The idea for Maine Grains was conceived in 2007 when Amber Lambke helped organize the Kneading Conference – a gathering of farmers, millers, bakers, researchers and home bread baking enthusiasts – to revive Maine’s dormant grain economy. The Kneading Conference demonstrated widespread interest in locally grown and processed grains; by 2011 the Conference attracted 225 of people to its event and 2,000 to its Bread Fair and had spawned a Kneading Conference West in Washington state. Lambke and her business partner, Michael Scholz, set about starting a milling business to process local grains to provide Maine grains to New England markets.
In 2010, Lambke and Scholz purchased the historic Somerset County Jail, located in downtown Skowhegan at the intersection of Rt. 2 and Rt. 201, across the street from an historic grist mill site which operated until the mid 1950’s. The four-story brick building provided the vertical elevation ideal for stacking grain storage bins that feed the mill processes. Maine Grains would be the anchor tenant at the Somerset Grist Mill, which would be a hub of food and farm businesses for the region.
Much has been accomplished at the Somerset Grist Mill food hub. Since 2010 Lambke has raised $1.2 million in grants and debt to purchase and renovate the mill building, install a commercial kitchen, and begin to renovate tenants spaces. The sixteen-year-old Skowhegan Farmer’s Market relocated to the Mill parking lot and now operates two markets per week. The Pickup, a local food market that purchases food from twenty farms for weekly deliveries of “shares” to individuals and institutions opened this fall in a beautiful first floor space at the mill. Completion of a commercial kitchen for use by the Pickup to make value added products and for the Maine Grain Alliance to use for educational purposes is weeks away. A pottery studio and a knit shop have opened their doors, and a youth-run after school technology center will open this year allowing teens to serve as a resource to community members computer questions and needs. With the help of Wholesome Wave Foundation, the Skowhegan Food Hub has become a national model for creating access to fresh food for low-income people and collaborations with local health care providers to link improving health measurements to good diet.
At Maine Grains, the mill, cleaners, a dehulling machine, packing and weighing equipment are on site; the space is ready for equipment installation; and mechanical systems (heating and plumbing) are in place. Maine Grains needs KickStarter support to purchase and install remaining bins, ductwork, conveyor systems, electrical hook-up and working capital.
Kickstarter, you help make this the year we bring flour to the people!! Thank you for your help.
- Maine Magazine: "A Bread Winner"
- New York Times: 8/25/2010 "Their Daily Bread Is A Local Call Away"
- WLBZ Channel 2 News
- Sun Journal "Farmers Grow Wheat in Maine Again"
- Bangor Daily News "Best Thing Since Sliced Bread"
- Maine Biz "County Jail To Become A Grist Mill"
- Somerset Grist Mill Blog
Video and photographs by Red Door Media
No. The owners will take salaries once there is sufficient cash flow selling flour.
In the sale of the former jail by the County to the Somerset Grist Mill, the building was returned to the tax rolls in 2009. The business is organized as an LLC.
The jail-to-food hub renovation project has already created 9 new jobs, and facilitates the purchase of local food from over 30 farmers. The Maine Grains flour milling operation has one full time miller, a part time office assistant, and part time building manager hired for start up.
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