As the financial and environmental costs of producing meat become better known, Joy Hillier is working to make her new cricket farm in Windsor a business that produces affordable, high-quality insect protein.
Hillier began cricket farming at her Midgard Insect farm in May, after hearing a TED Talk about the need for sustainable protein sources given by ecological entomologist Marcel Dicke.
Hillier is producing a cricket protein powder that will go into pet foods made by her investor Dane Creek Capital Corp., an Ontario-based firm. She plans to expand across North America.
“The cost of producing this kind of protein is considerably lower than for producing meat as crickets consume far less food than animals,” said the veterinary technician and graduate of Dalhousie University’s faculty of agriculture.
Environmental costs are also lower, as animals, especially cows, produce high quantities of climate-warming methane. In fact, the U.K.-based Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food has recently called for taxes to be imposed on meat and dairy to offset environmental costs.
Hillier established her farm in Windsor to be close to other agricultural businesses. The food the crickets eat — a modified poultry grain — comes from the area so proximity cuts transportation and emission costs.
She purchased her initial crickets online and now has more than one million. Mature adult crickets are noisy, so the heated rooms housing them sound like a summer night, Hillier said.
“It’s quite lovely. Crickets also have a distinctive earthy smell.”
Asked what cricket tastes like, she said it tastes nutty and takes on the flavour of whatever it’s cooked with. It is delicious deep-fried.
Farming crickets is an entirely new direction for Hillier.
“I saw the TED Talk, and felt that, as a veterinary technician, I had the technical capability to do this. I’ve run small businesses in the past so it didn’t seem scary. It seemed an incredible opportunity . . . I saw it as something bigger coming.”
To get started, she obtained personal loans from Futurpreneur. Seed loans were provided by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Credit Union.
Midgard has few Canadian competitors, she said. There is a cricket farm in Ontario, and another on the West Coast. In any case, she feels the market is going to be big, allowing different farms to develop markets.
She said that as well as providing investment and business guidance, her partnership with Dane Creek is also providing distribution.
Last month, she was a winner of the inaugural Spark West Competition run by provincial innovation agency Innovacorp, gaining $45,000.
The money will go toward renovations and expansions, and help pay for R&D work at the Perennia Innovation Centre in Bible Hill. She is also looking to hire additional employees.
“Investors and the provincial government have been positive and open-minded,” she said. “I expected I’d have to convince people it’s a good idea, but they’ve got on board.”
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