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A Youngstown farm that stands apart from others

Located at 21A Edwards St. in Youngstown, Big Cricket Farms kicked off its operations on Earth Day in 2014.  The farm spans 5,000 square feet, all of it used to breed and hatch crickets. (Photo courtesy of Big Cricket Farms)

Legal News Reporter

Published: May 21, 2015

Once ravaged by the loss of the steel industry, the city of Youngstown is now becoming known for its innovative businesses and efforts at revitalization.

So when Kevin Bachhuber and Jaci Ampulski were looking for a spot to start the first urban cricket farm in the United States exclusively devoted to raising human-grade entomophagical products, it wasn’t a stretch to choose the city.

“Raising insects does not require a lot of specialized skills but it does have the potential to create high paying jobs,” said Bachhuber. “Setting up our operation in an area that is fighting back from economic depression with the potential of bringing good jobs, money and opportunity to the community made sense to us.”

Located at 21A Edwards St., Big Cricket Farms kicked off its operations on Earth Day in 2014. The farm spans 5,000 square feet, all of it used to breed and hatch crickets.

“Sustainability and environmental responsibility are huge concerns for me,” said Ampulski, who serves as director of operations at Big Cricket Farms. “Crickets offer a number of advantages over traditional protein sources like beef since they require a fraction of the food, water and space that cows do.”

Ampulski said one pound of usable protein from a cow requires about 25 pounds of food, whereas crickets need around two pounds of feed per pound of usable meat.

In addition, she said it only takes about a gallon of water to raise one pound of crickets, compared to 2,000 gallons of water for a single pound of cow.

“Crickets produce 100 times fewer greenhouse gases than cows and they have half the fat and a third more protein than beef,” said Ampulski, a Chicago native who holds a bachelor’s degree in conservation biology and environmental studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Ampulski has a background in healthcare IT and project management, which she relies on to keep things running smoothly on the farm, handling everything from the accounting to legal-related matters.

“Because we raise our crickets on high-quality OMRI-certified organic feed, we’re able to use their waste and bedding for compost,” she said.

Bachhuber deals with the farm’s public relations concerns. He was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin and holds a bachelor’s in English from the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. Prior to getting involved in Big Cricket Farms, he owned Rogue Traders comic store in Green Bay.

When the recession hit, the store suffered and Bachhuber eventually closed up.

The idea for the cricket farm first came to him while on a trip in Thailand in 2006.

“Edible insects are a regular treat there,” said Bachhuber. “If you go to a bar, you will find deep fried crickets and bamboo worms much like we have peanuts.

“When I got back to the U.S., I started telling everyone about it but I didn’t get any interest until 2013 when the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations published a paper about the food potential of insects. It highlighted the many insects that are commonly eaten around the world.”

Ampulski said there are over 1,900 known species of bugs eaten worldwide and there are 900 different species of crickets.

She and Bachhuber first met in Wisconsin. The two began planning the farm in 2013 while living in Sacramento, California. They moved to Youngstown in 2014.

Shortly after the move, they enlisted the help of a third co-founder, Cody Schultz, Bachhuber’s friend from Wisconsin.

“Kevin brought me to Youngstown for a week to help automate the cricket farm and he ended up asking me to stay on a more permanent basis,” said Schultz, who now serves as director of research & development and floor operations.

Schultz is a native of Stevens Point, Wisconsin and previously worked as a master operator at the frozen food processing plant, Golden County Foods.

“I manage the everyday processes at the farm and oversee another employee who takes care of the crickets,” said Schultz. “I am designing new racking for the crickets to live in.”

“The farm works much like any other farm,” said Bachhuber. “We incubate the eggs until they hatch and then we let them cluster together in a small box. Eventually we move them to larger boxes to allow them to grow.

“After they are killed, we freeze dry them and put them in bags to ship to our clients.”

“We started off raising European house crickets,” said Ampulski. “Now we raise tropical banded crickets because they are more resistant to disease.”

There are six full-time employees and two-part workers along with a few interns.

Bachhuber said the farm has long-term contracts with several protein powder producers and also gets a lot of business from gourmet chefs.

The maximum production capacity at the farm is 6 million crickets, but Schultz said his new racking system should be able to double that amount.

Still Bachhuber said future expansion is all but a given with the increasing demand.

“We have patents pending on technology that we are using to raise the crickets,” he added.

The farm is not yet making a profit, however Bachhuber said he expects that to change in the near future.

“I would like to see crickets become a regular part of the Western diet, much like they already are in other parts of the world,” said Ampulski.