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This Ames startup is farming crickets for human consumption

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.

Gym-N-Eat Crickets offers three different types of products—roasted crickets, nutrient bars, and cricket powder. All the products are handmade and packaged in a fully licensed food processing facility in Collins, Iowa.

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.

This Ames startup is farming crickets for human consumption | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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