Do you think you could ever eat bugs? Check out this interesting article via Wired and let us know what you think in the comments section below.
- By Klint Finley
Silkworm patties. Photo: Tiny Farms
Daniel Imrie-Situnayake says that cockroaches taste pretty good. He also eats crickets and mealworms, and his favorite insect dish is something called silkworm patties. You can think of them as bug burgers.
Imrie-Situnayake is part of a new and growing community of people who treat insects as food. The practice is known as entomophagy, and though this sort of thing has long been common in other parts of the world, it’s only beginning to find solid footing in the U.S. and Europe. The San Francisco chef Phil Ross and the London eatery Ento have made bugs the hip new thing among the foodie crowd, and people like Imrie-Situnayake want to push the practice forward even further. As the co-founder of an entomophagy startup called Tiny Farms, he sees insect cuisine not just as a lifestyle choice, but as a way of averting the world’s looming food problems.
The world’s population is expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, according to a World Resources Institute report published last year, and that means we’ll need to increase food production about 60 percent in the coming decades — a task made all the more difficult by expected shortages in water, fuel, fertilizer, and arable land. One solution could be entomophagy. Last year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggested that insects could be an increasingly important and sustainable food source in the future, and Imrie-Situnayake agrees. Insects are high in protein. They require little space to raise. And they don’t produce much methane or other greenhouse gases.
Two billion people around the world already eat insects on a regular basis, and many consider them a delicacy. But here in the West, the situation is very different. Entomophagy is largely taboo, and our culture just isn’t geared towards finding and raising insects for food. That’s why Imrie-Situnayake and Tiny Farms have created what they call Open Bug Farm — a high-tech kit for raising your own edible insects. They’re trying to hack the Western agriculture world, and in true hacker fashion, they plan on open sourcing the kit’s basic design, so that anyone can build their own for free.
A New Kind of Software Bug
Like so many tech ventures, Tiny Farms started with a group of geeks looking for a new project they could work on together. “We’re basically San Francisco free software people,” Imrie-Situnayake says. “We were getting to the tail end of another project and started thinking about something a bit more interesting. Something that involved physically building something.”
Eventually, they settled on the idea of creating a controlled environment for growing food — a tiny, self-contained ecosystem — and this idea truly began to gel when they discovered the local entomophagy community. “We started talking to people who were growing insects for human consumption and getting to know the problems they had and getting to know what we could do to help,” Imrie-Situnayake remembers. At first, he and his friends planned to start a consulting practice to help other companies start commercial insect farms, but they soon realized there weren’t enough companies to support such a business. So they took a different tack, building various tools for collecting and analyzing data about the environments needed to raise insects.
Open Bug Farm takes these creations and bundles them into a single package for home insect farmers. Each kit contains everything you need to start your own bug farm, including all the basic equipment, tutorials, and software, as well as a start insect herd. Tiny Farms has already given out a few of its kits. It plans to start selling them to a wider audience later this month. And according to Imrie-Situnayake, that’s when it will make the designs and plans available via the web.
Big Bug Data
Perhaps the most important aspect of the kit is that it lets you collect data from your farm and send it back to the company, so that the community can analyze it and determine best practices. That could go a long way towards addressing one of the biggest criticisms facing the entomophagy movement.
“I think the issue is not whether or not we would be willing to eat them, but whether we could produce enough to make a dent in world hunger,” Tom Turpin, a professor of entomology at Purdue University Turpin told Business Insider. “We have spent thousands of years trying to master crop production, master animal husbandry, to produce the volume that we need to rely on something as a food source.” Turpin worries that we would never be able to grow enough insects to actually knock a dent in world hunger. But that’s exactly what Tiny Farms is trying to accomplish with its kits and its data collection.
“Rather than just shipping a box of parts, we are working to build a community,” the Tiny Farms team wrote in a blog post announcing Open Bug Farm. “We will be maintaining a web based community platform so that farmers can meet, share experiences, and discuss improvements to the design. By working as a giant team, continuously evolving the design, we’ll be able to optimize production efficiency much faster than we could in isolation. The stream of new design ideas and insights will benefit everyone.”
The project is part of a wider agriculture movement that applies open source hardware and data collection to farming methods. Farmbot, a drop management device you can build with a 3-D printer, aims to make growing food as easy as playing Farmville, while Open Source Bee Hives aims to boost honey production by monitoring hives via the internet. Like Tiny Farms, these project use open source as means of accelerating our agricultural evolution. “Instead of taking decades or hundreds of years for new forms of agriculture to emerge,” Imrie-Situnayake says, “we can learn very quickly.”