Cricket is the New Kale
Colorado is home and a first love for Wendy Lu McGill of Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch. The natural, majestic beauty of the Centennial State calls to many, which is one reason why Colorado’s population growth rate was 4th in the nation for 2014¹. Small businesses are prospering and ranching has been a way of life since the days of the Old West.
It only seems natural to bring the two together and into the future. Wendy proudly believes that Colorado is the perfect place for her new business due to the “combo of old western mentality” and Coloradans “being individualistic but not conforming.”
Wendy’s ranch isn’t filled with cows and chickens, which is a good thing too because her ranch is an 8×40 foot high cube shipping container with 320 square feet of working space. The livestock she prefers is a herd of house crickets side by side with a flock of meal worms.
What is a Cricket Farm?
Well, cricket ranch actually. Wendy and her partner Taylor Ferguson are ranching our future food supply; making cricket the new kale.
Don’t believe it? Type in #cricketisthenewkale and your eyes will be opened to a new world, at least to the western world. In many cultures insects are protein sources in fine cuisine and have been a way of life for generations. However, the stigma of eating bugs has kept much of western society from reaping the benefits insects have to offer; such as:
• a very low environmental impact
• more lean protein per gram than meat (chicken and steak included)
• more calcium and vitamins, including over five times more magnesium compared to beef²
• a good source of omega-3, fiber, and whole food nutrition
How to Start a Micro Ranch
Wendy went through the same process that most start-up businesses do: she and Taylor searched for the right space for the micro-ranch. With mile-high real estate prices in Denver and a bootstrap budget, they found it difficult to secure an affordable space. It was at this point that they found an alignment with another forward-thinking landowner that offered indoor industrial space and the outdoor space needed to place an off-grid shipping container.
Naturally they jumped on the offer and are now being incubated by Re:Vision International’s Westwood Food Cooperative in Denver. Their next step was to find the right shipping container.
Shipping Container Shopping
The folks at Colorado Storage Systems were excited, intrigued, and honored that RMMR chose them to launch the “brick and mortar” side of their business. They had done their research and came in with a solid idea of what type of space would be needed to produce an estimated 550 pounds per month of whole frozen crickets. Our team offered support, options, and a tour of our shipping container lot so that Wendy and Taylor could find just the right fit for their ranch.
Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch is currently zoned industrial, including the option to go to three stories. This makes a shipping container a great choice for this start-up business and offers a relatively inexpensive expansion option. In the future Wendy would like to see a three container, stacked design, so that they can provide a learning space for school groups in addition to their production areas.
Wendy explained that cricket and meal worm farming is a very labor intensive process. For now, the team will not be paid so that the business can get its start. Although they have plans to expand, they are currently operating as a “micro-micro” ranch and keeping costs to a minimum.
Climate Control for the Micro Ranch
The insulation cost for a shipping container is not for the faint of heart. While blanket insulation offers a lower cost, spray insulation is far superior. This is the route RMMR took, and it cost more than the container itself. Wendy explained that crickets prefer an environment having 90% humidity and temperatures in the low 90s. The team also created some vents to keep the air circulating well.
When asked if Wendy was concerned about the crickets escaping, she responded that she was more concerned about pests (rodents, fruit flies, house flies, etc) getting in. She also said that’s one of the reasons why they chose a shipping container. Other than the small vents and someone opening the door, shipping containers are completely sealed.
Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch is one of only seven other farms like it in the country. Wendy said that pests getting into the ranch are a serious and constant problem for the other farms; and she is looking forward to comparing her shipping container environment with the wooden buildings that the other ranchers are using.
One thing they’ll be adding next are solar panels on the roof, which will be the only energy source for RMMR’s off-grid business.
Wendy and Taylor aren’t up against the large cricket farms here in the U.S. that produce over 10,000 pounds per month. They also aren’t competing with the cricket powder manufactures that have perfected a silky substance for protein bars and smoothies. RMMR is intentionally small so that they can focus on streamlining and automation experimentation.
Home vs Restaurant Sushi
So who’s there to bridge the gap between the average consumer and RMMR? The chefs. Much like the sushi industry relied on top chefs to educate minds and palates, the edible insect industry needs the same.
One restaurateur in the RiNo District of Denver, Chef Martin Campos, has already stepped forward and is taste testing some bold, new recipes. Chef Martin Campos, Executive Chef at Comida, is ready to break through the stigma and present something new and exciting for Denver foodies; anyone who can serve up Lemon Queso Fresco Pancakes and a Taco Trifecta with red onion escabeche spicy shrimp has our vote for turning Denver onto some fine cricket cuisine!
And as a fun fact, did you know that if you like eating shrimp, crab or lobster that you are already on your way to eating insects?! Insects are closely related to crustaceans. The next time you have the opportunity, perhaps you can give a cricket or some other insect a try.