In an old mine deep underground in Finland, something is stirring. It may sound like the intro to a monster movie, but it’s actually the location of Finnish startup EntoCube’s latest edible insect farm.
For the last year, EntoCube has been growing insects for human consumption in underground farms located in old mines. The mines are roughly 1,400 meters deep, with a temperature that hovers at around 28 °C (~82 °F), thanks to natural geothermal heat. EntoCube’s farming project, which cost €250,000 (~$277,000 USD) to build according to Sifted, is done in partnership with Callio Pyhäjärvi, which runs Europe’s deepest metal mine.
Founded in 2014, EntoCube builds and sells farming tech for edible insects geared towards everyone from home experimenters up to those looking to start their own insect enterprise. The startup also sells its own line of insect foodstuffs through its website, including cricket granola and powder.
According to the Sifted article, EntoCube founder Robert Nemlander took the farm underground to capitalize on the natural climate of the mines. Their temperature and humidity level is not only ideal for growing crickets, it also makes the whole endeavor cheaper since the company doesn’t have to pay for heating — one of the most expensive parts of insect farming.
Surprisingly, insect farming is costlier than, say, cattle farming. Bugs may require only minimal land, food, and water, but the technology to farm them is so new that, for now, it costs more to buy a pound of crickets than a pound of beef. Nemlander is hoping to change all of that by creating more efficient production methods and also thinking outside the traditional farm formula — or, more accurately, under it.
The startup’s latest underground location may be unique, but it’s not the only one betting on insects as the next big sustainable protein source — and not just for humans. Israeli startup Flying Spark has partnered with Thai Union, one of the world’s largest seafood companies, to make insect-based animal feed. In France, Ÿnsect raised a whopping €110 million (~$124M USD) to build the world’s biggest insect farm, where bugs will be grown for fish and pet food. Here in the U.S., Chips makes chips and protein powder from crickets, while Aspire acquired cricket protein bar Exo last year.
There’s no question that the edible insect market has a lot of potential. Bugs are quick to grow, don’t require many resources, and take a much smaller toll on the environment than meat. Since demand for protein doesn’t seem like it’ll slow anytime soon, insects could provide a much-needed ethical and sustainable source.
That is, if people can get over the “ick” factor. More than a quarter of the world’s population already chows down on bugs, but Western consumers are hesitant to embrace creepy crawlies on their plates. Companies are hoping to get consumers over their aversion to bugs to blending them into products like protein bars and spices and serving them as a crispy snack at baseball stadiums. Even celebrities are taking up the cause.
EntoCube’s underground farm is certainly an interesting strategy to reduce cricket cost. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if people actually want to eat them.