Eating a bowl full of chickpeas, raisins, and mealworms might be strange to some people but for Eric Zay, it's just an everyday snack.
The science teacher at Success Virtual Learning Center in Lansing is an insect farmer. He started his insect farm about three years ago breeding beetles.
"I was trying to put together a green science club for students to work with science concepts and understand the environmental impact of things they do and how important that is and is becoming," Zay said.
He says he was looking for ideas that students could do in their own homes or neighborhoods that would help the environment and also help with food stability. He came across some videos on YouTube on how to cultivate insects and replace proteins for some meals and got curious.
There are more than 1,900 edible insects, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
"I started looking at ways to do that in a more kind of a DIY fashion and I was surprised how easy it was," Zay said. "It was pretty obvious that if I was going to try and convince students that maybe this was a good idea for them to do I should try it myself, and it just sort of went from there."
Just like any farmer, Zay harvests the insects, but he does it in a small room in his house. He says he does this every two weeks.
"It's done in a tower of 12 drawers, and one drawer is full of adult beetles. And in that drawer, the adult beetles will mate and lay eggs for a period of about two weeks. Then I move the beetles up to the next drawer I harvest what was in that drawer then move the beetles into that one then it goes through that cycle," Zay said.
He says it could take a few months to get to the point where the mealworms are large enough to be harvest.
Zay now has eight towers and ninety-six drawers altogether. And has moved on to taking the mealworms the beetles produce and turning them into full-blown meals.
"Part of living it, you know, is learning how to harvest them how to cook them, you know, how to incorporate them in your own diet," Zay said.
He says the mealworms that he grows and harvest actually have more calcium than milk, are very high in zinc, and they're classified as a superfood. He's also been able to lose weight while incorporating them into his diet and save money.
So what do these insects taste like and are they safe for you to eat?
"I prefer them roasted and really that way, if anything they taste kind of like peanuts," Zay said. "As long as they're cooked, you know they're perfectly safe, and for the most part, they take on kind of whatever season you put them with."
And Zay has been able to try a couple of his homemade recipes including burgers, mealworm pizza, and a trail mix he calls mealie-mix.
"I've made soups out of them. You put them in stir fry," Zay said. "I have made flour out of my mealworms, and you can buy flour that's made from mealworms online."
He says one of the common misconceptions about eating insects is that people think of bugs as a vector for disease. But as long as they have been farmed for human consumption it's safe.
"It's easy, very educational, you know, learn a lot doing it certainly I have I think I've become a better science teacher for it. And, you know, Don't knock it until you tried it," Zay said
He's hoping that now that covid restrictions are being lifted and students are able to come back to the center that he can get his green science club up and running. It will also teach students about biology, earth science, and educate them on the types of careers available in the science field.
If you would like to know more about insect farming you can reach out to Zay through his Facebook group.
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