For most people, opening a drawer in their kitchen to find it writhing with creepy crawlies would be the stuff of nightmares. For the team at Livin Farms, however, it means dinner. The outfit has created a kitchen-top hive in which users can breed mealworms for eating.
Although the thought of eating mealworms may not appeal to everyone, they are touted as a healthy and sustainable foodstuff. They're said to pack a similar protein content to beef, the amino-acid profile of tofu and plenty of vitamins and enzymes. They're also easily farmed and have the potential to help meet the planet's growing demand for food.
The benefits of insects as a foodstuff is not lost on Livin Farms CEO Katharina Unger, who previously developed the Farm 432 for those very reasons. The Farm 432 was designed for users to breed flies and to harvest their larva as an edible protein source.
The Livin Farms Hive is a 61 x 30.5 x 40-cm ( 24 x 12 x 15.7-in) tower split into a number of levels. It is designed to provide the ideal microclimate of around 28° C (82° F) and around 60 percent air humidity for mealworms to develop and grow, using mains power, sensors and heating to do so.
To begin with, mealworm pupae are put into the top level of the hive (the "beetle tray") where they hatch into beetles. The beetles then mate and lay eggs, which are small enough to fall through a gauze into the layer below. The eggs hatch into teeny mealworms, which are then fed and grown over the course of several weeks, before being harvested to eat.
The mealworms can be fed on scraps from the user's kitchen, including fruit and veg like onions, carrots, apples, potatoes, tomatoes and roots, as well as grains, such as oats, or bread. Each week, the user opens the louvers of each level subsequent to the beetle tray and the mealworms drop down to the level below. There are six of these levels, so the mealworms are matured in these drawers for six weeks, after which they are dropped into a separation area.
Here, they land on the first of two vibrating gauzes. This will retain any pupae that can be put back onto the top of the hive, while the mealworms and the remaining mixture of food and waste will drop through to the next, finer gauze. The mealworms will then ultimately wriggle off the side and fall into the harvest tray. Large waste will remain on the gauze for disposal while fine dirt will fall into a bucket and can be used as plant fertilizer.
Once in the harvest tray, the mature mealworms are 3-cm (1.2-in) long and are cooled to stop any more from developing into pupae. From here, they can be transferred into the freezer, which will kill them humanely and keep them ready for use as ingredients. The whole cycle takes 8-9 weeks and up to 500 g (17.6 oz), or 3-4 mixed meals, of mealworms can be harvested per week.
According to Livin Farms, the taste of mealworms is quite neutral with a slight nutty flavor. They are able to be used in a variety of ways, such as for crispy snack or as a burger patty. An accompanying online platform provides recipes, processing suggestions, setup guidance, tips and help, as well as providing a place for users to share their experiences.
A Kickstarter campaign is underway for the Livin Farms Hive. At the time of writing, pledge levels start at US$449. Assuming all goes to plan with the campaign and roll-out, shipping is estimated to start in November 2016.
The video below is the Kickstarter pitch for the Livin Farms Hive.