We’re off to the Common Ground Country Fair this weekend, an eye-popping, mind-blowing, spirit-lifting, tastebud-tickling “celebration of rural life” put on by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association every year in Unity, Maine. About 60,000 people will flock to the fairground over three days, and Chewonki students from Maine Coast Semester 59 will be among them, exploring everything from beekeeping to sheepdog trials, permaculture to prizewinning pumpkins.
Chewonki Farm Manager Megan Phillips and her draft horse, Sal, will enjoy celebrity status. Together they will lead three workshops: Building a Positive Relationship with a Workhorse, Becoming a Horse’s Human, and Basic Grooming and Daily Care of Your Draft Horse.
Sal and Phillips arrive at the fairground early to get settled. Sal finds her spacious stall. Phillips pitches a tent in the horse trailer. It’s a social event for both of them, says Phillips, who camps with fellow practitioners of low-impact, horse-powered forestry. They are all friends, and “Quite a few have a Chewonki connection,” says Phillips, mentioning Betsy Mattox (former Chewonki farm apprentice), Brad Johnson (former Chewonki farm manager and Maine Coast Semester staff) and Emily LeVan (former Maine Coast Semester staff), and Mark Albee (former Chewonki farm manager). Phillips also looks forward to seeing mentors “who have taught me about draft animals” and alongside whom she now teaches newcomers.
Although travel by trailer is not Sal’s favorite activity, once she gets to the fair, she appears to enjoy the commotion, attention, and thousands of small hands. She “seems calm and comfortable and loose-lipped and almost sleepy around children,” says Phillips.
Phillips’s blue eyes shine from under her well-worn hat brim when she talks about Sal. It’s clear why she’s chosen her workshop topics. The bond between humans and horses fascinates her.
“My demonstrations are opportunities for storytelling about relationships,” she says. Sal is “a gigantic animal, much bigger than ourselves…and we get to work with her. We ask her: will you be in a relationship with me? And she responds: yes.”
Look for Sal and her human if you’re headed to the Common Ground Country Fair this weekend. Stop by Chewonki’s table in the Young Maine tent to say hello, too. And, CHEWONKI ALUMNI AND FRIENDS: gather at the sundial for a group photo on Friday, September 22, at 1:00 p.m., and/or Saturday, September 23, 12:30 p.m. See you there!