The Somerset Grist Mill is the adaptive reuse of an 1897 Victorian style building that had been the Somerset County jail. Renovation of the three-story, soundproof, 14,000 square foot structure has been a huge part of the revitalization of downtown Skowhegan, ME.
Somerset County was a hub for New England wheat production in the mid-1800s, annually feeding over 100,000 people. As grain production moved to the Midwest, all silos and mill machinery were lost at the regional scale in Maine.
The Grist Mill project was inspired by the first Kneading Conference in 2007. This annual event brings together grain growers, bread artisans and bread oven producers to share their talents and
re-think ways to rebuild the traditional bread economy in Maine and New England.
In 2007, downtown Skowhegan suffered a lack
of jobs, low median incomes, very high rates of obesity and other health concerns. Amber Lambke and her Kneading Conference co-founding partner, Michael Scholz, envisioned the adaptive reuse of the jail as a way to create jobs and healthy food options within the local community.
Ms. Lambke and Mr. Scholz purchased the building and began renovations with funding assistance from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development through HUD’s State Community Development Block Grant program. A dozen funders and foundations provided equity, grants and loans for the $1.6M project.
To date, twelve jobs have been created at the site. The Mill ships one to two tons of stone-ground whole wheat flour and rolled oats a week to markets across New England. In addition, the Skowhegan Farmers Market relocated to the site and has grown from 12 to 22 members. Several start-up ventures have also moved in: a multi-farm Community Supported Agriculture (where community members purchase shares of produce in advance of the season from individual farmers) and café; a yarn shop where locals are welcome to come and sit, share and knit; a working art studio; a computer lab where community members help each other learn their way around computers, and a commercial kitchen. Also onsite is a children’s garden.
The project as a whole is a solid example of an emerging rural food hub.