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Economy and Business


First cricket farm in the U.S. opens in Youngstown
Owner says crickets are healthy and resource efficient
Story by ANNE GLAUSSER


 
A local farm will be growing raising for human consumption.
Courtesy of Anne Glausser
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In The Region:
When you are hungry, do you reach for potato chips or peanuts? What about a handful of crickets? One daring entrepreneur in Youngstown is bucking the “yuck” factor and opening the first U.S. farm to grow insects exclusively for human consumption.
LISTEN: GLAUSSER ON CRICKETS

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An old rundown warehouse in Youngstown is the perfect place, says Kevin Bachhuber, to grow crickets. 

“So these are our babies," he says. "They’re actually hardening up right now.”

Bachhuber is a proud father. He is the owner of Big Cricket Farms which operates out of this warehouse. The crickets live in big black square tents that sit right on the warehouse floor. Inside the tents are bright lights, an interior like tin foil and stacks of Rubbermaid tubs.

Crack a lid on one of those tubs and you will find cricket city.

Tiny eggs could grow into a big business
“There are little cricket high-rises made out of egg carton," Bachhuber says. "If you look here, the little tiny grains of rice things—wow, there’s a lot of them—are the eggs.”

These guys munch on organic chicken feed and will mature rapidly, within two months. While some of these crickets will end up sold whole at local farmers markets, most will be ground up and made into “cricket flour,” a nutrient-dense product that can be used in baked goods. 

Bachhuber says he is in talks with energy bar companies as well as chip and cookie manufacturers who are interested in buying cricket flour in volume. That could be because insects are such a rich source of protein and minerals.

Curried crickets and the Western palate
They are commonly used in zoo and pet food. In other countries, people have been eating bugs for decades.

Here, though, there is the cultural “yuck” factor to contend with.

“If I said the word insect to the average person on the street, immediately they’ll think of a cockroach,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, the Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture within the USDA. “So there is that sort of a creepy-crawly-hairy-cockroachy type of a mental image that’s created, so that’s one thing that you’ve got to overcome,” he says.

And there is good reason to make the critters more approachable to western palates, says Ramaswamy, who cooks up curried crickets for D.C. crowds when he gets the chance. In addition to their high protein content and rapid reproduction rate, “their ecological footprint is pretty significantly lower than other things."

"They use a lot less resources, the amount of energy needed, the amount of water needed, the amount of land needed and things like that,” he says.

Care and feeding
To produce a pound of cricket requires one gallon of water and two pounds of feed, says Bachhuber. The same amount of beef requires anywhere from 400 to 2000 gallons of water and 25 pounds of feed.

“They are marvelously efficient little digesters, and growers,” says Bachhuber.

Growing crickets, or any insect for that matter, is uncharted water for regulatory agencies.

“Insect farms are new,” says Ashley McDonald with the Ohio Department of Agriculture.  “They would be new to us.  And we don’t regulate them at this time."

McDonald says they do regulate food processors and so in that sense the operation would be treated like any other food facility when it comes to good practices.

At Big Cricket Farms, Bachhuber takes food safety to the point of self-described paranoia.

“These guys should be clean and safe,"he says "We don’t want to destroy our industry before it starts or anything.”

They welcome inspectors and want their operation to be a model for other start-up insect farms.

The FDA is working on insect-specific regulations, but they are not finished yet.

As for when you can expect to see cricket on the menu or in your protein bar, it might not be that far off. Big Cricket Farms will debut their product this August.

Listener Comments:

I am interested in cricket flour to replace soy flour in a low carbohydrate diet. As soon as you have cricket flour available for the average person, please let me know. Also let the leaders of gluten free carb free eating(dr david perlmutter ect) so they can inform the thousands of people on a low carb gluten free gmo free diet of cricket flour availability.


Aloha Katy

Aloha

Katy


Posted by: katy white (hawaii) on July 19, 2014 8:07AM
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