Why cricket farming
HENDERSON COUNTY — Bitwater Farms doesn’t grow crops. They’re raising between 30 to 60 million crickets in their facility outside of Asheville, North Carolina.
CEO Sean McDonald explains why: “When you're using insects for a high protein product, whether it's for animal feed, or people who eat them or even pharmaceutical extracts, by far, it's crickets that are most used.”
Crickets are high in protein and other micronutrients. They’re also cheaper and more environmentally-friendly than traditional sources of protein, like cattle and pork.
Bitwater entomologist Travis Dorsey shows how crickets lay their eggs.
“When you look at the difference between the abdomens of the males and females, there's this third long structure present on females that's not on males and that's what we call the ovipositor. They pierce the soil or sand and they begin to lay eggs. These crickets will lay about 100, 150 eggs in their lifetime. We let 'em lay eggs for about two weeks and then they're harvested.”
Mobile cricket habitats
Bitwater Farms doesn’t just grow crickets. They also manufacture mobile cricket habitats equipped with software to create the perfect environment for crickets to thrive. Museums and zoos that maintain insectariums are regular customers for Bitwater Farms and other cricket-growing operations.
For example, the Museum of Life and Sciences in Durham maintains an insectarium with 30 exhibits featuring invertebrates like tarantulas, centipedes and poisonous frogs. Crickets are the main diet for these creatures, and insectarium manager Leon Bradford maintains his own mobile cricket factory.
“When you think in terms of the museum needs as far as crickets, the budget is incredible. So that's why I'd rather rear my food in house cheaply. You save a lot more money that way," Bradford says. "It's like bringing your lunch to work, instead of going out every day.”
A good source of protein for humans too
Bradford says the museum’s invertebrates live a long time and keeping them healthy is important. “That's one of the most amazing parts about insects is the nutritional value that they offer, they’re an incredible source of proteins and fats and nutrients.”
McDonald is betting that crickets will become a more important part of the human diet too. And when that happens, his farm will be there to meet the demand.
“We've been able to do something really special here in western North Carolina: grow the roots of a global venture-backed company, but in a very different place, right? Like we're not in San Francisco, we're not in D.C., We're not even in Raleigh for that matter. We're out here in the west, and it's good for us.”