SKOWHEGAN — The co-founder of the Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan and president of Maine Grains will embark next month on a trade mission to Iceland to explore new wholesale markets for her company’s stone-ground flour and oats and possibly other Maine products.
Amber Lambke will travel to the capital, Reykjavik, on June 8 as part of a trade mission organized by the Maine International Trade Center to explore new business opportunities in the country.
“I’ll have my ear to the ground while I’m there about other foods that Maine produces, things like root crops and squash, feeds and seeds, likely things they don’t grow there,” said Lambke, who lives in Skowhegan.
Also attending the trade mission will be Gov. Paul LePage, representatives from the newly-formed Maine North Atlantic Development Office at Maine International Trade Center, representatives from the U.S. Commercial Service and more than 24 Maine business representatives. Some of the representatives will continue on to London and Cambridge, England, after two full days in Iceland.
Lambke said she will stay in Iceland to concentrate on possible business relationships there.
LePage’s office did not return messages seeking comment on the trade mission.
Lambke said she visited Iceland last summer, returning from another trade mission to Denmark. That’s when she learned about Eimskip, Iceland’s largest cargo shipping line, which in 2013 moved its U.S. port of call to Portland with the goal of making Maine a hub for trade in the North Atlantic region.
“I started reading about Eimskip and the fact that Eimskip was using Portland as a Northeastern port, and they were looking for products to backhaul to Iceland and Northern Europe and the northern U.K.,” Lambke said. “They want to fill their containers to head back, and I thought this could be a good opportunity for Maine.”
She said the shipping company currently is backhauling products that include lobster, blueberries, beer and snowmobile parts.
“Iceland augments its locally sourced foods like lamb, dairy, fish and greenhouse vegetables with imported food products, including grain,” Lambke said. “With the Eimskip shipping company having recently created a direct link between Maine and Iceland, we have a unique opportunity to trade high-quality, Maine-grown and processed goods, like grain, with our Icelandic neighbors.”
Grain would be the next obvious commodity to export to Iceland, given that country’s short growing season and lack of tillable land, Lambke said. Agriculture in Iceland she said is largely in greenhouses with some farmland to raise grain for livestock, but not so much for human consumption.
Lambke, 39, said her grains could satisfy the “Nordic pallet” for rye bread and whole grain foods.
Meanwhile, the Texas-based Whole Foods Market recently chose Maine Grains to supply 10 tons of the heritage red fife flour for a new honey and wheat baguette the supermarket began producing. The baguette is baked at the Bread & Circus Bakehouse in Medford, Mass., which supplies baked goods to more than 70 Whole Foods Market locations.
The Somerset Grist Mill, in the converted 1895 former county jail in downtown Skowhegan, processes three tons of rolled oats and cracked oats every other week. Lambke said she expects to process 100 tons of oats this year, 150 tons of wheat flour and 12 tons of rye flour.
The trade mission next month could be a major stepping stone for increased production in the future, Lambke said
“I saw that opportunity and went down to meet the folks at Eimskip in Portland, and they told me about the trade mission in June,” she said. “The Maine International Trade Center will help set up meetings with potential buyers all over Iceland.”
The products Lambke said she hopes to market in Iceland include whole grains, rolled oats and stone ground flour.
“Their population eats bread, and they have bakeries, and they care about high quality ingredients,” she said. “The fact that we have Eimskip in Portland is a unique opportunity.”
The Maine International Trade Center announced the creation of a new office in December to focus state efforts on boosting international trade opportunities in the North Atlantic region for Maine businesses.
“We are shipping more diverse products in and out of Maine than ever before, and this is primarily due to the arrival of Eimskip and commitment it has made here,” Janine Cary, the trade center’s president, said in a statement published in December. “We see this as a key opportunity to grow Maine’s economy through exports and imports, as well as developing Maine as a distribution hub for both Icelandic and Northern European goods.”
Tate McPherson, owner of Maine Seed Co. in Mapleton, Lambke’s biggest grain supplier, also will be part of the trade mission. He will be pursuing new markets for feed and seed grain.
“I think any time we can open doors, we owe it to our growers and ourselves to explore each potential market to its fullest,” McPherson said in a Maine Grains release. “Our support of this endeavor shows how we are working in Maine from the farm level through the processing phase to ensure Maine products shine on the global stage.”
Janine Bisaillon-Cary, president and state director of international trade at the Maine International Trade Center, said there will be agricultural products, seafood and pulp and paper suppliers taking part the upcoming mission.
“There is strong interest from Iceland and the U.K. in many of Maine’s natural resource products,” she said.