SKOWHEGAN, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Central Maine was once known as the 'Bread Basket of New England', but large commercial farms in the Midwest brought about the demise of the industry. Now, the movement to buy foods produced by local farmers has created a demand for locally grown grains and products, spurring a group of investors to build a grist mill to meet the need.
"We are setting an example for how to rebuild a regional economy of sorts around an agricultural product," explained Amber Lambke, president of the Somerset Grist Mill and co-owner of Maine Grains. "It gives farms another crop that they can make money growing, it employs people here at the mill, and this particular project has given folks in the immediate community something to get excited about."
For three years the group has been renovating part of the old Somerset County Jail into a grist mill. Where holding cells once were are now holding tanks, giant machines to process the raw grains and a large stone mill imported from Austria designed to slowly grind the grain keeping the temperature low and helping the flour retain more nutrition.
"This is really exciting I think on many levels," exclaimed Lambke. "It is exciting because we are producing food locally that is supporting small farms. It's healthy, and is good for our health, not only our physical health, but the health of the community."
The mill is set up to process wheat, oats, rye, spelt, buckwheat and will also be able to produce corn meal. The products will be sold primarily wholesale to grocery stores and bakeries throughout New England.
The option for local farms to get back into growing grains, not just for livestock, but for people, is something that has local farmers excited as well.
"Certainly having the option to add another aspect to your business and diversify is something valuable for any farmer," said Garin Smith, a dairy farmer who also sells vegetables, eggs and meat at his farm in Skowhegan, Grassland Farms. "I grow a small amount of grain just to multiply old seed variety and down the road, we may at some point try and grow grain, mainly as a cover crop that we can harvest a profitable crop off of."
"People do care about where there food is coming from," added Lambke. "They are interested in healthy food. We are interested in revitalizing our rural communities. Job creation is huge, so yeah, I think this is a great time for a project like this."
The Somerset Grist Mill will ramp up production in the coming weeks, and is inviting the public to come check out their project and get more information at an open house on Saturday September 8th beginning at 10AM.