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Iowa’s First Insect Farm for Human Consumption

by Whitney Flach

According to the Des Moines Register, Becky Herman from Keystone, Iowa is the Iowa Cricket Farmer. This farm is the state’s first insect farm for the purposes of human consumption. Herman, is a Marion High School social studies teacher. She became intrigued after watching a segment on crickets on the CNN Student News show, that she watches regularly with the kids in her class. However, it still took her awhile to get used to the idea of eating bugs.

The farm’s 50,000 to 60,000 crickets have been raised so far to be breeders. Herman, expects to deliver the first batch bound for human stomachs very soon. They’ll be sent to Salt Lake City and ground into cricket flour for Chapul, the maker of cricket protein bars and protein powder made famous on the television show “Shark Tank.”

The Iowa Cricket Farm looks more like a science lab than a playground. The crickets’ all eat organic diets that are carefully controlled. The water they’re given has been purified through reverse osmosis, and the temperature and humidity are closely managed. The breeding room, houses dozens of blue plastic barrel bottoms sitting atop specially constructed racks. The chirping is surprisingly muted. Only the mating males rub their wings, and the crickets hide when the lights are on. An organic veggie garden out back, grows cricket food. In turn, cricket dung has become a vegetable fertilizer. Crickets, will eventually be harvested in the walk-in refrigerator to induce lethargy. Then, to the deep freezer so they can be shipped for processing. Herman’s farm will ship crickets frozen, and buyers will then cook and grind the insects on their own.

This farm is believed to be among a handful of cricket farms across the country capitalizing on a trend of healthy munching. Insect farming, is considered more sustainable than traditional livestock. Because they’re coldblooded, crickets are efficient at converting food into protein. Crickets require 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein, according to a 2013 United Nations report examining insects’ potential as human food. Crickets require 8% of the water it takes for cows to produce a similar amount of protein, according to Chapul. “That’s really why we got into it,” Herman said. “It’s so much more environmentally friendly than traditional forms of livestock.” Aside from their protein content, crickets deliver 15 percent more iron than spinach and as much vitamin B-12 as salmon.

Crickets are not a mainstream food, but they are being used by adventurous chefs and in pricey consumer products. For example, Chapul, sells a pack of four protein bars for $13. Three bags of Chirps cricket chips run about $15. And a 3-ounce jar of Sal de Cricket, a cricket-based seasoning, costs $12. However, crickets aren’t anywhere close to the pace of mainstream foods. In bulk, crickets sell for $3 to $5 per pound. Some sellers move smaller quantities online for as much as $30 per pound. Herman expects to fetch closer to $10 per pound.

Eventually, Herman hopes to sell to local processors and Iowa restaurants. She plans to turn nearly 2 million crickets every six weeks. That’s about 1,800 pounds. She envisions that crickets will find their way into local tacos, or on top of pizzas and salads. Herman says cooked crickets taste fairly bland, like unsalted nuts. “If you season them, they’re good,” she said, “kind of like bar nuts.” The bugs can take on the taste of the foods they eat, especially as they mature. Eventually, the Iowa Cricket Farmer could offer apple, and cinnamon-flavored crickets.