11/30/2014 05:00 EST | Updated 01/31/2015 05:59 EST

Cricket Farmer Says Crop Could Help Solve World Food Shortage

If the idea of munching on a handful of crickets has you gagging,  Darren Goldin is sure he can change your mind. He’s betting the farm on it — Next Millennium Farms, to be exact. 

That’s where Darren and his two brothers are raising crickets for human consumption. 

When he first shared his plans with friends, they thought his idea was pretty loopy. But it was his mother’s words he says he remembers best: "I wish you all the success in the world, but I will never eat any of your product!'"

​Next Millennium Farms, the only farm of its kind in Canada, is located near Campbellford, Ont., and has been operating for about a year. (To hear Frank Faulk's audio documentary on raising crickets for food, tune in to CBC Radio's Sunday Edition on Nov. 30 starting at 9 a.m., or click the link at the top of this page.)

The crickets are raised in a cavernous structure — think IKEA warehouse, except the lights are dimmed and the contents of the containers are chirping. 

The rows of tall racks hold containers of crickets — 30 million of the hopping insects. Females lay up to 200 eggs at a time, and the eggs take eight to 10 days to incubate.

Darren Goldin already had years of experience raising crickets for pet food when last year he read a United Nations paper on population and projected food shortages. The report hailed insects as, "a healthy, nutritious alternative to  mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish."

Darren saw the future, and plunged in.  

"Every week we produce between 2,000 to 4,000 pounds of raw crickets," he says.

"About 80 per cent of  the produce is ground into high-protein cricket flour. We sell mainly to companies who then use the flour into everything from tortilla chips to muffins to energy bars. We are having a hard time keeping up with the demand."

The cricket flour sells for $40 a pound.

"The remaining crickets are used in a line of products we sell through our website, like ‘Bug Bistro’ — a tasty snack of crickets, sold in three flavours: Moroccan, Honey Mustard and Barbecue," Darren says.

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Raising insects for human consumption is a market worth about $25 million US in North America, Darren says, with crickets making up the bulk of those sales. He says demand is growing quickly - Next Millenium Farms took three months to get its first 100 orders for cricket flour when it opened a year ago, and is now recording more than 100 orders a month.

The eight full-time and five part-time staff do everything from raising the crickets, to processing the meat, to developing recipes.  

Goldin is quick to point out that his business is not a gag. Part of his reason for starting the cricket farm was to help the environment.

"The planet’s resources to produce food for its population are incredibly taxed," he says. "When you look around this continent and around the world, there are  massive droughts and water shortages everywhere, as well as massive hunger and starvation."

​He says crickets need two pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat, whereas hogs need around five pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat, and cows need 10 to 15 pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat.

"The ability for us to produce protein to feed the planet is exponentially larger if we change our farming practices," Darren says.

"You look at water consumption, and insects are consuming roughly a tenth of the water that chickens, cows or hogs need to produce the same amount of protein. As the population of the planet grows we are not going to have any choice. So maybe this year it’s a novelty, but at the end of the day we are going to have to find new ways to produce protein to sustain the population."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified Darren Goldin as Daniel Goldin.