By Connor Lynch
NORWOOD — Once upon a time, you may have eaten something because you liked it, because you’d had it before, or someone made it for you. Or maybe it was just the cheapest thing on the shelf.
These days, more people are more interested in the nutritional profile of their food. It’s in this atmosphere that an unusual, to say the least, food-product has been making a successful debut in the province. Insects. Crickets, to be precise.
Northumberland-area farm Entomo Farms received one of the province’s Excellence in Agriculture awards last month. The cricket farm employs 30 people full time and expects to employ 28 more as their markets continue to grow, said president Jarrod Goldin, who runs North America’s largest cricket farm at 60,000 sq. ft. with his two brothers. They raise about 866-million crickets a year in three facilities at Norwood, east of Peterborough. Originally named Next Millenium Farms, they got started raising crickets back in 2014.
Demand is being driven by a new breed of consumer: One that wants to know exactly how nutritious their food is, and what impact raising, shipping and processing that food has on the environment. In marketing jargon, they’re called LOHAS consumers (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability), and they’re interested in what their food does for their health, and the health of the planet. The Natural Marketing Institute, a market research firm in the United States, suggested as many as a third of U.S. consumers would fall into this category.
Crickets have been an easy sell in that regard, Goldin said. “We’re providing a great alternative food source that is nutritionally healthy and beneficial. It comes with its own built-in fertilization. It’s a fully-integrated, unwasteful way to farm livestock.
“You want to eat healthier and in a more sustainable way, where animal welfare is considered? This ticks all those boxes.”
One of the other nice things about these consumers? They aren’t price sensitive. Not a bad thing, considering a 113 gram, or quarter-pound package at Real Canadian Superstore costs about $15.
A United Nations report that kick-started the Goldin’s into the business also spoke to some of the advantages of eating crickets: There’s 8 to 25 grams of protein in every 100 grams of cricket; they’re high in a variety of nutrients and minerals, including calcium, iron and potassium, but low in cholesterol and saturated fats; and per unit of protein, compared to cattle, they only need two per cent of the water and 12 per cent of the land. The UN report called insects a more efficient and sustainable food source on a planet that will need to feed 9 billion people by 2050.
Raising crickets sounds like a fad but Goldin said the majority of the company’s sales are for human consumption in the United States, although they sell crickets all over the world and here in Canada.
Who’s buying crickets to eat? Well, most aren’t, at least not directly. The company sells roasted crickets, seasoned in a variety of ways, but the majority of their sales are business to business, where companies use crickets as an ingredient in a miscellany of pancake batters, protein shakes, pastas, crackers and chips to pump up the nutritional content.
They raise the crickets in so-called cricket condos. Crickets get around some of the issues involved with livestock: They can be crammed in, since they prefer to live in tight groups, and slaughter is easy, since the farmers can just pump CO2 gas into the condos to kill the crickets. Goldin uses modified chicken barns, which is useful because they’re typically two-stories high, he said. Crickets are harvested every six-week life cycle. They’ve also been looking at uses for the cricket manure: Early experiments suggest it could be a good fertilizer.
Entomo Farms isn’t alone in the province either. Last year, Joe Shouldice, a Toronto-born graphic designer, came back to Ontario from Brooklyn, moved to Owen Sound in Western Ontario, and started a cricket farm. In Montreal, a food marketing business called Crickstart launched last year, aiming to market cricket-based protein bars and shakes to consumers. They’ve since renamed themselves Landish (as in, not outlandish) and added spirulina-based products (a type of bacteria that grows in large colonies), and reishi-mushroom bars (made with an Asian mushroom).
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