Staff photo by David Leaming
Amber Lambke, left, owner of Maine Grains, and head miller Julie Zavage discuss an order of flour being ground in the stone mill, left, at the Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan on Thursday.
Small-retailer focus keeps Somerset Grist Mill grinding along
SKOWHEGAN — Maine grain products are making their way from the Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan to farmers’ markets in New York City, whole foods stores in Massachusetts and a New England granola company based in Brownfield.
It’s all part of the plan hatched with the conversion of the 1896 former county jail that began in 2008 and a marketing idea to make central Maine the breadbasket of New England, as it was
100-plus years ago, said grist mill founder and co-owner Amber Lambke.
“Our production schedule at the mill is filling up, and that’s great. That’s what we want,” Lambke said. “We have new customers and we want to be running this equipment every day. It means word is getting out. The expansion to markets out of state has happened far quicker that I anticipated it would.”
Lambke said the marketing plan for the grist mill’s whole-wheat flour and oats so far has focused on smaller natural food stores, distributors and farmers’ markets, not larger grocery chains.
Lambke said one of the new contracts is for 30 tons of whole-wheat flour sales beginning in September to Bread and Circus Bakehouse, in Medford, Mass. Bread and Circus is a production baking facility that produces bread for bakery departments for roughly 70 Whole Foods Market stores in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states.
“That’s 30 tons for the year to introduce one new bread coming out of their facility, and that will be a Maine bread — a wheat bread using our whole-wheat flour,” Lambke said. “If that bread goes well, there’s the potential to do more breads.”
The Somerset Grist Mill and its affiliated Maine Grains also have landed contracts for sales with NYC Greenmarkets, based in Queens, N.Y. The company is the distribution arm of Greenmarkets, which runs an urban network of 54 farmers’ markets in New York City.
“Grains are still in hot demand, and Maine-grown grains are part of the New England supply that they are looking for,” Lambke said.
Lambke said the mill also has a contract with Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative in Vassalboro and with Grandy Oats of Brownfield for granola and rolled oats. Elsewhere in Maine, grist mill products are used in The Bankery in Skowhegan, Atlantic Baking Co. in Rockland, Standard Baking Co. in Portland and Hootenanny Bakery in Damariscotta. Products also are distributed to health food stores and restaurants through Downeast Foods and Farm Fresh Connection.
Grain used in the mill’s products is harvested by a large-volume cooperative in Aroostook County and by smaller farmers in central Maine, Lambke said. Production at the grist mill in downtown Skowhegan began in September.
The Maine Grains staff at the grist mill includes Lambke, of Skowhegan, and co-owner Michael Scholz, of Albion. There are four employees, including head miller Julie Zavage, who supervises all of the processing on site with a new Austrian-made mill — two stone wheels encased in wood. Lambke said an assistant miller was added recently to keep up with the processing of the rolled oats for contract sales.
“Our goal is to sell 200 tons a year to reach a financial break-even point for the business,” she said. “We should be able to do that with our current number of employees. Our sights are on growing the capacity of this mill to about 600 tons a year.”
Doug Harlow — 612-2367