The Grain in Maine
Historically, Maine has its roots in grain and during the eighteenth century it was a large and prosperous crop for the New England region even providing significant amounts of grain to the Union soldiers on the battlefield in the early part of the nineteenth century.
In 1837, Maine saw its peak of grain production with records showing it produced about 7,000 tons of wheat, enough to feed more than 100,000 people which was far more than the local demand at the time. But as the 1800s drew to a close, grain farming began to move westward and by the middle of the twentieth century, Maine’s grain producing infrastructure had all but disappeared except in a few pockets.
Then, the 1990s saw substantial growth in the local food movement and many started considering how best to utilise the state’s large expanses of farmland which started drawing the attention of the farming community as well as potential investors to it.
In 2007, the central Maine town of Skowhegan hosted its inaugural “Kneading Conference” aimed at discussing the grain industry in the area, its future and all-encompassing topics including jobs in the industry etc. It was from this meeting that the idea behind the Somerset Grist Mill was launched.
The brainchild of Amber Lambke and her business partner Michael Scholz, the pair saw an opportunity to reinvigorate the grain production market in the local area and so invested in a mill from Austria in order to launch their milling business, ‘Maine Grains’.
After years of raising capital to fund the enterprise, the milling business was launched in 2012 and since then has gone on to sell its products, such as rolled oats and organic flour, to grocery stores and smaller markets. In 2014 they are expecting to process around 250 tons of grain. Based on their current level of growth, there is a hope that they can be processing about 600 tons of grain by 2017 should they be able to secure further funds, what with the low margins often seen in milling, and combat competition from mills in Canada and along the East Coast of America.
This technical innovation has not only helped Lambke and Scholz start up their own business but it has also had a profound effect on the farmers of the local area with Maine Grains currently buying wheat and oats from 12 farmers across Maine, with other grains slated for the future.
$1.6 million was raised for the construction of Somerset Grist Mill as well as renovation of the building it is housed in for other tenants, of which $700,000 came from grants managed by the Somerset Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), which facilitates business growth in the county. Ten individuals then invested $350,000 each into the project agreeing to forgo repayments for the first five years.
The next challenge for the Mill is securing growth capital so that they can build an online platform and hire a sales representative to further push their product.
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