SKOWHEGAN — Tristan Noyes likes to look at an old photograph taken of his great-great-grandfather looking over stooks, hand collected bundles of wheat, in a field of grain in his native Aroostook County during the early part of the last century.

Part nostalgia and part passion for a return of quality local foods feeding local people, Noyes, the new executive director of the Maine Grain Alliance, says his job will be promoting grain-based businesses from Maine across New England and beyond.

The resurgence of local millers and bakeries and more than 70 breweries in Maine hungry for heritage grains to make beer lay the groundwork for success, he said.

“At that time there was both infrastructure that was supportive of the scale of farming that he was doing and also a general knowledge base that was in existence because of the people who were doing it all around him,” Noyes said of his great-great-grandfather William Townsend. “Being a part of this community, that’s one of the critical parts — we need to continue to foster that work, share resources and be able to create this pool of like-minded interested and interesting people who have been doing this work so we can learn from one another.”

The mission of the Maine Grain Alliance is to preserve and promote grain traditions, from earth to hearth, according to the group’s Facebook page. The organization, founded by Amber Lambke and her partners a decade ago, is the sponsor of the annual Kneading Conference and Artisan Bread Fair, which begins Thursday at the Skowhegan State Fairgrounds. The Maine Grain Alliance provides opportunities to learn and share how best to grow and use grains, using a combination of traditional and innovative, sustainable techniques, according to the group’s social media page. The alliance promotes beneficial uses of grain to establish food independence, good health and purposeful jobs within economically viable communities.

Lambke, with her business partner Michael Scholz, purchased the stone-and-steel former Somerset County Jail in 2008 for a conversion into a grist mill. She said she turned over the reins of the alliance to Noyes to concentrate on the business, which doubled production this year over 2015.


“My growth of the business here at the mill, and my brand, Maine Grains, which is a private venture, has really paralleled the growth of the alliance,” Lambke said Monday. “Both are taking more organizational time, so I will be focusing on the mill while supporting the Maine Grain Alliance.”

There currently are 10 jobs at the grist mill, and production of wheat, rye, oats and other grains is on track to surpass 800 tons this year, she said.

Lambke said Noyes, 33, who was born and raised near Caribou in Aroostook County, brings new energy to the nonprofit alliance. Both she and Noyes will open the 10th annual Kneading Conference with addresses beginning at 8:45 a.m. Thursday. The conference continues Friday, with the Artisan Bread Fair scheduled for Saturday.

Noyes, who lives in South Portland with his wife and their 7-month-old son, said the Skowhegan community and Somerset County as a whole are a testament to what a group of passionate people can do when they put their abilities together.

He calls them “grainiacs.”

“It’s very inspiring for all sorts of towns throughout Maine,” he said of the local grain movement.


Noyes’ job is a salaried position in expanding grain and seed programs that are pioneering, not just in Maine, but regionally as well, with many areas of opportunities.

He will oversee the growth of the alliance, working with program director Erin Scally and a technical assistance grant giving opportunities to grain-based businesses, along with sustaining a heritage grain project aimed at determining which strains of wheat and rye being grown in a new study are best suited to flourish in Maine.

“I’ll be on the phone, I’ll be on the computer, but I will be in person, trying to build our relationships with grain-based organizations,” he said. “One of things in the future is to take our show on the road a little bit — grain education in general, hosting events throughout the state and regionally.

“You’ll find me all over Maine, but you’ll find me also in Boston and New York City promoting the Maine Grain Alliance and the continued rebirth of a once dormant grain economy.”

Noyes, a 2005 graduate of Bowdoin College with a degree in history, said he will work from home in South Portland but intends to be on the road a lot and in Skowhegan often. His family have been farmers in Aroostook Country for generations, he said. His parents still own a flower shop and greenhouse in Caribou that has been in operation for 40 years. His grandparents on both sides were potato farmers.

He and his brother operate a farm there, raising organic lettuce and other leafy greens. Noyes also is on the board of directors of the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society, which is studying ways to sustain year-round agriculture in Maine through use of greenhouses.


“I love what we do because there is such a sense of satisfaction knowing that you’re taking a handful of seeds and you’re growing it into something that gives joy to people who grow it and it gives joy to the people who eat it,” he said.

Noyes said he found the Maine Grain Alliance while responding to requests for land in Maine for grain production. Then he saw the alliance was looking for an executive director and he felt he had some of the skills needed for the job. One of those skills, he said, was his passion for rebuilding regional food systems, just like the one his great-great-grandfather worked with so many years ago.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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