you had?
As the oldest and largest celebration of it's kind in the nation, Common Ground is an iconic event that supports and inspires many.
Internally, Common Ground has provided MOFGA with a significant means of financial and member support. In large measure to the public awareness and exposure generated by the Fair, MOFGA has over 6,000 members. Today, the Fair's activity is profitable and generates 40% of our organizations operating budget. This contribution helps support our numerous education programs, including new farmer training, organic marketing, educational workshops and market development initiatives.
In turn, the success and recognition of the Fair has provided MOFGA with a platform for engaging consumers and Maine's legislative leaders in broad conversations on food, farming, pesticide regulation, and rural economies. With an average of 59,000 attendees over the course of three days, each year the Common Ground Fair makes connections an active slice of Maine's population.
Plus, by prescribing the use of organic foods and local products, the Fair provides a viable market for 700 local businesses and artisans. The benefit is not just anecdotal. Our Farmers Market provides its vendors with, on average, 10% of their yearly gross income, in just three days. The Fair also helps new businesses take root. Burts Bees, the successful personal care products company started with a booth at the Common Ground Fair.
Our success is built upon changing without changing. The challenge is to evolve and grow while adhering to our mission. To do so we set realistic, yet ambitious goals, regularly evaluate our work, and annually recommit to our direction. Every fall after the Fair we embark upon an extensive review process, eliciting and distilling feedback from our volunteers and stakeholders. In January the Fair Steering Committee convenes a gathering to address the most pressing issues and chart our course for the year. And every five years, the Fair Steering Committee renews a Five Year Plan.
Our own success is now our greatest challenge. We need to find solutions to real problems that arise from a gathering of this scale. Most notably traffic, consumption and waste all have an impact on our environment, our site and our neighbors. If we don't work to address these issues we ignore our purpose.
In 2010 the Common Ground Country Fair will be in its 34th year. What began with a surprisingly strong showing of 10,000 people in 1977, has only grown. Fair attendance now regularly approaches 60,000. The Fair will continue to evolve and grow, and in this we have expectations that are in our near term focus. That brings us three to five years out. Beyond that, we have bigger questions to address about growth, and we are beginning that work now.
It is our expectation that the Common Ground Country Fair will continue to expand educational, economic and social opportunities for MOFGA, fairgoers, farmers, and Maine businesses and organizations. While doing so, the Fair celebrates rural living, inspiring and educating a broader audience to create and support viable communities. And as an event, the Common Ground Country Fair is a model for the sustainable use of resources at public gatherings.
What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.
In the short term, we recognize the need to address some key infrastructure issues. The most substantial of these is traffic. We need to:
• reduce the number of vehicles traveling to the Fair,
• provide more camping space to encourage longer visits and reduce traffic flow,
• and reduce the traffic access during peak periods.
Internally, we also have systems that would benefit from updating. For example, we still utilize a paper registration system for vendors and exhibitors. Transitioning to a paperless system that integrates fully with our database and website is a process we have begun this year and will need to roll out fully for 2011.
For the long term, we have designed a process intended to help us address other issues of growth and determine our path for addressing continued growth. For this work, our biggest need for 2010 is to take stock. This year, we will be asking a lot of questions of our fairgoers, of our volunteers, of our exhibitors, of our vendors, and of our neighbors and members of the Fair community.
2011 will be the year we will need to work with what we learned at the 2010 Fair, to take a closer look at where we are and begin to map where we are headed. This is the year we explore our opportunities and constraints, and give shape to a vision for the next years of the Fair. It is a particularly good year to do so, for as the 35th anniversary of the Fair, it presents us with an opportunity to launch the next phase of the Fair.
2012 may be a busy year. If our initiatives of 2010 and 2011 are on track, we will have the capacity, both operationally and physically, to address any changes of consequence we may want to implement. 2012 may be a year of action, but foremost, it is our plan for it to be a year of possibility. A year in which we have the capacity to act as chosen.
What would prevent your project from being a success?
No Change. Or change for the wrong reasons. We can rest on our laurels, so to speak. And become a memory. Implementing change does not come easy when change is associated with loss so out of fear, many organizations resist change. Were we to produce the same Common Ground Country Fair every year, soon we would not have that obligation for it would lose it's reason to be and in time, the Fair would lose its way. Or if we were to change simply for change sake, and in doing so ignore our mission, the Fair would lose it's identity and more importantly, our community of volunteers, participants and fairgoers would lose their commitment, motivation and passion for the Fair.
Conversely, change that grows organically is welcome, even necessary and sustaining.