I Ate Bugs and Tolerated It: ECHO Farm, Fort Myers
“Would you like a grilled cricket?” the young woman said while holding a bag of chilled mealworms.
I attended ECHO Farm Day at Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization in North Fort Myers, Fla., yesterday. Founded back in the 1970s, it’s a global Christian organization believing in equipping people with agricultural skills and resources to reduce hunger. [Yes, “teach a man” to fish concept.]
They achieve this through education and training, innovative options and networking. The Global Farm is a location to experiment and determine what will work best in a specific part of the world. The organization does not have missionaries working within the global community but works with missionaries throughout the world.
Although ECHO offers guided farm tours, Farm Day was an opportunity for visitors to wander the farm on their own and explore areas otherwise not accessible during guided tours. The day included tours, demonstrations and tastings, including grilled crickets and mealworms.
I Ate Bugs and Tolerated It
Three women stood behind a table topped with two plastic boxes, one holding crickets and the other mealworms. A hot George Forman Grill sat in the center and its operator wore a plastic glove while wielding a pair of tongs. Next to the grill was a paper bowl filled with Kikkoman Teriyaki sauce, the marinade of choice for crickets and mealworms.
I didn’t jump at the chance of putting insects in my mouth (since mealworm is the larvae of a beetle, I’m counting it as an insect) but images of The Amazing Race flashed in my mind. It’s a show I’d love to compete but haven’t found the right partner.
One brave volunteer stepped up to munch on the high-protein food. Holding out his hand, tongs dropped a cricket fresh off the grill.
Half a dozen of us carefully watched as he consumed the tiny morsel and waited to see a reaction.
“Hmm. Not bad,” he said, “Until you feel the insect guts.”
“Anyone else want a grilled cricket or mealworm?” the woman asked again.
“I will,” thinking what’s the worst that could happen? Sure, the concept seemed gross but people have survived off them while others eat them as a snack.
Tongs dropped a fresh-grilled cricket in my hand and with slight hesitation, I threw it my mouth to quickly chew it. First bite wasn’t bad and the Teriyaki flavor probably hid the true nutty, bug flavor but the second bite grossed me out. The exterior was crunchy and inside was a gooey texture I wasn’t anticipating. I quickly chewed, swallowed and really wished I had a swig of water.
Next up was the mealworm. The thought of eating it slightly disgusted me because they remind me of maggots. But again, I thought of all the people who have eaten then and popped the grilled larvae in my mouth and chewed. Like the cricket, the exterior was crunchy and the center was soft and gooey. Blah!
Without fanfare, I continued to explore ECHO’s research farm and was amazed at the farms’ offerings. Crickets and mealworms are full of protein and traditionally fed to chickens but humans can safely consume them. In addition to insects, the day’s tastings included citrus, fresh-made peanut butter and fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice.
Visiting ECHO Research Farm
During the 90-minute Global Farm Tour, see practical farming techniques used in developing countries and by urban gardeners. Examples include urban gardening, solar food drying, irrigation, and fish farming. Grilled insects are not part of the tour and reserved for special occasions as Farm Day but depending on the season, visitors can taste leaves and berries as part of the guided tour.
November through March, tours are offered Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Saturday the tour is offered only at 10 a.m. April through October, tours are offered Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m.
17391 Durance Road
North Fort Myers, Fla.
Adult admission: $8
Children between 6 and 12: $5
Children under 6 are free.
Seniors, military, AAA members and overseas workers are eligible for a discount.