May 20, 2021
By Ramona du Houx
During a visit to Maine Grains in Skowhegan in May, Governor Janet Mills highlighted the importance of the American Jobs Act for providing investment funds for the state’s agricultural community. More than $1 billion in discretionary Federal relief funds allocated to Maine under the American Rescue Plan Act, will be distributed in the state.
The Governor has proposed investing $20 million from the Recovery Act to help Maine farmers and food processors upgrade aging infrastructure, which will support the growth of Maine’s agricultural sector by helping them increase the supply of Maine-grown food to meet growing demand. This in turn creates and sustains jobs in one of Maine’s iconic heritage industries, strengthening the economy, and deepening Maine’s national reputation for food excellence.
The proposed investment comes after farmers and food producers surveyed by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) indicated that storage, processing, and packaging capacity investments were critically important to the strength of the agricultural community and the statewide economy.
In Skowhegan Maine the farm to table creative economy is in full swing, added by initiatives put into action back during the Baldacci administration. Farmers, using the old seed stock grow artesian grains, which in turn are milled the old fashioned way at Maine Grains. Yearly, Maine Grains hosts a festival bringing farmers, bakers and interested people to Skowhegan to learn about returning the land to growing real grains. Maine Grains also houses a restaurant and the local farmers market is outside their doors every weekend on Saturday. The grains are used by the local bakery and are sought after at markets statewide – and beyond.
The building that houses Maine Grains used to be the county jail. It shows what dedication, determination and the will of the community working with the state and local governments can achieve. Gone is the town, used in Empire Falls. The creative economy has taken over and has seen the community through the pandemic.
“Here in central Maine, agriculture is both a way of life and a center of entrepreneurial innovation and job creation,” said Amber Lambke, founder and owner of Maine Grains. “Here at Maine Grains, we have been successful redeveloping a grain economy that benefits the 45 farms that grow grain for us, our hard-working employees, and the bakers, brewers, chefs, livestock producers, pasta makers, pizza dough makers, ice cream sandwich makers, and others that invest in our freshly-milled grains. Through this challenging year we have seen just how critical our ability to process, package and distribute local food is to our resilience. We are thrilled by Governor Mills’ Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan and her support of agriculture in Maine.”
Maine Grains gristmill opened in 2012. Maine Grains provides bakers, brewers, chefs, and families with locally-sourced, freshly-milled organic grains. By sourcing grain from local farms, milling it locally, and partnering with local food ventures, Maine Grains is supporting the health and livelihood of farmers, creating jobs, improving land use, and providing healthy food while serving as a successful model for thriving local economies.
“When we grow and raise our own healthy food, in our own fields and waters, and sell it through our own shops to our own neighbors and friends – well that’s a recipe for a healthy people and healthy economy,” said Governor Janet Mills. “Our farmers and food processors have told us they can deliver Maine-grown food to more people if they’re able to upgrade their equipment. With funds through the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, we can deliver that help and they can then deliver to all of us and the world over healthy food, all while creating jobs and strengthening our economy.”
Maine is home to 7,600 farms of all sizes, scales, and agricultural practices. Before the pandemic, the aging infrastructure hindered the ability of Maine’s farmers and food processors to meet a growing demand for local food. The pandemic exacerbated these challenges when market and supply chain disruptions forced producers, processors, and value-added businesses, like Maine Grains, to adapt rapidly to access new markets and distribution channels.
To sustain farmers and food producers during the pandemic, the Mills Administration distributed more than $18 million in federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) to 609 farms, food processors and producers, food banks and pantries.
“A significant opportunity exists to grow the food and farming economy while developing needed infrastructure that also benefits our local food system,” commented DACF Commissioner Amanda Beal. “The Governor’s Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan will drive growth, encourage innovation, and foster resilience through investing in this important sector”