Maine Grains Highlights A Local Heritage Grain Community

Emily Eckhardt from Maine Grains breaks down how a commitment to zero waste stone-milling practices helps revitalize the local economy.

by Phillip Mlynar
PHOTO: Maine Grains

A local grain movement is thriving in the state of Maine.

And the Maine Grains organization, based out of an old Victorian 14,000 square foot county jail house, is leading the charge. Its network of over 20 farms is working to bring back organic heritage grains and strengthen the local economy.

Moreover, the Maine Grains mission statement also involves running a zero waste facility.

We spoke to Emily Eckhardt, Maine Grains’s Chief of Staff, about the heritage grains that are trending now and why stone-milling trumps mainstream industrial milling practices. She also told us how you can try out milling at home.

Keeping It Local

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Met with grain growers in the tippy top of Maine today to see the crops they’re harvesting and the investments they’re making in grain infrastructure. We call this grain and potato country, Aroostook County- or, the “Crown” of Maine. The resurgence of grain production here is reclaiming agricultural land and making room for families to put their hands, hearts and farms to work- creating opportunity and hope for the future in the land they love. Today was a picturesque Maine day, and a beautiful reminder of how the contributions of many are making a difference. #aroostookcounty #maine #localgrain #knowyourfarmer

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Establishing a strong local grain community is key to Maine Grains’s business.

Eckhardt says that when considering farmers to source from, factors such as protein, moisture and falling number [which determines a grain’s quality by looking at its alpha amylase enzyme activity] are key.

In a bid to revitalize Maine’s grain business, Eckhardt says that “our goal is to create a strong, positive community impact as we do the work of restoring the grain economy in Maine and throughout the region.

“The gristmill is a critical piece of infrastructure for our farmer partners, allowing them an outlet to sell their grain crops for human consumption. A few short years ago these grains would have been harvested for animal feed or simply tilled under.

“Watching our farmers continue to grow and thrive is a real privilege.”

Instigating A Zero Waste Mentality

Along with creating strong local connections, Maine Grains prides itself on running a zero waste facility.

“Every part of the grain we receive is useful,”explains Eckhardt. “So we make an earnest effort to utilize what would normally be considered a by-product,”

“The flour dust that’s continuously being pulled out of the air by our trusty dust collecting machine is picked up every few weeks by a local farmer who feeds it to his hogs. We also sell oat hulls to folks who use them in making potting soil, mushroom substrate and animal bedding.

“And farmers buy bags of organic wheat middlings to use as chicken scratch,” she adds.

Meet Your New Favorite Heritage Grains

When it comes to specific grains, Eckhardt spotlights Estonian heritage Sirvinta wheat. And the strain is experiencing a resurgence, in large part due to the joint efforts of the Maine Grain Alliance.

“This flour has excellent flavor and is perfect for all-purpose use and long-ferment breads,” says Eckhardt.

Maine Grains’s CEO, Amber Lambke, adds that organic Durum wheat has also been a recent hit.

“It is rare because Durum likes hot dry climates and is generally thought of as a desert wheat,” she says. “It was grown in northern Maine by Aimee Good, and the predominant flavor of the flour was like cinnamon. We have had customers craving it ever since.”

A Brief Introduction To Stone-Milling

Maine Grains uses a stone-milling process to turn whole berries into flours.

“They are fed into our Austrian stone mill, which consists of two composite mill stones,” says Eckhardt. “The bottom stone is stationary, then the top stone grinds the grain into flour, where it is pushed out the grooves in the stones and fed into a hopper for weighing and bagging.”

This differs from common industrial milling methods in a couple of ways.

First, white flour only uses the grain’s endosperm—so you miss out on the more nutritious bran and germ parts of the berry.

Second, industrial practices prioritize speed.

“This heats the flour and breaks down the oils and nutrients,” says Eckhardt. “Through use of our traditional stone-milling process, we preserve the exceptional flavor and nutrition inherent in the grain. Slow-turning millstones keep the flour cool, which improves performance in natural fermentation baking and enhances flavor.”

Start Milling at Home

Finally, Eckhardt says that it’s definitely possible to try your hand at milling your own flour at home.

“There are many options for small scale countertop mills on the market that are geared toward the home baker,” she says.

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