The Somerset Grist Mill has a week left in its Kickstarter campaign , Flour with the flavor of home, so I have to tell you again how much I love this project.
Visiting Skowhegan, home to New Balance shoes and under 9,000 people, I felt like I was stepping onto a movie set. A slightly grim, where’s-the-hope for us script, like the one I could write about where I live, Troy, New York.
The late February day was gray, and old snow curbed the streets. Midday, midweek, not many people were out, just cars lacing their way through the small downtown dotted with businesses: a bakery in an old bank, a thrift store, some eateries. A movie theater promised to show a classic later that night – I wanted to be in that re-spangled lobby.
A handful of teenagers lurked through a parking lot, looking like they wanted to be seen. We are tough! They seemed to say. And maybe they were. Scraggly and gemmed with forced dejection, daring the world to let them be something, Skowheganites, rockstars, or even something else.
On the other side of this parking lot stood the former Somerset County Jail, which is becoming a food hub. Home to the farmers market, and housing a space for an aggregate CSA, the building also has a root cellar for farmers to store winter vegetables. Eventually, the commercial kitchen will be up and running, allowing farmers and other food producers to work in a certified space.
I described the mill in my last post, but here it is again: the several levels of old jail are perfect for milling, because height helps use the tool of gravity. The concrete reinforced walls and floors hold noise away from the city, and bear the weight of grain bins in the attic.
Take a look at the video Amber Lambke put together, and see some of the equipment. I love that mill! Four foot horizontal stones will keep the flour cool. And who wouldn’t want to work next to something so easy on the eyes?
Listen to what Albie Barden, community member and masonry heater builder, says of the project. “It is a kind of heart transplant. The community, the building and the county are all getting a new heart.”
Why should someone from Troy, or anywhere else care about that heart? Because helping communities build food systems is important, even if it isn’t your own.
Taking a former jail and making it a nexus for all kinds of local food works is a model that will help all of us along the line. We need to reimagine how we eat. That job begins at breakfast and in the yard and in the field, and demands reinventing the wheel of eating that’s been dismantled over the last 60-100 years.
The Somerset Grist Mill will offer infrastructure to help redevelop grain production in Maine. During the Civil War, the state grew 5 million bushels of wheat. The land has capacity to feed a lot of people. But the farmers don’t have the equipment necessary to process grain and get it to market.
The mill will help with that, offering cleaning and milling services. One machine, decorated with a warning hook hand, can dehull oats, and then flatten the groats into oatmeal. They will sell what they make, largely to bakeries in New England.
I love the Skowhegan food story, not just because it serves that community, but because of the example it lends. Bit by bit, we will piece a way out of the centralized food system that favors price over nutrition, wages and ecology. Give a bit to this Kickstarter project and help nudge the bigger project along. Think of yourself as helping with that heart transplant.
Think of helping those teenagers I saw become something they want to be – whether they want to be toughs, rockstarry, or something else entirely. Maybe they’ll make homemade ketchup in that commercial kitchen. Make granola with Maine oats. Or learn the finer points of turning local grains into wildly fresh flour.