The Working Waterfront

Take it or leave it

Don’t call it trash just yet

By Barbara Fernald
Posted 2023-10-12
Last Modified 2023-11-17

On Aug. 2 on Great Cranberry Island, the Ladies Aid Society held its 122nd annual fair. It featured, among other things, lunch, crafts, clothing, cookbooks, a garden table, face painting, and a silent auction.

For many years the Church Club on Islesford hosted the same kind of fair, making sure it was on an alternate week from Great Cranberry’s fair. When the Church Club disbanded, several summer residents continued the responsibility of organizing an Islesford fair to benefit the island’s non-profit groups. For a variety of reasons we have not had a summer fair in the last few years on Little Cranberry Island. I miss the white elephant table!

The white elephant table at an island fair is a once a year opportunity to take stock of our surroundings and remove things that still work but we no longer need or want. We drop them off at the fair and peruse the newly excluded items from other households. Recycling, shopping, and entertainment rolled into one! Even when I don’t buy anything, it’s still fun to look.

The best part about the Take it or Leave it area is that you really never know what you’re going to find…

In the past few years clever residents of both Little and Great Cranberry islands haven’t had to wait 12 months to experience that white elephant sensation. Twice a week we have a chance to see what someone has left out at the transfer station. If we’re lucky it just might be something we need.

Appliances, beds, and household goods are just a few of the articles that have found a second home without leaving the islands. Why lug something on or off the ferry if you don’t have to?

At the transfer station on Islesford there is a “Take it or Leave it” spot. Items that still have good use can be placed near the trash compacter for a two week period.

“If it’s not gone after four scheduled trash days, it gets pitched out,” says Cari Alley, who runs the transfer station for BCM Construction on

Mondays and Thursdays. Her boss, Ben Moore, doesn’t have a problem with it as long as the pile of items stays manageable.
It is not meant as an opportunity to leave something to avoid the demolition fee. For instance, fabric is not allowed in the trash compacter. If you leave clothing and no one else takes it, be prepared to bag it up after two weeks and pay $7.50 for a grocery sized bag to be thrown in the demolition dumpster.

The best part about the Take it or Leave it area is that you really never know what you’re going to find there. It turns out a lot of us shop there.

One friend found two rugs she needed for her house. Another took white curtains that had a small stain and dyed them, acquiring “new” curtains for her kitchen. Books in good shape don’t stay around long. Lil Alley’s tea pot collection has been distributed all over the island through this drop off and pick up method.

When my sister-in-law was repurposing a workshop into a guest cottage she picked up just the four plates and bowls she needed. She also got a nice little electric heater.

As I was chatting with Cari about the particulars of the space, our friend Jackie dropped off her trash and reported she had picked up a beautiful wooden vase that didn’t leak and a good copy of Art of the Maine Islands. Cari told me that one week there were five boxes of paper clips that left the area one box at a time. (Who needs more than one box?)

Three pairs of shoes were on their last day of residence when Cari came back from her house across the street to find them gone. She had been ready to throw them out that afternoon.

I’m beginning to think that most of us have a story about Take it or Leave it. Before I could ask, Cari told me that the absolute weirdest thing she had seen come and go from the spot was an expired but still sealed box of condoms. There one day, gone the next. Another example of recycling, shopping and entertainment rolled into one!

Barbara Fernald lives on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island). She may be contacted at