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Insect farming to reduce waste, create feed for animals, and inspire science literacy

We are bridging the gaps in our food system by tackling the idea that 'insects are pests', and creating the tools for insects as a resource

Photo of Beta Hatch
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

By 2050, demand for animal protein will increase by 70%. This places enormous pressure on the global food system to develop alternative, sustainable sources of food for both animals and humans. In addition, agricultural waste remains a challenge for food systems. In the US alone, between 30-40% of the food supply is wasted, resulting in 133 billion pounds of organic waste, and $161B in lost value. As a natural part of most animal diets, insects are an obvious tool to meet these needs, as they can be produced predictably year-round from organic wastes. However, our agricultural systems have yet to industrialize and scale up the production of insects for nutrition. The Insect Farming Project will develop a modular and mobile insect farm that can be deployed anywhere in the world to transform organic byproducts into animal feed and fertilizer. Humans have been farming insects for millennia (think of silkworms and honeybees). Insects are not only natural cyclers of nutrients, but also the foundation of most food chains. Birds, pigs, fish and even humans eat insects regularly. However, there are few tools to grow bugs at large scale. Insects require a stable environment and clean feedstocks to grow. Our project will design, construct and deploy an ‘insect farm in a box’, allowing a farmer to transform organic wastes into feedstocks for insects, and to grow insects from those feedstocks as a source of protein for fish and livestock. This work will be building bridges between planet and prosperity, to allow the sustainable farming of insects to create new businesses for farmers and their suppliers. We have already built a large-scale insect farm, and with the proposed Insect Farming Project we will miniaturize our technology and simplify our systems to create an off-grid (solar powered) insect farming module and feedstock processing module, capable of supplying a small poultry or fish farm.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our first generation of insect farms will be deployed in rural America, supporting small family farms in Washington and Mississippi. Organic waste goes into the system, but protein rich animal feed and soil-building fertilizer comes out. We plan to build 2 units for American deployment. The second generation of modules will be deployed in Guatemala as a test case. Guatemala is a rich agricultural country, with a history of raising insects for biocontrol. It produces 10,000 cubic tons of waste of which more than 75% is compostable. We plan to build and deploy one insect farm for this second phase of the project, and add stability to rural communities that depend on subsistence agriculture and who are frequently displaced by natural disasters. Ultimately, this project will result in the creation of a modular insect farm that could be deployed worldwide in rural or urban environments to support thousands of small farms.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Feeding 9 billion people will require incredible innovations to grow twice as much protein as we do today. Beta Hatch is industrializing the production of insects as a sustainable protein for animal feed. Our insect-rearing technology converts organic waste directly into high-value proteins, oils, and nutrients for agriculture. We have a strong technical team of experts that includes 4 PhDs in entomology and engineering. Our company has secured over $575k in grants from the NSF and other agencies, and we have demonstrated excellence in R&D projects commercializing insect technology. With a recent $2.1M Series Seed round, we have raised the capital to expand our capacity and demonstrate our technology at large scale. Beta Hatch has been focused on low-cost insect rearing systems suitable for distribution in low-resource settings in rural America; we are now excited to explore the development of systems for emerging economies, and to make our systems more mobile.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Beta Hatch is industrializing insect production for agriculture. We farm bugs better than anyone. http://betahatch.com

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered company.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Beta Hatch was started by a desire to see insects reach their full potential in our food systems. It was shocking to learn that 1/3rd of the crops we grow go to feed animals- and yet, insects, the very food those animals love to eat, are not being grown at all. The Insect Farming Project is an opportunity to bring insect farms to global communities, and to the farmers who need this technology most.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Climate change is affecting all communities on our planet, with new solutions needed to address unpredictability in agriculture. Prosperity is challenging in agriculture, which is extremely seasonal. Insect farming is a predictable and year-round income generating activity that our project enables.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We will engage the USDA in our projects, working with them in Mississippi and in Guatemala for deployments. Currently we engage the USDA as collaborative research partners on insect farming projects. We will also engage our corporate partners and sponsors in agriculture to bridge our solution with local markets and communities. For example, one of our partners already works in Guatemala enhancing farms with vermicompost [http://byoearth.com]- we will work with BYOEarth and other entrepreneurs to ensure the success of our projects in each community.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

All three of our communities in eastern Washington, the Mississippi delta, and Guatemalan countryside have rich agricultural economies. There is an abundance of agricultural labor, but a need for stable year-round employment in each of these regions. We are excited to build more community around insects; for example in our hometown of Seattle, the Mariner's serve crickets at ballgames, Microsoft cafeteria waste feeds black soldier flies, and Beta Hatch frass fertilizes gardens.

Geographic Focus

Rural USA and Guatemala is where we plan to deploy our test projects, but our idea has global scope.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

We require 36 months to implement the project- 1 year for design and construction, 1 year for implementation in the USA, and 1 year for implementation in Guatemala.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

31 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Danielle Bradford
Team

This proposal is well-thought out and I'm excited to see the impact your team has on our world. For the beta communities (US and Guatemala), will the insect feed be provided wholly from the participating farm's organic wastes, or is there hope to engage local communities to contribute their own as well?

Also I'd love to find out more about your vision to "inspire science literacy". What shape will that take during the initial test projects?

Thanks!

Photo of Vidhya Shanker
Team

This is great--thanks! Can you shed light on how this intersects with/ applies to permaculture more specifically? At Ta-Valema Permaculture Farm & Learning Lab, we are using some crops to protect other crops from pests, but our team is mostly in Sierra Leone now and that is not my area of expertise. We have also been considering bee-keeping and honey-production as one of our social enterprises. Perhaps there is room for collaboration--certainly conversation.

Photo of Tabi Ewing
Team

Hi Vindhya, we are establishing an enterprise network of honey producers in order for social entrepreneurs working with bees and honey production to connect and share techniques, products and partner in project proposals - activity in the honey network is growing and we recently had an informative video being shared from Italy to Ghana (which is one of the videos on our idea page). Perhaps there is opportunity to collaborate with the team in Sierra Leone.

Photo of Beta Hatch
Team

I think it would be great to combine our efforts with existing permaculture, pollinator and biodiversity work to amplify the message. Happy to chat about collaborations!

Photo of Willoughby Eunice
Team

Hello Beta Hatch. I love your project but has the tolerance level been checked out? Its good to be more health conscious of recycling processes.

Learning more from your update as our organization is also currently researching for an alternative source of protein supplement apart from fish which is depleting in the seas and oceans.

Photo of Beta Hatch
Team

Thanks Willoughby for your comment!

Do you mean the general approval of insects when you're talking about tolerance level, or do you mean the tolerance level for heavy metals or other contaminants? We currently use high quality inputs for our process, and are constantly monitoring to make sure no toxins or contaminants are in our products, so there are no concerns about the product being unsafe.

As for the general support and approval of insects, we have found that communities really understand the intutive value of insects in our food systems- after all, bugs are the basis of most food chains! We have no problem convincing birds or fish that insects are delicious.

Photo of Bruno Benetti
Team

Great idea! Are soldier flies an option? What is the policy in the US regarding insect farming for animal consumption?

thank you, best!

Bruno

Photo of Beta Hatch
Team

Hi Bruno!

We are focused on making our first insect, the mealworm, as successful as possible. However, all of our systems are being designed with other species in mind - the principles of farming insects are similar across species. First, control the diets they are eating. Second, control the environment where they grow. Finally, separate the insects from their frass and uneaten food, and process those products for customers. We have an active collaboration with experts in Texas to help bridge our technology to black soldier fly as well.

As for insects directly for human consumption, I'd encourage you try some of the products out there! Exo, Chapul, Chirps and Bitty are just a few of the brands being developed with insects as part of their products. These companies are making rapid progress, with a lot of nutritious and great tasting products on shelves around the country. So bug appetit!

Photo of Dima Boulad
Team

Congrats Beta Hatch on submitting such a great application. You position the problem nicely and offer the unique value of your solution on a large scale. I was wondering if you could elaborate a bit more on the human level, and work that will happen with the communities. How will you approach communities so they can adopt Beta Hatch? How can this work with individuals and community leaders contribute to a peaceful and prosperous planet?
Your idea reminded me on this one as well: Grasshoppers as food to promote peace in the Middle East  by Dror Tamir 
You guys might want to exchange!

Photo of Dror Tamir
Team

Thank you Dima Boulad !

Photo of Beta Hatch
Team

Hi Dror- your project looks really exciting! I love that you are trying to use insects to build community and bridge differences in your region. This technology is such a great opportunity to make our food systems more secure, and to create important jobs.

I think in the first wave of insect farming, we need to work within our existing network and connections to build strong relationships between our companies and communities. The success in early demonstration projects is key for longterm success of the industry. At Beta Hatch we engage the community with education, public events, and through media. Dror Tamir , how have you approached site selection and community engagement?

Photo of Travis Ning
Team

Wow- this is a really cool idea. I live in Guatemala and can see how this could be a great innovation. I assume that farmers here would cultivate insects primarily to feed livestock? I wonder how you would go about getting early-adopters to try this method versus the traditional corn/free-range livestock feeding that is the present norm. Have you seen rural farmers adopt this type of innovation elsewhere? What is it about this change that entices them to try it?

Photo of Beta Hatch
Team

These are some great questions! We are always learning more about the farmers we work with, and I think around the world farmers are looking to reduce their labor and their costs of production. This type of innovation has not yet been adopted on large scale- it's part of the reason we think this project is a great fit for the audacious, big picture goals of the challenge. There are a few big reasons that farmers should be excited about this new technology: 1) higher quality nutrition for their animals, with a potential to reduce costs, 2) more consistent year-round access to fresh protein ingredients, and 3) an opportunity to convert wastes into something valuable.

Photo of Jaci Braga
Team

Very intriguing idea! I would definitely try this if I had chickens or a fish farm. However, when you say "livestock" this would not work with cows or reducing the impact of the beef industry on the planet because they are normally herbivores, correct?

Photo of Beta Hatch
Team

Our goal is not directly to feed cattle, who have a lot of other great options for feed because they are ruminants. However, cows still need protein and are probably eating some insects when they graze, so there isn't any specific reason you couldn't use them as part of a feed for cattle. But you're correct- we are focused on feeding chickens and fish.

Photo of Chang Lee
Team

This is fascinating. I have personal experience with black soldier fly larvae that I grew for my chickens at home. They reproduced at an unbelievable rate and all I had to "feed" them was every day kitchen scraps, plantain peels, etc. My chickens were happy and I spent less money on feed. The challenge, I would suppose, is building the bridge between knowledge and practice. Some cultures are more reluctant to try new methods of doing what they have done for generations. At least that's the kind of challenge we often face in Haiti. --(Joseph Bataille, World Relief Haiti)

Photo of Beta Hatch
Team

Home grown systems are great for dealing with kitchen waste! Did you also grow the adults? They can sometimes be tricky to get to reproduce consistently.

Photo of Luz Gallo
Team

Another insect idea that makes me really curious!
Beta Hatch , Have you consider to implement your idea or to take advantage from the knowledge in this subject in countries were insect eating is more common?
Also, check this idea: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/bridgebuilder2/ideas/grasshoppers-as-food-to-promote-peace-in-the-middle-east/comments
May be you two can collaborate!

Photo of Tabi Ewing
Team

Hi Beta Hatch!
Sounds like a fantastic replicable model, and a great opportunity to use the system for community resilience and increased prosperity.
We'd be interested to connect and try adding value to the Beta Hatch model through the online platform OASIIS.
All the best!

Photo of Beta Hatch
Team

Can you share more about your OASIIS model? We are always looking to improve what we are working on. What does it do?

Photo of Tabi Ewing
Team

Via OASIIS we aim to direct social investment to the social entrepreneurs who are making positive contributions to sustainable development, in order to accelerate the transition to an inclusive economy and a healthy relationship between prosperity, planet and people.
OASIIS is an impact evaluation tool as well as a funnel for social investment and new markets - businesses register, and can connect and join networks, access learning resources, see their socio-economic footprint and in time, be connected with social investors. We are working on the new specification of OASIIS at the moment. OpenIDEO has been a great way to not only seek funding but to connect with orgs like Beta Hatch!
We published a report in March which gives a good summary of our approach and some social entrepreneurs we work with!

Please check out our OASIIS Report either attached to our Idea (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/bridgebuilder2/review/oasiis-bridging-a-network-of-global-citizens-for-a-new-economy/comments#comments-section) or our website: http://social-capital.net/assist-social-capital_CIC/oasiis-biennial-report-2018-launch/

Photo of Kevin Adair
Team

Hi, I'm interested in your project. We have similar interest in bringing insect farming to Haiti. We should network. All the best!

Photo of Beta Hatch
Team

We would love to collaborate on bringing our insect farming modules to Haiti. The units we are developing should be suitable for deployment anywhere.

Photo of Kevin Adair
Team

Great. We are specifically interested in raising Black Soldier Fly larvae. Do you have experience with that?

Photo of Beta Hatch
Team

We are starting to work also with black soldier fly. This project will likely involve both species to some extent- there are many commonalities to rearing mealworms and black soldier flies. Is your focus more on waste management, or on feed production?

Photo of Kevin Adair
Team

Both sectors, specifically creating animal feed, which is in great need in Haiti.

Photo of abubakar Mbarak
Team

wow amazing
check out http://aspirefg.com/
they do the same.
also Kevin Adair  this could be of interest to you.

Photo of Kevin Adair
Team

Thanks! That's awesome.

Photo of Beta Hatch
Team

We're well aware of Aspire's awesome programs! We are working to complement their mission- we work with different species that are best for recycling organics or feeding animals (they focus more on feeding humans directly with insects). One of the collaborators we'd like to bring on board!

Photo of Zhang
Team

A really great work! This reminds me of a historical Chinese industry - the silk industry. Chinese people grow silkworms. The cocoon can be used to make silk and the manure can be used to feed fish. At last, there are no additional wastes produced. so I think there are similarities. However, to our knowledge, there is no other similar projects in China. I guess that your Insect Farming project has huge potential for application in China considering the enormous farmers in China. But the cost may be a problem. so I wonder the cost an Insect Farming Modular requires.

Photo of Beta Hatch
Team

Our founder, Virginia Emery, actually just got back from a trip to China. We got a chance to visit some insect farms there, and to learn about the industry which is actually quite active in that country. My guess is that there are over a hundred operations growing mealworms and black soldier flies, many of them exporting their product to western countries as speciality bird food. I think the project we are proposing would certainly work in China, and cost is a major consideration of any facility we design. The goal is that this style of modular unit can be deployed for less than $50k, but we still need to design the system to understand how expensive it would be.