Crickets as snacks?
By LAURA CARLSON
NEVADA – The snows had barely melted from the April snowstorms, but the familiar chirping of more 50,000 crickets filled the warm air on a corn and soybean farm near Nevada.
It felt like summer. It sounded like summer. It tasted like Doritos?
“Have you ever tried a cricket?” asked Shelby Smith, a Story County native. “I have cinnamon, ranch and other flavors here. Try the fiesta, my mom likes those.”
The crickets are raised and sold as part of Gym-N-Eat Crickets, Smith’s new business venture.
Smith got into the cricket business through an interesting way.
“Crickets provide a value added sustainable agriculture business,” she said. “I heard about cricket protein while listening to a podcast, and after some research I thought, ‘why not try this?’ I ordered 10,000 two-week-old crickets from a Louisiana company and set them up in an insulated room in the machine shed.”
The room is very warm and sounds like a summer night in rural Iowa. Lifting the lid from a large plastic storage bin, Smith explains the egg carton layers inside and the feeding process.
“Crickets have an eight-week life cycle. Females lay five to 10 eggs every day by their 21st day,” Smith said. “The chirping is the male cricket rubbing his wings together to attract the female. It drives some people crazy, but I like it.”
The cake pan-filled peat moss provides the bedding for the eggs.
Tiny crickets hop about the cake plate, almost too tiny to see. The wicking water supply is replenished daily. The crickets eat chicken feed or other organic materials. The egg cartons, purchased in bulk, provide crawling and habitat for the insects. The storage bins are stacked on shelving around the room.
Smith said the crickets are mature and ready for processing after about eight weeks.
“I freeze them to kill them, then dehydrate them and add the flavored powder,” she said. “Dehydrated crickets are shelf stable for years and have more iron than spinach. Filled with vitamin B12 and omega 6 and 3, they are a perfect balance for a snack.”
But do people actually enjoy them?
“Most people like them after they give them a taste,” Smith said.
She has experimented with grinding the insects into a flour and creating what she calls “protein bites.” These bites are made from dates, egg white powder and cricket flour and provide athletes energy while training for endurance challenges.
According to research Smith has done, crickets are 60 percent protein and about 3,000 equal a pound of dehydrated snacks she produces at Gym-N-Eat Crickets.
Smith recently had the chance to use them during a race, the 76th annual Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico, which honors serve members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II.
“We carry 35-pound backpacks for the 26.2 miles of the run and the protein bites came in handy for me to recharge,” she said. “I won my age division.”
Smith lives her passion for health and fitness, choosing power lifting and long distance runs to keep herself in professional shape.
“Crickets fit my life choices with being organic, sustainable and healthy,” she said. “They are also a value-added agriculture business since the manure is in high demand by organic home gardeners.”
She plans to expand the business through the year, and is currently researching licensing of her business to other entrepreneurs interested in an unusual agriculture business.
“There really is no limit to the cricket business,” she said. “I’m very excited to share this product with people at local farmers markets this summer.”
Gym-N-Eat Crickets can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Instagram @gym-n-eat-crickets, and on Facebook.com/gymneatcrickets. Smith is also available for speaking engagements to school FFA programs and other interested groups by calling (515) 686-7505.
About Shelby Smith
Smith attended high school and played basketball at Des Moines East and graduated from Waterloo East High School.
Her disciplined life included a lot of dribbling, shooting and studying which earned her a scholarship and a point guard position at a Philadelphia university.
Following Smith’s summa cum laude graduation from St. Joseph University with a degree in finance, she accepted an opportunity to play professional basketball while attending Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
Graduating with a master’s degree in finance, Smith continued playing basketball in Ireland while working as an equity trader for the National Bank of Canada.
“While I was in my master’s program I participated with Sport Changes Life program,” she said. “Former college athletes can participate in the Sport Changes Life program and as part of the program, we coach in disadvantaged areas of Ireland. I got to coach and work in a job I enjoyed. I am pretty competitive and enjoyed the professional team. But after almost five years away from Iowa it was time for a change.”
Her father offered her the opportunity to help with the fall harvest last October, which provided her a chance to move back home last October.
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