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Somerset Grist Mill Grain Processing

  • Amber Lambke and Michael Scholz in the Somerset Grist Mill located in the old Somerset County jail.

In 2010, Amber Lambke and Michael Scholz began converting the Somerset County jail in Showhegan into a grist mill which today produces their trademark "Maine Grains" flour. Lambke , one of the principal drivers of the Grist Mill Project, is a Co-founder of the Kneading conference, which focuses on the revival of regional grain economies, using the cluster based approach to form local economies. The tremendous interest in the conference demonstrated an area need for grain processing. There are some area farmers growing grains, and the area has a rich history of grain growing – but storage/silos (enabling the grain to remain stable, dry, clean) and mill machinery has been lost at the regional scale.  

Project recommended: Maybe, it depends.

Maybe not a grist mill, but every community can take on the principles of tackling a revitalization project that can maximize collaboration and impact. Having the grist mill downtown, as opposed to out in the country, has much greater impact as a highly visible project drawing folks to their local economy. 

Project budget:

$300,000donationFAME, foundations, individuals (multiple funding sources)
$100,000donationIndividuals (individual)
$126,000donationIndividuals, banks (business)
$474,000yet to raiseYet to identify (unidentified)
$1,000,000total

This is an ongoing project.

Project impacts:

Primary impact focus: Economic

  • Increase access to healthy foods for low income community members
  • Increase number of grain growers, acreage in grain production, gross sales and demand, and production
  • Increase the number of vendors in famers market and the growth in sales

Key goals:

  • Purchased the building. This goal was achieved.
  • Completed architectural and engineering studies and schematics This goal was achieved.
  • Town approved site design for phase 1. This goal was achieved.
  • Completed facade improvements with public and private financing This goal was achieved.
  • Secured funding for other improvements This goal was achieved.
  • Relocated 21 Famers' Markets to the site This goal was achieved.
  • Purchased most of the equipment necessary for Grist Mill operation This goal was achieved.
  • Launched first start up business This goal was achieved.

Action steps:

  • Buying the building
  • Crafting the project/business development plan
  • Having engineering studies completed
  • Conducting site reviews
  • Studying financing and seeking grant funds

Technical assistance needed:

Lessons learned:

  • We’re still learning! Looking over and over and over at cash flow projections and sources of financing; and the multi-faceted blessings of collaboration.
  • Co-locating like businesses to achieve a greater goal – seek a food systems change and econ development in an open collaborative way. COLLABORATE!!!!!
  • Very unconventional financing strategies were necessary. There was too much risk for conventional lenders, therefore the project had to be financed piece by piece. As the project developed, collaboration and leverage increased, the project became highly visible, and larger pots of money were accessed.
  • Slow Money Maine help craft investment models, gave technical assistance on how to make “the ask” for financing the food venture aspects of the project.
  • Amber didn’t anticipate the positive impact tackling the downtown project would have – how excited different facets of the community would become, and how many ways folks would come forward to help. Two examples: local foundations came forward; and the local garden club, after touring the childrens’ garden and seeing its impact and possibilities, wanted to volunteer. So many folks see themselves as a part of the project as they become involved. The community pride generated has been incredible.

Project categories:

Participating partners:

For more information, contact:

Amber Lambke — Skowhegan, ME

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