It sounds like summer year-round inside the 3 Cricketeers’ St. Louis Park warehouse, where Claire and Chad Simons operate an urban cricket farm.
“You know they are happy when they are chirping,” said Claire, who with her husband Chad, has started the first cricket farm for human consumption in Minnesota. They will make their debut Saturday, June 15, at the Hopkins Farmers Market.
The couple began by raising 1,000 crickets for their own consumption three and a half years ago in the basement of their Edina home.
Now, they have 1 million crickets with plans to be at 5 million by winter as they have expanded to the 3,500-square-foot warehouse in St. Louis Park, which also has an industrial kitchen to prepare the crickets for market.
Farming crickets “relieves a tremendous amount of stress on the environment,” said Chad, whose motivation was creating a sustainable and environmentally friendly source of protein as an alternative to large-scale farms that raise conventional protein such as beef and poultry.
“There needs to be another option,” Chad said.
He first considered alternatives in agriculture while studying environmental law and when he met a researcher studying cattle feed and ways to reduce methane.
Several years later, their son came home from school on Earth Day with a cricket cookie, which solidified their efforts to start an urban farm.
There are significantly fewer resources needed to raise the same amount of conventional protein that people are accustomed to now, Chad said.
“So, by reducing the amount of the water that we need to produce protein, we can relieve a tremendous amount of stress that’s on the environment,” he said, adding it also conserves land.
As a nurse and a mom who consumes mainly plant-based foods, Claire was interested in the nutritional value of crickets.
Approximately 1 ounce of plain whole crickets or powders offers 19 grams of protein, in addition to 7 micrograms of B12 vitamin, 63 milligrams of calcium and 1.2 grams of fiber.
Compared to other sources of protein (per 100 grams), crickets offer 68 grams, versus 30 grams in beef or 20 grams in chicken.
Raising crickets is also more humane, the couple noted, explaining that crickets are harvested by being cooled to a sleeping state (as in the winter), then frozen and boiled. They also eat 100 percent organic feed that is high in protein and rich in nutrients, Claire noted.
While eating crickets requires a little bit of a change in mindset, a large percentage of the world eats bugs as a protein source, Claire said.
“And we did here in America a long time ago,” until there was a shift to farmed animals. “Then it became an ‘ick’ factor,” Claire said.
Chad described crickets as having an earthy flavor. “But it’s subtle and it really goes well with any kind of flavoring,” he said.
Claire described the taste to the taste of almonds.
“And it has a really interesting, crisp. It’s not like you’ve ever tasted before,” she said.
One can think of it as a nut, a garnish, or as a main protein in cooking, Claire said, noting she puts them atop salads and uses them on tacos.
The Simons offer four flavors of whole roasted crickets, including chili lime, curry, barbecue and maple.
They also offer cricket powder, which for those not interested in the crunch, “is the way to do it,” Claire said. “You really do not taste it all,” she added.
She likes to make chocolate chip cookies with the cricket protein, which will also be for sale at the farmers market.
They also sell the crickets frozen and raw as a farm product.
They are also working on a smoothie ball and a pet treat.
Their “big-picture” goal is to become an ingredient for protein bars.
“But we also want to educate and be able to sell the restaurants and just get out there and do a little bit of retail,” Claire said.
Chad also wants to help the movement through volunteering with the North American Coalition on Insect Agriculture to build awareness and help farmers with resources.
While she understands there are people who will never try crickets as an alternative protein source, “it’s the younger generations that it’s going to be the norm ... And they’re open to it,” she said.
“We weren’t open to sushi 20 years ago. Now we are,” Chad noted.
Beer or wine also helps when trying the bug for the first time, Claire said from their own experience, which is why they are teaming up with local breweries to offer tastings. The first is scheduled for later this month at La Doña Cerveseria in Minneapolis.
The Simons noted that those with shellfish allergies should be advised due to the exoskeleton in crickets.
The name 3 Cricketeers was given in honor of their three boys. The Simons use their start-up to teach the boys not only to be good stewards of the planet but also to follow their passions in life.
“They are also very good taste-testers,” she said, of her three sons.
To learn more about 3 Cricketeers, visit them online and on social media.
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