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Moorhead cricket farm pivots to selling live insects for reptile food, bait

Dead or alive, crickets are in big demand these days. After Pat and Madeline Reviers' plan to raise crickets for high-protein, nutrient-packed cricket flour was temporarily stalled, they've pivoted to sell live crickets. Who will want them? According to Pat, everyone from gecko owners who are facing a nationwide feeder-insect shortage to anglers angling for a highly effective bait.

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Pat Revier (left) and his nephew Thomas Theilen stand before the three towering wooden shelves that hold crickets of varying ages. Each bin is marked by birthdate so they can track where the insects are in their life cycle. Cricket farming may involve tiny livestock, but it requires lots of hands-on labor and oversight. By TAMMY SWIFT / The Forum

MOORHEAD, Minn. — Inside the rented garage of an unremarkable concrete-block building in a Moorhead industrial park, summer never ends.

The interior temperature hovers at 80 degrees , even as piercing winds blow outside. The air smells earthy, organic and, to the untrained nostril, unidentifiable. (Spoiler alert: It's cricket droppings.) And a symphony of male crickets — all sounding like tiny, off-key violins — keep creak, creak, creaking in their hopeful efforts to attract a willing mate.

Welcome to Revier Family Farms.

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Here, Pat Revier and his nephew, Thomas Theilen, run what is arguably the community’s first and only cricket farm. Their days are filled with incubating, feeding, watering, packaging and shipping European household crickets , ranging from tiny “pinhead” babies to plump and stately adults.

Last February, Pat and his wife, Madeline, first shared plans to raise crickets to be dried and ground into a cricket “flour.” The high-protein, nutrient-packed flour is gaining popularity among high-performance athletes and some customers with gluten allergies.

Just 10 months later, the Reviers’ operation has grown to the equivalent of a bug bonanza farm, with over 1 million jumping Jiminies chirping, eating, mating and laying eggs in the 300 or so storage bins stacked atop three towering rows of wooden shelves.

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The family pet, "Tammy," looks on with interest as Pat Revier shows off a batch of his wife's popular chocolate chip cookies. Madeline Revier replaced about 1/3 cup of the flour in the recipe with high-protein cricket flour with no discernable difference in taste, appearance or texture. TAMMY SWIFT / The Forum

Wanted, dead or alive: crickets

News of the Reviers’ new venture had already brought in pre-orders for cricket flour.

But for them, the pandemic has been a double-edged sword, Pat says. On the one hand, it created the ideal opportunity for them to quit their jobs and set up a cricketopia. But on the other, the drying equipment needed to dehydrate crickets comes from China, which is already bogged down by material shortages and transportation jams.

The Reviers want a specific type of insect-dryer that’s designed for high-speed results and smaller operations. They’ve now found a manufacturer in Canada to build a small-scale “microwave dryer” for them. In fact, cricket processing has grown so popular lately that the Canadian company told the Reviers they had received multiple requests recently to manufacture smaller dryers.

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The wait, they hope, will be worth it. The huge ovens that bigger companies use to dehydrate crickets can take 5-plus hours to complete the process. But a microwave dryer takes less space and can dehydrate a veritable heap of hoppers in 15 to 20 minutes. “We don’t have many people, so we have to use something that saves as much time as possible,” Pat says.

Although their new manufacturer is closer to home, it could take many months to build the specialized equipment. “We’ve got over a thousand pounds of crickets in the freezer right now that we can’t do anything with,” Pat says.

Leaping lunch for lizards

For now, the Reviers have pivoted by selling live crickets — either as live food for pet reptiles or as bait for fishermen. Pet geckos, bearded dragons, iguanas and axolotls are just a few of the pets that love a good cricket casserole.

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Pat Revier shows off one of the European household crickets from Revier Family Farms. By TAMMY SWIFT / The Forum

“We just kind of stumbled into this,” Pat says. “We had no intention of selling them live. But we had people coming to us because there’s a nationwide cricket and other feeder insect shortage. Pet stores are always running short.”

Also, cricket farms often won’t ship crickets to Upper Midwest reptile-owners for fear they’ll freeze.

The Reviers are hoping to fill that niche and ship their crickets across the Upper Midwest.

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So how do they prepare their crickets for winter travel? Rather than invest in tiny earmuffs, the Reviers have perfected their packaging to include longer-lasting heat packs and ample room for air circulation.

In fact, the Reviers have received rave reviews from pleased customers about the healthy hop in their hoppers.

“If they have enough ventilation, space, food and water, they will stay healthy,” Pat says.

Their crickets are fed a carefully balanced diet of soy, corn, wheat, blood meal, bone meal, brewer’s yeast and powdered milk, Pat says. It’s designed to not only raise chipper chirpers, but to also create a healthy food source for the reptiles who eat them. “This is one of the things that Madeline researched extensively,” Pat says.

Their chirpy merch is also priced to move: A box of 100 live adults sells for $9, which is significantly below most retail prices. Pat estimates they fill about 10 orders per week, but have capacity to fill many more.

Initially, the couple relied on word-of-mouth for their sales, but plan to grow name recognition and increase revenue via a new website with online store, created by Pat’s brother-in-law, Shawn Hagen of Simple Website Creations.

Yet another family member is lending them marketing expertise: Mike Brevik of CyberDogz , who is married to Pat’s niece, has connected them to a Google Ads expert who is helping develop an online strategy to drive more traffic to their site.

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Pat Revier with one of the cricket bins. Each bin contains stacks of egg cartons, where the crickets like to retreat to hide. Crickets are actually territorial creatures: The males will fight if they don't have enough personal space. They also enjoy munching on the fibrous material of recycled egg cartons. By TAMMY SWIFT / The Forum

Settling the bait debate

In efforts to create another revenue stream, Pat is working with a local fishing guide to see if they can popularize the concept of using crickets as bait for winter fishing.

One reservation among bait sellers is that crickets are great for catching crappies and other panfish in summer, but aren’t something fish would naturally consume in the winter.

But Pat points out that wax worms are consistently used for wintertime fishing, even though they wouldn’t be naturally available to fish when the coldest season hits.

Now the Reviers are waiting with baited breath to see how the guide's wintertime fishing with crickets turns out. Pat says he would love to prove first hand that fish crave crickets year round, but he’s been too busy caring for and corralling the jumpy critters.

“I haven’t had a whole lot of time to go fishing lately,” he says, wryly.

Orders can be placed through https://revierfamilyfarms.com/ or @revierfamilyfarms on Facebook.

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The storage space where the Reviers keep their crickets is kept at a balmy 80 degrees (or higher) in the wintertime. If temperatures get too cold, the insects won't reproduce as much. By TAMMY SWIFT / The Forum

Related Topics: SMALL BUSINESSMOORHEAD
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