His wife once threatened to kick him out, his landlord might evict him, and he could go broke. But Jakub Dzamba, a Ph.D. student in architecture at McGill University and founder of a company called Third Millennium Farming, is nevertheless on a mission to popularize a farming system for a food that sometimes makes even his advisors flinch: crickets.
Insects are among the world’s most environmentally friendly sources of protein, and though not common in Western nations, are already an everyday cuisine in many parts of the world. In the U.S., there’s growing curiosity about crickets as a sustainable food source (see our recent coverage of these cricket flour-based protein bars and these pre-packaged insect meals). Yet if insects are ever to hit the big time, there needs to be a way to mass produce the "micro-livestock."
Cricket farms exist today, often to produce reptile or fish food. But they can be messy industrial operations, says Dzamba. Instead, he wants to make it easy (and not at all creepy) to farm crickets locally in an office building or neighborhood by creating "cricket reactors"—enclosed cricket breeding contraptions fed by recycled organic wastes like lawn clippings and kitchen scraps.
His apartment contains one of a few working prototypes. (His wife almost kicked him out when a few escaped, motivating him further to perfect a system of levers, valves, and sliding doors that make it "escape proof.")
One larger version, which costs about $50 to $100, would be intended for a facility or enthusiast to use. Another, which he is developing now, would be a "personal" countertop cricket farm that could cost as little as $3 and produce about 10 pounds of crickets every eight weeks, or enough protein for one adult to subsist on.
In the reactor, the crickets are killed after laying their eggs, so the farm is self-sustaining. The temperature is lowered until the crickets fall asleep; then they are frozen. "You still have to kill an animal, but it’s more humane," he says.
In the short-term, Dzamba imagines that the contraptions could find a market in developing world countries that grapple with droughts, malnourishment, and poverty, and may already eat some insects in their diet. Further down the line, he hopes these mini-cricket factories will catch on as a sustainable local food source for North American cities. "The biggest challenge is to break down that taboo. And it’s done been done before, like with sushi," he says.
He is optimistic. When he presents at events, usually with a cricket chef by his side, he says a crowd will gather, but for awhile, no one will try the food. Eventually, after a brave soul or two steps forward, everyone swarms the table.
Dzamba’s company isn’t exactly a real business yet. Once he’s perfected his prototypes, he plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign. For now, he’s working mostly with personal funds.