With the world’s population increasing there is definitely a need to develop new food markets and food resources, and Canadian agriculture companies generally excel at taking advantage of these new marketing opportunities. But one company, Entomo Farms based in Peterborough, Ontario, has taken this notion to a whole new creepy-crawly level through the agricultural production of crickets and other insects to meet the emerging Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) market.
Founding partner and president Jarrod Goldin admits there are a lot of misconceptions to overcome when a new prospective client hears about his family’s enterprise.
“This idea that it is gross is completely wrong,” says Goldin. “It is absolutely delicious. There is a history of this in humanity: Potatoes were once seen as disgusting. Tomatoes were once seen as disgusting. And, of course, so was lobster. The paradigm shift around people’s consciousness and relationship with food is always changing.
“We are growing,” he adds. “Our customers are growing, and the international market is growing. We are now really the recognized brand of choice globally, and we have worked hard the past four years to become so. We are proudly Canadian.”
Goldin says his company primarily produces ground cricket powder and wholesales it to various health food companies around the world, but also has some product lines dedicated to mealworms, boxworms, waxworms and superworms.
“We farm five species, but my favourite saying is crickets are the gateway bug,” explains Goldin with a chuckle. “They are typically farmed in big shoe-box type containers the size of a dining room table. You put what looks like egg carton inside to basically create some surface area. You raise the insects for about four to six weeks in that kind of situation, and then you harvest them.
“They like to attach themselves to that surface area so you simply pick up the cardboard, give it a little shake into a bucket, and all the insects would fall in. That’s the usual way, but at Entomo Farms we have basically retrofitted three chicken barns, and use a much more open concept style where the entire square feet of the bottom of the chicken barn is in of itself, if you will, one huge shoe-box.”
The insects are fed a grain-based diet similar to chicken feed. The are grown for seven weeks before being harvested, killed humanely by freezing, rinsed, roasted and then ground into a powder product which is used as a healthfood additive or alternative source of protein for those who do not consume typical forms of meat.
“We may have the biggest livestock farm in the world,” says Goldin, “having about 38 million crickets per barn I think we are up to about 110 million head of cricket, and we still can’t keep up with demand. We’re at three barns now and will probably have to go to five in the next couple of years.”
Besides the high protein value of the crickets they farm, Goldin says there is well proven health benefits for those you consume the insects.
“It’s 60 per cent protein, but the other 40 per cent is probably of greater health value the protein,” explains Goldin. “And it’s mainly the fibre; a very health prebiotic fibre. It’s extremely high in Vitamin B12 and Iron. Studies have shown not only the concentrations of these essential vitamins and mineral much higher in insects compared to meat, they are also much more bio-available, meaning we absorb them much better into our guts.”
Goldin says most of his customers have to overcome their squeamishness early on, but once they get into the product they can’t get enough of it. Goldin, whose older brothers do most of the primary farming, admits he himself had trouble adjusting to being around and consuming crickets in Entomo Farms first year of production in 2014; so he is aware the pyschological steps most consumers have to pass through on their way to becoming devoted cricket gourmants.
“It’s amazing how you acclimmate just by being around it,” he says. “Before long you are not so squeamish, and before long you are eating them. I love it, and now it is a regular part of my diet. Whereas five years ago I couldn’t step inside one of our barns really either without it freaking me out a bit.”
Goldin says his family chose to go into the edible insect business because of the market potential, but also for ethical reasons.
“For me and my brothers it really started as a way to tackle two forthcoming problems: The issue of climate change and the relationship between the food we eat. The second is the bifurcation of the curve when it comes to population expansion and food production.
“We know soon population will be higher than food production. A UN white paper on edible insects and future food security suggested insects could be the solution to both of those problems.
“My brothers had a background in farming insects for the reptile and bait trade, and the when the UN white paper came out almost the same week on the T.V. show “Shark Tank” there was an individual pitching a protein bar made with cricket flour, and Mark Cuban invested in his business. So I called my brothers up and said this is what we have been waiting for.”
The Goldins are exploring ways to expand out of their current ground insect line into other areas. For example, 20 per cent of the business is already dedicated to creating flavoured whole insect products, they are exploring opportunities to re-purpose insect feces as fertilizer and they are looking to expand into more mainstream grocers like Loblaws, which already carries their products in its downtown Toronto location.
“We really at the beginning,” Goldin says. “It’s an ingredient which has a lot of value, a low carbon footprint, and we hope one day to isolate the protein part from the product to allow us to make a more textured product. There is a lot opportunities ahead of us, and it is exciting.”