‘There’s a bug in my food …’
Edible insects are poised to be the next big thing in sustainable agriculture and Kevin Bachhuber, of Madison-based Bachhuber Consulting, is helping insect farmers get in at the larval stage.
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Kevin Bachhuber says he’s fed bugs to people for the first time well over a thousand times at this point in his career, and he’s on a mission to grow the edible insect industry.
Don’t be shocked that those three words — edible insect industry — appear together. People eat a lot of weird things — escargot, caviar, haggis — so eating insects shouldn’t be a stretch.
In fact, whether you realize it or not, you already eat insects regularly, and you have been for most of your life. The FDA’s Defect Levels Handbook details how much parasites, bugs, and other contamination is allowed in your food, which occurs naturally through harvesting, processing, storing, and transporting food.
Maybe that thought makes you shudder, but the FDA sets the limits at levels that pose no threat to your health, according to the handbook. So, enjoy the average of 60 or more aphids and/or thrips (a minute, black-winged insect) and/or mites per 100 grams of broccoli you eat; or average of 225 insect fragments or more per 225 grams of pasta noodles; or average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams of peanut butter; or average of 10 or more fly eggs per 500 grams or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 500 grams or two or more maggots per 500 grams of canned tomatoes. Bon appétit!
What Bachhuber is doing is much more deliberate though than an incidental grasshopper leg in your peanut butter sandwich, and it could have much broader implications in the sustainable food movement.
Bachhuber was first exposed to insects as a food source while traveling to Thailand in 2006.
“In Thailand, I saw bugs in the markets and some of the bars,” says Bachhuber. “Instead of people having peanuts or whatever at the bar, they’d have crickets. I probably tried a dozen different varieties of insects while I was there, everything from crickets to bamboo worms, which are very common, to these giant water beetles that have kind of a melony flavor, to the obligatory scorpion in a suspicious bottle of whiskey. I ate them and they were good, and I felt like it was something we should do in the U.S. However, at the time there was not a lot of agreement on that.”
Bachhuber put the idea on the backburner until 2013, when the United Nations released a detailed, 200-plus-page report on edible insects. A Green Bay native and UW–Stevens Point grad, Bachhuber moved to Youngstown, Ohio and founded what became the U.S.’s first FDA-inspected insect farm, Big Cricket Farms.
Unfortunately, says Bachhuber, when happened to the water supply in Flint, Michigan also happened in Youngstown, and in 2015 he was forced to close down the operation after all of his crickets died. Undeterred, Bachhuber started his consulting operation back in Wisconsin later that same year.
Small(er) scale farming
Bachhuber Consulting works with clients in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico — and starting next winter in sub-Saharan Africa — to enable farmers to participate in pioneering the development of insects as a high-efficiency livestock.
Insects can be used to reduce food and feed waste at each step of the supply chain, supplement or replace less efficient animal and plant proteins, provide stable incomes for marginalized and isolated populations, and dramatically reduce the human footprint on our planet, notes the company’s website.
“A cricket farm is going to be smaller in scale [than a traditional livestock farm] because we can raise them in a much higher density,” notes Bachhuber. It’s much more of an indoor process, and facilities can resemble chicken farms — large barns or other converted facilities like abandoned grocery stores that are well ventilated.
“Back in the day everybody started with plastic containers you could buy at home improvement stores, which is just atrocious,” says Bachhuber. “Over time we’ve scaled into bigger and better operational practices. One of my partners in Canada makes a 40-foot shipping container that can grow up to about 660 pounds of crickets a month.”
That alone is more than enough to earn a sustainable income if the farmer sells the crickets for $2 per container, says Bachhuber.