From ‘idk’ to making business history: Iowa Cricket Farmer
The cricket industry in Benton County has never been better – and soon insects grown in Keystone may find their way to eating establishments in Iowa and beyond.
In the past few weeks, TV stations have featured the local insects and the trio who raises them; Governor Terry Branstad heard about the business during his Benton County breakfast meeting last week; representatives from the Iowa State Extension office visited the cricket farm on Tuesday, and asked many questions. And the business has received recognition – and funding – from an Iowa organization that encourages women in business.
For now, though, the thousands of banded crickets growing in bins at Iowa Cricket Farmer LLC in downtown Keystone end up in flour made by a Utah company.
Becky and Jason Herman, along with Jared Van Hamme, are the owners of the company which is located in what used to be a restaurant building.
It began in a classroom in Marion, where Becky is a high school social studies teacher.
“Every day, we watch a 10-minute current events segment, and one day they had an interview with a cricket farmer.”
Becky said her first response – like that of many of her students – was “ick.”
But after watching the segment with her students two or three times, Becky became curious. Soon she and her husband were researching how, and where, to grow the insects.
Now, inside their building, shelves line the walls, where bins holding up to 1,000 crickets each are buzzing with activity. While many Iowans who hear the word crickets may immediately think of the large black bugs they see – and hear – each summer, the species that grows in Keystone is a smaller, two-tone brown version of the winged six-leggers.
It takes three pounds of crickets – about 3,000 insects – to make one pound of cricket flour.
While the flour industry is good, Becky says she is looking for “adventurous chefs” from around Iowa and beyond who may be willing to serve crickets in whole forms. Some places like restaurants and bars offer crickets as a snack item. The Hermans and Van Hamme are also looking to add more species of crickets. Currently the business is using less than one-half of the building space, so there is plenty of room for growth.
In June, the business received $9,000 – the second-largest award this year – from the IWLC (Iowa Women Lead Change) organization, which offers funding assistance (and publicity) for unique businesses led by Iowa females.
On Friday, the Hermans, along with their young daughter, Stori, gave us a tour of the business, and a close-up look at the cricket farm – and the crickets.
It takes just a gallon of water to grow a pound of protein via crickets – much less than it takes to grow a pound of beef, says Becky. In a weather or farming crisis, cricket protein could become a sustainable alternative, she explains.
The crickets’ diet along with a small amount of water, includes just corn meal and lettuce. And cricket droppings are very potent as fertilizer – offering another possible product when as the business continues to grow.
The crickets grow in a room with a temperature above 80 degrees, then they are chilled, then frozen, then cooked. In her research, Becky has learned that in some foreign countries, cricket meat becomes filler for tacos and related food items. She recently shared a story about how eating insects empowers women in some poor nations.
Published in Vinton Today on July 5, 2016