SKOWHEGAN, Maine — Maine Grains at The Somerset Grist Mill announced Friday that they received an $89,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to help the Skowhegan-based operation launch the Maine Grains Oat Project and further cement the town as a pillar of the state’s food economy.

“By upscaling our operations and efficiencies, the Somerset Grist Mill as a food hub will in turn send a ripple effect through local, regional and state economies,” said Amber Lambke, president of Maine Grains, in a prepared statement.

This Rural Business Development Grant is expected to secure and create jobs in Somerset and Aroostook counties. In a partnership with Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, the project will have a positive effect on agricultural jobs in seven of the state’s economically depressed communities.

“In keeping with Maine Grains’ stringent commitment to quality, our oats are processed by dry-rolling, a process which yields superior oats,” said Lambke. Such measures “differentiate our oats from the typical steam-rolled product, and customers say they notice the better taste.”

As Maine’s colleges and universities focus on buying local, leaders such as Bowdoin College and University of Maine are bullish on oats.

Bowdoin’s sourcing and menu manager Matt Caiazzo is prepping for his second order of Maine oats. The Brunswick-based college, similar to Boston University, recently made the commitment to buy only local oats to satisfy an eco-aware student body.

“Students today drive the local, organic, non-GMO trend,” said Caiazzo in the release. “They’re knowledgeable and caring about food sources to the degree that dining has become a critical component of their education.”

The American Independent Business Alliance reports that on average 48 percent of each purchase from a local, independent businesses stays local. When buying from a national chain, only 14 percent has a direct impact.

Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.