As an organic farmer focusing on lettuce, Tristan Noyes seems an unlikely choice to head up the Maine Grain Alliance.
But with a fresh burst of energy and a passion for grain growth in Maine, the 33-year-old farmer from Caribou is writing a new chapter for the Skowhegan-based organization. Now in its 10th year, the Maine Grain Alliance continues to unite and strengthen working efficiencies of growers, millers, bakers and brewers.
“It’s a part-time job and a full-time commitment,” said Noyes, who recently took over for founder Amber Lambke. “I’m super proud to be part of it.”
Noyes, whose parents run a flower shop and greenhouse in Aroostook County, has operated Gromaine, an organic farm, with his brother Jon Noyes for three years. Lately he’s taken a sharp interest in corn and wheat. And he wants to increase the momentum.
“The local grain economy is on the verge of exploding across the state,” he said.
That’s in large part because of the Maine Grain Alliance and its Kneading Conference, which celebrates 10 years in Skowhegan July 28 and 29. Noyes will be overseeing the event and artisan bread fair July 30, which fills Skowhegan State Fairgrounds with seductive aromas.
“The alliance has done a lot to inspire everyone from bakers to maltsters to researchers to farmers. There is a piece of this that is very much about community building. I was so struck with the board of directors, blown away with how passionate they are,” said Noyes, who lives in South Portland.
And the feeling is mutual.
“Tristan grew up in northern Maine in a farming family who taught the importance of socially responsible environmental and economic stewardship of our land. He is familiar with how to build community and partnerships that strengthen the opportunities around healthy food access for the region,” said Lambke in a prepared statement.
As a junior at Bowdoin College, Noyes co-founded the school’s organic garden. Planted on land owned by the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust, it was so successful, the college eventually moved the garden to the center of campus. It’s been thriving for 13 years.
Looking to expand into grains for his business, Noyes came across Maine Grain Alliance while conducting research on Fort Kent Golden Corn. The Maine Grain Alliance helped Gromaine increase its supply of flint corn seed.
“In reading the newsletter, I saw they needed a new director. It seemed like a perfect match. I have such a vested interest in seeing the local grain economy grow,” he said.
Lambke had that same vested interest and stepped away to focus her attention on running Maine Grains, out of The Somerset Grist Mill. Both directors are vested in agrarian-based businesses, and “it’s nice to have some skin in the game,” he said.
At Gromaine in Caribou, where 40 different kinds of lettuce are grown for stores such as Tiller and Rye in Brewer, Rosemont in Portland and at farmers markets, he does. In the next five years the Noyes brothers intend to increase their grain production.
“I am excited to help the future expansion of grain education that’s happening across the state and increase collaboration in the Maine-based grain economy,” said Noyes, who points to efforts in areas such as seed restoration of heritage grain, and key technical assistance grants that the alliance will continue to embrace.
“There are many, many ways the organization is doing work on a large scale,” he said. “By informing decisions where grain is going in the Northeast, the [Maine Grain Alliance] is having a significant say.”