EBF: Can you start by telling us a little bit about what you guys do? What are Livin Farms all about?
Katharina: It all started when I left my little home village on the border between Austria and Hungary to venture into the world as an industrial designer. I ended up in Hong Kong where I realized that most of the food there was imported and almost no one knew where it came from. That’s why I started to investigate the current food system and looked into alternatives. Insects were one of the future proteins that were very promising and perfect to create a solution for people to grow their food independently at home.
The first project and design was called “Farm432” and was a design rearing the black soldier fly larvae. This took me all around the world, for example working on insect breeding in Africa and Hawaii. After more prototyping and a Beta manufacturing trial for a research institute in Malaysia earlier this year I founded a new company, Livin Farms, dedicated only to growing edible insects. My long time friend and design partner Julia Kaisinger joined the team as a co-founder permanently and the redesign and development of the Hive followed. Now we, Livin Farms, are excited to manufacture it and carry on with our mission to bring insects into everyone’s homes!
Your current project has had huge success on Kickstarter so far, having just hit your £100,000 goal and now aiming for your $125,000 stretch goal. Tell us about the project.
We are super excited about hitting our goal and very grateful to the enthusiasm of our backers! The Livin Farms Hive is the world’s first desktop hive for edible insects. It lets you grow healthy and sustainable food in the form of insects in your home! With our beautiful and functional desktop hive for edible insects you can grow 200-500 g of protein-rich super food mealworms! This replaces about the same amount of protein that you would otherwise consume in 500g of meat, animal products or other protein foods. Feed your mealworms sustainably on vegetable scraps from your kitchen and always know 100% what you eat.
What will you do with the extra funding if you hit this next goal?
There have unfortunately been quite a few edible insect companies fail to hit their crowdfunding goals over the last year or so. Other than your obviously awesome idea, what do you think the recipe is for a successful crowdfunding campaign?
You know we’re also into raising mealworms and we’ve found that optimising the farming system can be a really tricky process. What did you find to be the trickiest part of the design process and how did you get round it?
The trickiest part is surely to make the Hive very functional and easy to use for humans while being economic and good as a living space for the mealworms too! There is no other way to solve it than doing lots and lots of prototyping and testing!
And what’s been the most rewarding part of the whole process?
To see and hear about the excitement of our backers and other people whom we tell about the project! It makes our heart beats faster to hear that people are becoming advocates of the Hive and tell so many others about it 🙂 There is a lot of genuine interest and we are amazed by the enthusiasm and also the good ideas that people in our backer community come up with!
What about public perception of the idea and of entomophagy in general? How have people you’ve met reacted so far?
Overall, very positively! There is an ick factor to overcome with many, but very often it is solved after the first bite and seeing others doing it too! Now there is another challenge of making people eat it on a daily basis, something that we aim to achieve with the Hive!
You’ve also been doing some work in Africa. Have responses from people there been any different from those of Westerners?
Insects are eaten in Africa, however in Uganda, where we worked, it is mainly bush crickets, locusts and ants. So people still have to overcome prejudices in order to eat different species. It is comparable to certain types of meat that are preferred or regarded as not good as a food in different cultures.
For example, in certain cultures lamb is eaten over pork or beef while as in Central Europe we do not have a particular taste for it. The same happens with different types of edible insects in different parts of the world. Domestication of edible insects is therefore an interesting field: we need to find a cultural balance and find out which insects work for rearing in masses and which are actually adopted by the people as a food source.
What’s your hope for the Hive over the next couple of years?
The Hive is meant as a farm that, over the next year, hopefully becomes more and more normal to have in your home. We hope that many more people, also after our campaign has ended, will start farming insects as a food in their homes and kickstart this new food culture. We will help with a platform, recipes and advocacy. There is certainly a big educational value in the farm and our befriended non-profits will go into schools with it. Our kids will have a different opinion on edible insects already for sure.
So you’ve done black soldier flies, and now mealworms. Are there any more insects you plan to farm?
We are excited about exploring other species. For now however, mealworms are our main focus and we are still running our black soldier fly farms too.
What would you say is next for Livin Farms?
After the end of the campaign, our year will be spent making the best product possible, delivering our product on time, and building a great online resource platform for edible insect culture 🙂