January 22, 2019

Cricket farm catches investment capital

Flourish owner, Steve Swanson, checks on his maturing crickets at Friday’s open house.

Edible insect operation expands in Williston

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Steve and Jen Swanson came up short in their bid to win last year’s Launch VT business pitch competition. But they still left with the event’s biggest prize.

After their presentation, one of Vermont’s most famous serial entrepreneurs, Alan Newman, formerly of Seventh Generation, Gardner’s Supply and Magic Hat Brewery, approached the Williston couple and said: “I’d like to talk.”

The Swansons had been raising crickets in their basement on South Road for over a year under the business name Tomorrow’s Harvest. The company intended to introduce people to the value of crickets as cuisine, a sustainable way to add protein to your diet and help tackle issues of hunger and malnutrition.

“It’s amazing to have someone with Alan’s background say he is interested, but I was under no illusion that he was going to invest,” Steve Swanson said.

Newman’s initial proposition led to several months of discussions, incorporating a former colleague from Seventh Generation and Magic Hat, Steve Hood, and several other investors. The back-and-forth led to a $600,000 infusion of investment capital in January, enabling the Swansons to move the farm out of their home and into a 2,500-square-foot facility in Williston’s industrial zone (Avenue D) that can house up to 4 million crickets.

The company has rebranded as Flourish Farm, Newman is now board chairman and Hood is company president. The farm held an open house Saturday where several newcomers to the idea of eating crickets tried the company’s protein powder in smoothies and sampled its two flavors of whole roasted crickets.

Consumers can take an “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” approach with the cricket powder, Swanson said, adding it to smoothies and baked snacks for a nutritional boost. Whole roasted crickets, however, are eaten in full view, along the lines of nuts.

Feeding time for the crickets at Flourish’s open house on Friday

The company also plans to market cricket protein for animal consumption and cricket excrement as soil fertilizer. Crickets can also be used to process food waste, Swanson said.

Products will be sold online and in a retail space at the Avenue D facility.

“I believe we have the right combination of passionate, enthusiastic entrepreneurs in Steve and Jen combined with the obvious — to us at least — emerging trend of cricket protein as the most sensible way to help feed the growing population of the U.S. and the world,” Newman said.

Swanson’s interest in crickets as food came after he stumbled on a 2013 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations titled “Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security.”

Observer photo by Al Frey
Flourish owner Steve Swanson (right) talks with Lou Danielczyk about the benefits of cricket protein at Saturday’s open house.

The report outlines the need to ramp up worldwide food production to meet the demands of population growth and food insecurity.

“We need to find new ways of growing food,” the report concludes, highlighting the array of insects eaten around the world while acknowledging “a degree of distaste” for insect consumption in some societies.

Swanson views crickets as “a gateway bug,” and said Flourish Farm plans to eventually add other edible insects to its product line.

“It’s not just crickets,” he said. “It’s a whole new culinary world we will be able to dive into, which I’m really excited about.”

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