Nearly 80 percent of the world's population eats insects, and yet, the U.S. is still relatively squeamish to the idea. ASPIRE farm in Austin, Texas is trying to change that. The farm is the only of its kind -- a commercial farm where they grow crickets intended solely for human consumption.
ASPIRE didn't start in Austin, though. There are operations out of Ghana commercially farming palm weevil larvae and in Mexico farming grasshoppers and crickets. With each geography and insect comes a new challenge.
We competed and we won. Bill Clinton gave us a million dollars and we were off to the races.
Gabe Mott, Mohammed Ashour, and Shobhita Soor started ASPIRE after winning $1 million in funding from the Hult Prize Foundation in 2013. The Hult foundation, in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, awards money to entrepreneurs trying to solve the world's biggest problems through socially minded and sustainable solutions.
In 2013, the challenge was to address global food insecurity. ASPIRE's solution was to farm insects, a sustainable protein source. So, off to Ghana they went to perfect a technique to farm palm weevil larvae, an insect that before ASPIRE could only be wild harvested.
ASPIRE wanted to begin operations in the U.S. so after scouting numerous locations, they landed in Austin. The innovative food scene, ideal cricket climate, and Austin's off-beat culture were the deciding factors.
Sticking with their original goal of farming insects as a sustainable protein source, ASPIRE chose to farm crickets. On every measurement of sustainability and nutrition, crickets soar past beef.
The ASPIRE farm is a large warehouse with no air conditioning, a perfect environment for the insects. The space is a maze of rooms filled to the brim with boxes of chirping crickets.
The crickets will spend about 32 days on the farm, from hatching to harvest. ASPIRE uses a freezing method to force the crickets into hibernation, at which point they die and are ready to be roasted and sold whole or ground into a fine, flour-like powder. Mott, a vegetarian with a background in neuroscience, assured me the process is painless and humane.
The whole crickets and powder are then packaged and sold under the brand Aketta. The powder can be used in countless ways -- as a flour substitute, a protein powder, seasoning, the list goes on.
Aketta's Instagram and Facebook highlight recipes used with their products.
In the countries where these are popular, this is the steak and the lobster.
Despite the many environmental and nutritional advantages to eating insects, Mott said they still deal with stigmas against eating bugs.