“Each cricket is like a little Spider-Man,” says Andrew Brentano. The bugs’ ability to scale walls represents but one of the many challenges facing Andrew and his wife, Jena, both 29, who began raising crickets with their friend Daniel Imrie-Situnayake, 30, four years ago. They’ve also got to educate consumers about this sustain-able alternative to traditional livestock. It takes roughly two pounds of feed to create a pound of cricket protein, versus 25 pounds of feed for a single pound of grass-fed beef. And Tiny Farms’ literal footprint is tiny indeed: a few concrete rooms in an old auto plant near Oakland.
The start-up raises staggered generations of crickets, with a few million ready every six weeks. In addition to providing freshly frozen crickets to local restaurants, the company sells its insects to makers of cricket “flour” (roasted, pulverized bugs), a subset of the food industry that’s poised to grow, as adventurous chefs and home cooks begin to experiment with the stuff. Jena admits to being a fairly recent convert herself. “If a bug – any bug – landed on me, I used to wildly swat it away,” she says. “Now, I’m thinking, ‘What does this insect live on? How would I farm this?’”