If you eat animal products, it may be better for the environment, and for your health, to choose meat from grass-fed and free-range animals than to partake of industrial meat that comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO), but it still takes a huge amount of water and feed to produce a single pound of protein from even the most productive ranching operation.
Insects, on the other hand, are nearly four times as efficient on average when it comes to converting feed into meat, and require just a fraction of the space and water. Getting the most amount of food from the smallest amount of space and the least amount of inputs is the future of sustainable food, so it stands to reason that edible insects ought to be high on our list of DIY food production. However, even though people in some countries have a strong tradition of eating these little wigglies, you'd be hard-pressed to find people eating bugs, much less growing their own, in many western countries.
What's that, you say? Insects are for squishing and spraying, not for eating? Perhaps it's time to rethink what we consider to be food.
That change may be about to happen, once the Open Bug Farm gets launched and shipped, as it promises to make DIY edible insect farming easy and affordable.
The Open Bug Farm, which is in the works from Tiny Farms, is claimed to be the world's first open source bug farm kit, and could be suitable for everything from a kitchen hobby farm to a classroom to a commercial enterprise. The kit will include everything needed to begin growing edible insects for food, fun, or profit, and once you've started farming bugs at home, will probably be the most talked about thing at your next dinner party.
"The kit will be be suitable for education, research and commercial exploration. Our goal is to allow anyone to produce enough bugs to experiment with entomophagy, while developing technologies and practices to bring high volume production within reach.
And with the power of Open Source, the blueprints will be available for anyone in the world to use - and continually improved by our community of farmers." - Open Bug Farm
For the home insect farmer, the Open Bug Farm kits will be 'plug-n-play', with everything to start producing edible insects for your table, from hatch to harvest, including detailed instructions and a "Farmer's Guide" and support from Tiny Farms.
But the kits are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, as the bigger goal for the Open Bug Farm is to produce an open source system out of low-cost and readily available materials, so potential insect farmers can easily build their own system for themselves.
"The farm kit will be entirely open source, with the goal that anyone in the world will be able to build their own farm from readily available materials. As well as the blueprints, the farming processes and control and monitoring technology will also be open source, enabling anyone with access to the information to start growing bugs, collecting data and contributing their learning back to the community." - Tiny Farms
This aspect will allow growers to improve upon the techniques and hardware and advance the state of edible insect farming, and to share their successes and enhancements with Tiny Farms' community forum. In addition, the company is building a web-based farm management software system, which will enable farmers to track their activity, to keep records, and to analyze and compare their own data with other insect farmers.
The Open Bug Farm kits are not yet ready for purchase (the estimate for a final design is the end of March), but if you're interested in getting started on the cutting edge of sustainable DIY food production, you can sign up to receive updates on the project at the website. But if you're not quite sure about eating or growing edible insects, but would rather read about it first, there's a new book out that may be of interest: Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet