Women of Maine: Amber Lambke
A recipe for success: take one former jail building, add one woman’s vision, mix with community support and bake in Skowhegan, Maine.
In 2007 Amber Lambke was not an accomplished baker. She did not churn out dense loaves of crispy, crusted, flour-dusted peasant bread. No french baguettes. No focaccia. Today, she is the president of Maine Grains, a manufacturer of locally grown, stone-milled grains as well as executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting grain traditions and co-founder of Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan, a historical county jail repurposed into an entrepreneurial base for local farmers and small businesses.
Lambke’s journey started with an interest in downtown revitalization, volunteering for Main Street Skowhegan. She was tapped to help organize the first Maine Kneading Conference in 2007, which brought farmers and bakers together around the art and science of growing and milling grains and baking artisan breads. Together they discovered the missing link between farm field and bread basket: processing. Maine farmers were willing to grow and harvest the non-GMO grains artisanal bakers wanted, but there were no facilities in the state to manufacture the flour.
“The talent and assets we need to create solutions are already here.” -Amber Lambke
The Somerset Grist Mill follows in the footsteps of Skowhegan tradition. There were thirteen mills in the Skowhegan area at the industry’s peak in the mid-nineteenth century, with the last one closing down across the street from the Somerset County Jail in 1955. In 2009 Lambke and her business partner, Michael Scholz, owner of the Albion Bread Farm, bought the former jail. After several years of fundraising, including a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $35,000, Lambke and Schulz opened the Grist Mill in September 2012 and started processing grain in Skowhegan for the first time in fifty years.
The success of the Somerset Grist Mill has been nationally recognized as an emerging rural 'food hub,' that now employs twenty-five people and has six start-up businesses in residence. Maine Grains will mill 350 tons of grain, 90% of which is sourced from Maine. They now employ seven people in addition to Scholz and Lambke. Their stone ground flours are sold in Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Boston and New York City.
“Rural communities like Skowhegan are facing challenges with the closure of the paper mills and shoe factories,” says Lambke, “and there was this sense that we needed to attract outsiders to fix things. But the talent and assets we need to create solutions are already here; it takes risk, confidence and a willingness to learn new skills you don’t already have.”
Although she still lays no claim to being an artisanal baker like her business partner, Lambke makes experimental pancake mixes using a variety of Maine Grains flour and Maine Grains oats to craft homemade granola, oatmeal and Atholl Brose, a festive Scottish drink that combines oatmeal brose (the strained liquid from oats steeped in cold water), whiskey, honey and cream.
The Maine Women’s Fund is pleased to recognize Amber Lambke for her excellence both in helping to revitalize Skowhegan’s downtown and as a woman entrepreneur reinvigorating Maine’s agricultural tradition.
If you know of a Maine women or girl whose story deserves recognition, please email Lauren Webster LaFrance, Communications and Marketing Director at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted 12.30.2015 under News and Resources