It takes time to get used to the thought that you're eating an insect, admit Greta and Vaidas Budreika, cricket farmers from southwestern Lithuania. While it is far from a staple snack yet, interest in the products is already high.
We open the door to a small room. Inside, where the temperature is 30 degrees centigrade, hundreds and thousands of crickets fly around in plastic boxes.
The crickets hatched a month ago, and in two weeks they will be ripe for processing.
The Budreika family, Greta and Vaidas, admit that they had no plans of starting a cricket farm before the pandemic.
“I worked at the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, while my husband sold cars. When the virus came, we ended up locked inside, work had stopped, I was pregnant. One day, an article about cricket farming caught my eye while browsing the internet,” says Greta.
“Are we going to spend the quarantine doing nothing, we asked ourselves, and then my husband and I decided to try and farm crickets.”
A year ago, the Budreikas registered a company, Suvalkijos Svirpliai (Suvalkija Crickets), and began making snacks out of crickets.
All profit reinvested into the farm
The Budreika cricket farm is located in the small town of Liudvinavas, in southwestern Lithuania. This is where Vaidas’ parents reside.
Prior to starting the cricket farm, Greta lived in Vilnius. However, she did not hesitate to move her life to a new place.
“I was never scared of moving to a different town and beginning to raise crickets. It was scary only to others. They were surprised that I, a city girl who enjoys going to restaurants, could now just move to a village and become a farmer,” says Greta.
The family converted a small house into a storage room and a kitchen. They saved a lot of money by doing all the construction themselves, however, they have to reinvest all of their profits into the farm.
“We are still investing, [because] premises cost a lot. [...] They need equipment, a heating system. We need to buy eggs, food, and water,” says Greta. “Moreover, our farm targets the food market, so investments have no limits here. You can put your money into marketing, research, package design.”
However, around 5,000 euros is enough to start a cricket farm, according to Greta. They also plan on expanding the business in the near future.
“We have bought a plot of land and hope to begin constructing a building in the near future. The current goal is to see how crickets will be received by cafe goers, whether they will eat them, and how our clients will buy these insects,” the couple says.
However, the expansion is hindered by the lack of state support. While Lithuania does offer funding for young farmers and entrepreneurs, cricket farming is not yet eligible for grants.
Kilograms of crickets
There are currently some 600,000 crickets in the Budreika farm. However, the couple measure them in kilograms rather than units.
It takes 1.5 months to raise up to 100 kilograms of crickets, with some 30 kilograms remaining after heat processing.
“At current capacity, a cricket harvest can get between 70 and 100 kilograms in 1.5 months. A cricket could live up to 3 months, but 1.5 months is the optimal age,” says Vaidas. “That is when crickets begin laying eggs. When they lay them, we collect the crickets.”
They are kept in plastic boxes with egg cartons inside for shelter.
“Crickets need to be kept in a very sterile environment, there can’t be any bacteria or dirt. Crickets are very spoiled, and prone to diseases. We lost some earlier when we were just learning how to raise them,” says Vaidas. “They are also sensitive to changes in temperature. It’s bad when it’s too hot, too humid. There were cases when crickets died because of humidity.”
Greta and Vaidas use special food and regular tap water to grow the crickets. One cup of cricket food can feed 2 kilograms of month-old insects.
“Salad greens and various fruits are also good for them, but it would be difficult to feed a lot of crickets with fruit. Moreover, the premises could attract flies due to the tropical climate, so we feed crickets with specialised food.”
Pricy, but healthy
The crickets are collected and left to freeze, then baked for 10 minutes. Afterwards, they are left to dry for 10 hours.
Frozen dried crickets can be used to make various snacks, and even milled into flour, which can replace regular flour, or can be added to salads and cocktails.
Greta and Vaidas produce four different flavours of baked crickets, breakfast granola with ground crickets, cricket seasoning, and flour. The products can be quite expensive, with 25 grams of dried crickets costing 3.95 euros, 250 grams of cricket granola – 4.60 euros, and 100 grams of cricket flour costing 12.9 euros.
“We ask people who are afraid of high prices: what is more valuable to you, health or the products that you eat. How much longer can one eat processed foods, precooked foods, fat foods, sausages? Yes, they are all cheaper, but hardly healthier,” says Greta.
Everyone should give crickets a chance since they are highly nutritious, says Greta.
“For example, there are 67.7 grams of protein per 100 grams of our crickets. Crickets are also sources of vitamin B12, iron, calcium, fiber.”
The couple uses cricket flour to make ice cream, bake cupcakes, bread, and make sauces.
Crickets have a mild, nutty taste. However, people usually think twice before eating them because of the appearance.
“We never try to fight people’s opinions. If they say ew, that tastes bad, or if they are too afraid to try them, we say that it’s all okay. You need to get used to the thought that you’re eating an insect,” says Greta. “When we first visited a cricket farm, we felt okay, but when the time came to taste them, we bet 50 euros that we wouldn't dare. It really wasn’t that easy. Now we eat them every day.”
Buying for taste or curiosity
Eating crickets is still new for Lithuanians, Greta admits, adding that even her relatives are apprehensive about trying them out.
“However, we feel massive support, we wouldn’t have even started this without it. This is the food of the future, so we are putting all our efforts into having this food of the future eaten today instead of tomorrow.”
Lithuanians will surely grow to love crickets, says Greta.
“It has only been three to four months that we started selling. The demand is very high so far, we just don’t really know whether it is out of curiosity, or if it is related to some circumstances, for example, the football championship, Joninės, Father’s Day,” says Greta.
“We also plan to go to fairs, and several restaurants have already agreed to purchase our products. Some will sell crickets to go with their drinks, while other restaurants have even included our crickets in their menus.”
The Budreikas hope to begin exporting some of their products abroad this autumn.