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    “[Crickets are] totally an inoffensive texture. It’s light and crispy versus that crunchy gooey that everyone was expecting,” Buley says, telling me how Odd Duck often fries its crickets and tosses them with an in-house blend of spices called Nacho Spice.

    Aaron Robinson/CNET

    This is mostly old news for the pro-bug crowd.

    We crunch, chew, swallow and feel around our teeth for bug parts that get left behind. The whole-roasted crickets — which come in flavors like Totally Taco, spicy hot, sea salt and vinegar — are small, brown and give off a vaguely malty smell and taste that seeps through every seasoning. The taste test moves on from single crickets to bugs straight from the pouch, a few at a time. But quickly, we’re erupting in nervous laughter. At first, silence — occasionally punctuated by the barely audible crunch of bugs meeting teeth.

    They’re now the Aspire Food Group, based in Austin, Texas. But don’t expect to find bucolic fields and non-hipster flannel at Aspire’s farm. It’s actually a 25,000-square-foot building designed for cricket-raising, in a business park that’s about a 10-minute drive from downtown. Ashour’s team won the Hult Prize and its $1 million purse with their vision of using data, robotics and automation to build a cricket farm.

    It also wants to improve the film so it can host larger plants such as trees.
    Mebiol plans to set up a model film farm at JA Miyagi, an agricultural cooperative in part of Japan hit by the March 11 quake and tsunamis.

    Researchers hope to do the same with trees. id=”article-body” class=”row” section=”article-body” data-component=”trackCWV”>

    These greens were grown on a film tens of microns thick.
    Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

    An impermeable ground film prevents any soil contaminants from reaching the plants, so it can be used anywhere. Mori and collaborators even grew tomatoes in the desert of Dubai using the films.

    That’s where munching a bunch of beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms and other bugs comes in. The UN expects the global population to grow by 2 billion people in the next 30 years, reaching 9.8 billion by 2050 — likely doubling the world’s demand for meat. We might have to get used to the idea. Insects grow faster and require fewer resources than livestock do, while emitting fewer greenhouse gasses.

    Chief technology officer Michael Hall says all that data gets fed into an algorithm that figures out optimal factors for things like time and temperature, so Aspire can develop best practices for cricket growing. The big idea is specificity — like finding the ideal habitat conditions for a cricket at 3 p.m.

    Dos Mundos Creative

    “That’s where a lot of data science and a lot of deep learning and machine learning stuff starts to happen,” Ashour tells me.

    Japan’s Mebiol is growing a Garden of Eden of sorts on its thin hydro-membranes, which are only microns thick.
    Who needs soil when you can grow crops on film?

    Strawberries from hydrogel, anyone?
    Mebiol

    The greens can grow considerably if liquid nutrients are given to them from above and below, akar melon through the film, according to Yuichi Mori of Mebiol and Waseda University.

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