author: Meghan Sheffield photography: Stewart Stick
Though Entomo is known locally, it turns out that the Norwood bug farm is also one of the top cricket producers in the world.
ANYONE FAMILIAR WITH ONTARIO FARM COUNTRY would presume the three long, low silver barns nestled into a backdrop of rolling green countryside were poultry sheds, and the operation a chicken farm. But at Entomo Farms, in Norwood, just east of Peterborough, they’re raising a different sort of critter for the grocery store market. The barns, in fact, are full of crickets – the next big thing in edible animal protein. Entomo Farms may just be the farm of the future.
Jarrod Goldin, a warm and enthusiastic chiropractor based in Toronto, had always wanted to partner with his entrepreneurial younger brothers Darren and Ryan, who had already owned a series of businesses together.
“We have this unusually tight, wonderful family,” Jarrod says. The Goldins emigrated to Canada from South Africa in 1986, and Jarrod has held onto his accent. “We owe everything to our parents. They always encouraged us to follow our heart and our passion no matter how disruptive or crazy it might seem.”
The dream of going into business together didn’t seem likely. However, in 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a visionary research paper called Edible Insects: Future prospects for food and feed security. Then, Jarrod saw an episode of the investment TV show Shark Tank featuring an entrepreneur pitching the idea of cricket-based nutritional bars. Suddenly the distance from a health-conscious chiropractic practice to a cricket farm didn’t seem so far.
Jarrod called his brothers; they found the start-up capital, and launched Entomo Farms. In January 2014, the brothers opened up the first food-grade insect farm in the Western world.
Currently, Entomo consists of those three large barns making up 60,000 square feet of farm space as well as a small processing plant nearby. At any given time, Entomo is raising 100 million head of insect livestock. They plan to expand three-fold later this year.
Cricket farming isn’t so different from poultry raising in certain basic ways: eggs are laid; the eggs hatch and become livestock; the livestock is culled for harvest, with some retained to create the next generation of eggs.
Brother Darren is the family’s farm operations whiz. In an industry that’s never really been industrial before, Entomo is at the front of the pack. Their innovative farming methods include raising crickets in a cage-free environment with cardboard structures they call ‘Cricket Condos’. These mimic the cricket’s naturally preferred dark, warm environment alongside freely available food and running water.
“It’s free range, they have access to food and running water, and they’re content,” Jarrod explains. “The natural lifespan of a cricket is about six to seven weeks, so we cull them just when they’re about to die anyway.”
At Entomo, the crickets are culled by exposure to a dry ice and carbon dioxide combination.
“We rinse them; we roast them and we grind them into a powder,” Jarrod says, noting that unlike traditional uses of the word ‘process’ in the food industry, nothing is added or removed. “It’s a fully functional whole food in that respect.”
Though Entomo is known locally, with menu features at restaurants in the region and an appearance at Port Hope’s Cultivate: A Festival of Food and Drink, it turns out that the Norwood bug farm is also one of the top cricket producers in the world.
According to Marc Sanchez (a.k.a. The Cricket Man), a high-energy bug lover and cricket microfarming expert based on the Oregon coast, “Entomo Farms is not only the biggest farm in the world that produces crickets for human consumption, they are the finest.”
A few years ago, if you’d asked Jarrod about the barriers to getting people to eat insects, he might have had a few ideas. Not so today.
Jarrod believes entomophagy – the fancy word for eating insects – is catching on.
He points to recent buy-ins from some of the biggest names in Canada’s food industry: this spring, Loblaws launched a President’s Choice brand cricket powder from Entomo, and Maple Leaf Foods is now one of the company’s biggest investors. These investors are betting that the future of Canadian food will be different – more sustainable, healthier, and more culturally diverse than it is now.
Goldin points out that the ‘ick’ factor around eating bugs doesn’t align with the real benefits it can offer.
“What we need to do is reframe the paradigm of what ‘icky’ food is or what a barrier to food should be,” he said. “Food that promotes longevity, wellness, healthy arteries, healthy bones – that should be good food.”
On the morning that we spoke, Jarrod had eaten that ‘good food’ for breakfast, on yogurt with berries ‘and a squish of honey.’
From a human health perspective insect protein offers macro- and micro-nutrients that are more bio-available than traditional meats, as well as prebiotic fibre to support the body’s microbiome.
Insects offer a practical solution to some environmental problems that industrial agriculture has come up against, like the intense feed and water inputs required to farm beef. At the scale of the global market, it’s not a sustainable way of doing business. Crickets, on the other hand, require about one-tenth of the amount of feed and water inputs to create the same amount of food protein as a beef cow.
Entomo also has clients in Europe, New Zealand, and Mexico, and have partnered on projects to share their farming know-how in Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We don’t need every person on the planet to eat insects. We only need a small group of people to make it part of their everyday lives to have a business, and to make an impact,” Jarrod says.
It’s not unusual for passionate entrepreneurs to want to change the world, and perhaps that’s what makes the Goldin brothers and Entomo Farms so surprising. With their close-knit family, some big name investors, and plans to expand, Entomo Farms is poised to change the world.
|Writer, performer and speaker David Newland is a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society with a lifelong passion…|