words & photos :: Colin Field
After 12 years in Brooklyn, New York, Joe Shouldice and his family decided to pack it in, and sell everything. Joe and his wife bought an Airstream and spent a year travelling all over North America. Originally from Toronto, they assumed they’d end up back there, working as designers again, only this time a little closer to family. But slowly, the idea of starting a cricket farm began to percolate.
“The cricket thing started as a joke,” says Shouldice. “Honestly, I feel like in early 2000 I first heard about it and I think I was passively interested. Then in 2013 the UN put out a report saying by 2050, we’ll have 2 billion more people and we can’t feed them chickens and cows and pigs the same way. It’s not physically possible with land. So crickets are one thing to alleviate this. It’s not a magic bullet, but it’ll help a lot. So I started looking into it more and more. And I think career-wise, I’d been a designer for 15 years and wasn’t sure I wanted to do the same thing for the next 15. I was ready for a new challenge.”
That new challenge is his cricket farm, Yes Crickets in Owen Sound, Ontario. The nondescript storefront is in an industrial strip on the east end of town. It doesn’t look like anything unusual from outside. But inside, he’s raising crickets for human consumption. He got the space in October of 2018 and has been farming crickets ever since.
The hot, well-lit room features two shelves with 16 2x2x2-ft. boxes. Each box has between 7,000-8,000 crickets in it. He’s hoping to have about 1.2 million crickets at all times once he irons a few “bugs” out. He’s the first to admit, he still has a lot to learn.
Beside the room that serves as a farm, is an inspected commercial kitchen. It’s here that he harvests the little critters by putting them in a freezer.
“In nature, say it gets a little chilly at night, like below zero, they’ll basically hibernate,” says Shouldice. “There’s no sign of life. If they’re not there too long, and it warms up, they’ll come back to life. So it happens naturally; we’re assuming it’s totally painless. So we just put them in the freezer and leave them there longer, so then they’re just dead.”
He then dehydrates them, and either grinds them up into cricket flour or dry roasts them for snacks. He sells bags of barbecue-flavoured crickets, lemon-pepper crickets, cricket flour. He has made cricket bark, banana bread with cricket flour, and is constantly experimenting. The use for crickets is endless.
But the real question is: Why would anyone eat crickets? The practice of entomophagy, or eating insects has been practiced for thousands of years. It is claimed that 2 billion people worldwide, still eat insects regularly. Think South America, Asia and Africa. For whatever reason, the Western world has shunned insects as a food source, but crickets are ridiculously good for you. According to Shouldice, crickets feature twice the iron of spinach, more B12 than salmon, all nine essential amino acids, plus high levels of potassium and calcium while also supporting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
“We’ve made chocolate bark, like cricket bark, as an entry point. It’s like eating Rice Krispies and chocolate. So that’s just for people to get mentally over it. They’ve eaten a cricket. Fine. Done. You get the badge.”
And environmentally speaking, crickets are an amazing alternative to modern-day farming techniques. Especially when it comes to protein. Shouldice claims that crickets use 2 percent of the water, 12 percent of the land and 10 percent of the feed, when compared to cattle. They also produce only 1 percent of the methane compared to cows. Plus, huge amounts of forest don’t need to be razed to farm them.
But seriously, why would you eat them? And herein lies Shouldice’s biggest challenge: getting people to wrap their head around eating an insect.
“I have dry roasted, flavoured crickets and cricket powder,” he says. “We’ve made chocolate bark, like cricket bark, and that’s strictly as an entry point. It’s like eating Rice Krispies and chocolate. So that’s just for people to get mentally over it. They’ve eaten a cricket. Fine. Done. You get the badge. I will make some badges when I get to my first farmers’ market.”
So what do they taste like? They’re actually pretty good: crunchy, light, they almost have the texture of a cheesie. And flavour-wise, they taste a bit like sunflower seeds. The lemon-pepper ones are delicious and could totally replace a bag of chips during a barbecue. That is, if everyone was willing to try them. Want to try them yourself? Head over to yescrickets.com, you can order crickets to be shipped right to your door. Bon appétit! —ML