While farms are no rarity in Iowa, Shelby Smith’s operation stands alone.
Her farm, Gym-N-Eat Crickets, is the state’s first insect farm growing crickets for the purposes of human consumption. Smith founded the Ames-based company in 2018 with a clear vision: “to provide a sustainable source of cricket-based protein that maximizes nutritional value while minimizing the negative environmental impact.”
Smith grew up on a farm and moved to Ireland after college to play basketball. When she moved back to Iowa in 2017, she helped her dad with the fall harvest before deciding she wanted to explore farming something other than corn and soybeans.
So in January 2018, Smith made her first order of 10,000 crickets and started raising them in the break room of her father’s shop. For the first two years, Smith sold exclusively at farmers’ markets. Then she got her processing facility up and running and licensed, which allowed her to sell online and in retailers.
Fast forward three years and Gym-N-Eat Crickets’ products are now sold at several grocers across the Midwest, including more than 40 Hy-Vees in five states.
In addition to her own farm, Smith has enlisted the help of contract growers and currently has four growers around the state.
“I taught each of the growers how to properly raise crickets and brought them in for a full day of immersive training sessions. I provide all the feed, and they provide the equipment and the labor, no different than any of the other dispersed production models like swine and poultry around the state—we’re just farming different livestock,” said Smith. “It’s very comforting for me to be able to walk onto one of my farms and know what standards that those crickets are raised to.”
80% of the world’s countries have insects as part of their diet in one way or another, Smith told Clay & Milk. According to a 2013 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, insects are already a pretty normal food for more than 2 billion people around the world.
Smith says she hopes to expand to more than 100 retail stores in 2021.
If you would like to learn more about or purchase Gym-N-Eat products, click here.