AUBURN — A group of 12 organic farmers has taken over the former Blue Seal grain mill in Auburn, creating what they believe to be the only organic grain mill in Maine.
Maine Organic Milling is currently leasing the Goldthwaite Road facility, taking in organic corn, barley, wheat and other grains from the Midwest and Canada, grinding and mixing them and then distributing the mixture. The feed is being distributed among the 12 organic dairy farmers who own Maine Organic Milling, but they plan to distribute to farms throughout the state in the next few weeks.
The group expects to buy the mill in June for $350,000. It hopes to eventually distribute the feed to organic farmers in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont.
"I honestly think we'll be there within a year," said Gregg Varney, mill manager and the owner of the organic Nezinscot Farm in Turner.
In order for milk, beef, chicken and other products to be certified organic, farmers must give their animals organic feed. Such feed can be expensive even when its quality is questionable. Varney said his Maine Organic Milling partners discovered that some organic feed recipes called for fillers to make up half of the feed mixture. The best way to control quality of their feed was to create their own, he said.
When the former Blue Seal organic grain mill came up for sale, the 12-member group agreed to buy it.
"We saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have our own mill and maybe control a little bit of our destiny," Varney said.
The group received financing assistance from the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It has also partnered with Organic Valley Family of Farms, a national organic co-op, which has helped Maine Organic Milling with inventory, technical support and logistics.
The group has produced 80 tons of feed for its 12 members since February. Its goal is to produce 200 tons of feed a month by summer.
Located on two acres of land, the mill was built in 1963. Adjacent to railroad tracks, it's easy for the group to bring grain in. With a loading and weighing station, it's easy for it to truck feed out. The facility has 10 storage tanks, four of which are being used.
The group has hired two former Blue Seal workers to run the mill and an independent trucking agency to deliver the feed.
After distributing to large farms across the state, Maine Organic Milling hopes to become efficient enough to offer feed to smaller farms and then packaged feed in 50-pound bags for people with the very smallest needs.
There are about 300 organic farms in Maine.