In February 2016, my partner Zoe Anton and I ate our first insects. We were in Oaxaca, Mexico, in the fifth month of a no-itinerary, no-timeline trip through the Americas. The previous fall, we had both quit our successful, international careers. Our lifestyles had grown unsustainable. Not only were we frustrated with the large carbon-footprint our jobs demanded, but our relationship with each other was not growing. In fact, we weren’t even living or working on the same continent anymore. We needed a reset. By slowly traveling with no itinerary or end date, we thought we would have the ability to not just relax and spend time together but to also follow any interests we developed along the way. Our dream was to find a project, a project in which we could feel proud of and in which we could do together.
When I first ate an insect, a grasshopper in Oaxaca, I was unaware of the nutritional and environmental benefits associated with entomophagy, the practice of eating insects. I simply wanted to sample the local cuisine, much like I had in other stops on our trip (i.e. pork tenderloin in Iowa). It wasn’t until I did a Google search the next day that I found the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization 2013 report on food security which more or less stated that insects were the food of the future due to their small environmental and large nutritional footprint. By the time we arrived in Guatemala, I had started building Excel models about cricket farming. By April, we were ready to quit our travels and to start farming.
It never occurred to us that we should start small and raise just a few crickets for a year or for however long it took until we felt confident we enjoyed working with crickets. Instead, we charged full steam ahead with a commercial farm, moving into an industrial warehouse with a handful of crickets on July 1st. By November, we had become the first licensed food grade insect farm in Oregon, and by the end of our first year of operating we had shipped over a million crickets to customers in 43 US states.
Farming crickets was easy. Yes, we made mistakes everyday, but we found the crickets to be resilient to our naivete. In fact, there was nothing extraordinarily special about what we had done. Anyone could raise responsible protein, and we realized everyone should start raising crickets.
In early 2017, we started giving free classes on cricket farming. I’m sure my MBA professors are regretting the good grades they gave me, because “Why would you educate your competition?” I see at least two great reasons:
1. In a young industry, we need as many farmers to be vocal in public and to advocate for cricket farming. I get jealous by the non-cricket farmers who vend at the local farmer’s market with me. Their customers already know the product; they come to the market looking for a dozen eggs. Few people come to the market looking for crickets. We have to invest considerable time explaining the benefits of cricket to each and every customer. Frankly, we need more people to be selling the idea of crickets.
2. We did not get into cricket farming to get rich; we got into cricket farming because we wanted to make a positive impact on the environment. There is only so much of an impact Zoe and I can make by growing and selling a few crickets ourselves. Our impact is multiplied if we can get other people farming and creating environmentally responsible protein.
For ten months we gave regular, free “Introduction to Cricket Farming” classes at our commercial cricket farm/warehouse. Then, in October 2017, we moved out of our warehouse. For the preceding few months, we had realized the space was suboptimal for raising crickets: we had originally signed the lease before we knew enough about the space requirements of crickets. When our landlord gave us an early, unexpected opportunity to break our lease, we took it. The one downfall was that we had not found a proper place to relocate our growing cricket farm.
As I write this, we are in a transition period, still looking for an ideal location for version 2.0 of our cricket farm. In the meanwhile, we harvested 99% of our crickets and took the remaining few crickets to our own home. We realized it may take a few months for us to find our warehouse 2.0, but as we still want to be able to eat crickets during that period, we are raising a few crickets in our backyard storage studio for our own personal consumption. This is the perfect opportunity for us to take our commercial cricket farming skills and master cricket farming on a small-scale, in a way that many Americans could do in their own home. This blog is meant to document our learnings and to share the knowledge gleaned in our backyard cricket farm. We hope from this springs many backyard cricket farms.