Tuesday September 04, 2012 | 03:37 PM

After three years of preparation and hard work, the Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan hosts a grand opening celebration this Saturday, Sept. 8. The party starts at 10 a.m. with tours of the 5,000 square foot building. There will be a few remarks at 11 a.m. and the event will continue until 1 p.m., when the Skowhegan Farmers Market, which takes place in the parking lot, closes up shop.

Located in the old county jail, the Somerset Grist Mill houses the Pickup Cafe and CSA, Skowhegan Pottery, Happy Knits and the Tech Spot. But the flagship tenant is Maine Grains, which is aiming to process 600 tons of Maine-grown grain each year. That is the equivalent of 600 acres of grain.

On Tuesday, Maine Grains took delivery of its first truck load of wheat: 30 tons from Aroostook County.

“We are buying in grain from all over the state,” said Amber Lambke, president of Somerset Grist Mill and executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance, which hosts the annual Kneading Conference. “We are processing wheat and oats primarily. But we’ll also be processing spelt, rye and buckwheat.”

The first chance to buy Maine Grains' flour and rolled oats will come at the Common Ground Country Fair, taking place Sept. 21 to 23. The Maine Grains booth will be located in the agricultural products section.

By the middle of October, the products should be available in stores that sell Maine-grown foods.

“We will primarily wholesale our products to bakers, grocery stores and smaller markets,” Lambke said.

The flour and rolled oats will be available in 5 pound and 50 pound bags. Suggested retail pricing is still being worked out.

Maine Grains is contracting with about a dozen farmers in central Maine and Aroostook County. Some of those farmers are certified organic and the ones that aren’t are transitioning to organic certification.

“We are requiring all our farmers to not use any chemical pesticides or fertilizers,” Lambke said. “We will take products while they’re transitioning. We’re working to build enough supply on the certified organic side to meet capacity needs.”

Lambke credits Borealis Breads with restarting interest among Maine farmers in growing grains. Other bakers have since joined Borealis in increasing demand for local flour. She said organic dairy farmers are also increasing the market for Maine-grown grains.

“There’s been a building interest (in local grains) over the last five to 10 years,” Lambke said.

By October, Maine Grains will be helping to meet that demand.

The Somerset Grist Mill is located at 42 Court St., Skowhegan.

About the Author

Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.

Meredith can be contacted at 791-6332 or mgoad@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @meredithgoad

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