LINNEUS, Maine — When Sara Flewelling’s father first started Aurora Mills and Farm in Linneus back in the late 1990s, Maine was not seen as a promising area for growing grains.
But her father, Matt Williams, a cooperative extension agent with the University of Maine, demonstrated that soil in Aroostook County, as well as in parts of central and southern Maine, were ideal for growing grains such as barley, a key ingredient in many of the craft beers Maine has become renowned for.
“Back in the late nineties, no one was paying attention to grain,” said Flewelling. “He [my father] got a bunch of growers to grow, and they were sending it over to Canada to get milled, but after 9/11 he couldn’t get anyone over there to mill the grain, so we built our own mill after that.”
Flewelling, who studied landscape architecture at the University of Maine and worked in Washington, D.C., afterward, came back to Linneus in 2013 to help run the family business.
Today, Aurora Mills works primarily in providing grains to other local produce vendors, such as Crown O’Maine and the Vermont-based Black River Produce.
And now, Aurora Mills and Farm has been featured in the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs’ cultivator showcase. The company was one of eight Maine businesses in the food, beverage, and agricultural sectors that have completed the MCE’s cultivator program for this year.
The program provides selected businesses with strategic assessments and professional resources from MCE to help companies expand their business model. Aurora Mills was the only Aroostook-based company to be selected for the program.
“We look at them from a sales and marketing standpoint, a financial standpoint, operation standpoint and management team,” said Sue Hanson, the MCE’s manager for the cultivator program. “We identify the gaps and opportunities of where they are today versus where they want to be in three years.”
As part of the MCE’s program, Aurora Mills was provided specialists in finance, marketing and processing to help improve their outreach and grow their business. The program culminated in a cultivator showcase, held virtually out of Portland this year, where more than 125 individuals from the food industry attended online.
“It was really exciting, personally, to bring out a company from Aroostook County,” said Hanson, whose father is originally from Fort Kent. “It feels really good to be able to expand our program out across the state.”
One company Aurora Mills sells to is Allagash Brewing, one of the most well-known brewers in the state. Allagash White, one of the brewery’s signature beverages, includes Aurora Mills oats as part of its ingredients.
“They have an initiative where they’re buying a million pounds of local grain by 2021,” Flewelling said of Allagash. “They’re great supporters of local farms and businesses within the state, and we really appreciated that of them.”
Now that Aurora Mills has completed the MCE program, they will look to double their capacity for grain and oats, as well as incorporate new pieces of equipment to help purify and clean their produce of most allergens.
“We’ll be able to help other processors, feed houses and other farmers, and just remove these barriers that have been holding back Maine food entrepreneurs,” Flewelling said.
While Aurora Mills is the only Aroostook County business to take part in the program, seven other businesses from Cumberland, Kennebec, Lincoln, Somerset, and Knox counties took part. They are Avena Botanicals in Rockport, Bigelow Brewing in Skowhegan, Foulmouthed Brewing in South Portland, Maine Cap N Stem in Gardiner, New England Distilling in Portland, Pemberton’s Gourmet Foods in Gray and Thirty Acre Farm in Bremen.