Skowhegan’s Maine Grains
Their oats are a favorite of Martha Stewart and their flours have been featured in Bon Appetit and The New York Times, but ultimately, Maine Grains is as down to earth as you can get.
Maine’s Somerset County was the breadbasket of all of New England in the 1800s but in the 20th century grain production moved westward, and Maine’s grain farms and mills closed. In 2012, Maine Grains opened its doors in the former Somerset County Jail building and since then has played an important role in establishing the former mill town as a thriving rural food hub.
Organic grains like wheat, corn, oats, and a variety of ancient and heritage grains are grown by local farmers and stone ground at the gristmill in Skowhegan. Over 100,000 pounds of grain are freshly milled each month by the mill’s 20 employees and over 10 million pounds of grains have been milled so far.
Amber Lambke, president of Maine Grains, ensures that the farmland is sustainably maintained through crop rotation, a safeguard to keep the land arable and healthy. The gristmill also sells crop rotation beans, with varieties including Pinto, Marfax, Jacob’s Cattle, and Yellow Eye beans.
You can find all the Maine Grains products and other Maine-made goods, cookbooks, bakeware, and gifts at the mill’s cozy Dry Goods Shop and online.
The former jail was built in 1897 and the historic building now homes many small businesses besides the gristmill. The Miller’s Table Cafe serves baked goods made with Maine Grains including wood-fired pizza and sandwiches, and craft beer brewed using Maine Grains. The award-winning Crooked Face Creamery is in the jail’s old laundry rooms. The artisan cheeses are made with local Jersey cowmilk and the popular applewood smoked ricotta is unlike any ricotta you’ve tasted. A charming yarn shop, Happyknits, sells all that you need to knit and crochet, and in the warmer months, the Skowhegan Farmers Market is in the Maine Grains parking lot.
Many Maine breweries are now using the local grains to brew beer and at Skowhegan’s own Bigelow Brewing, you can enjoy a Jailbreak Chocolate Chili Stout crafted using Maine Grains’ oats as well as wood-fired pizza dough made by The Bankery, a bakery in an old bank in town that uses Maine Grains for its products.
Visitors are welcome to enjoy an in-depth tour of the whole mill to see how a re-purposed historic jailhouse has become the thriving heart of a community.
Amber Lambke co-founded the Kneading Conference in 2007 as well. Now a well-loved annual event at the Skowhegan State Fairgrounds, the Kneading Conference and subsequent Maine Artisan Bread Fair take place over three days each July, bringing together grain growers and bread lovers for workshops and demos. The Bread Fair is a day devoted to bread of all varieties, with music, local foods and much more.