Food takes first prize at the Berkshire Show

Science engagement officer, Robyn Hopcroft, gives a recap of a busy weekend for The MERL at the Royal County of Berkshire Show. Photography by Anna Bruce for First Food Residency.

I don’t think there’s anything quite like the Royal Berkshire Show. It’s a weird and wonderful melting pot of British culture. In amongst dancing sheep, pygmy goat competitions, Beatles-themed flower arrangements and wellies galore, The MERL was excited to take part in the University of Reading’s ‘Food Chain and Health’ stand.

Images of prize winning cattle and stunt motorcycles at the Royal Berkshire Show 2016. Copyright Anna Bruce Photography for the First Food Residency.

So much to see at the Berkshire Show.

Stunt Motorcycles

A large group of museum staff and volunteers worked across the weekend, having valuable conversations with show-goers about food and nutrition and raising awareness of The MERL and its upcoming reopening. We’re proud to have played an important role at the University’s stand, which was awarded ‘Best Trade Exhibit’ and ‘Best Large Trade Stand’.

University of Reading: Image of trophy and award given to University or Reading Stand at the 2016 Berkshire Show. Copyright Anna Bruce for First Food Residency.

University of Reading: Berkshire Show Champions! © Anna Bruce Photography for the First Food Residency.

From soil detective work, to cheese making and taste perception experiments, the university was keen to get people talking and thinking about the food chain and health by encouraging them to get involved with a variety of fun activities. To complement the university’s dairy nutrition research, The MERL had a great time helping children to design and make their own milk cartons. We also enjoyed running activities exploring themes from The Crunch – getting people talking about the importance of fibre in our diets, and the future of food. From this, we learned that most people aren’t great at working out which foods are a good source of dietary fibre, but they are very open to snacking on insects and to talking about how we might feed a growing population. One of the most rewarding aspects of the weekend was the high quality of conversations that were had about food.

An image of our edible insects area at the Show. Copyright Anna Bruce for First Food Residency.

Having a chat about edible insects and the future of food. © Anna Bruce Photography for the First Food Residency.

Greer Pester, a visual artist living between Mexico and Glasgow, developed a wonderful piece of food art throughout the weekend which proved to be one of the most engaging aspects of the stand. The work served to draw attention to the future of food and examined the uses, properties and history of amaranth.

Greer has been working with First Food Residency – an artist-led organisation focused on opening up debate about food through creative engagement with a variety of audiences. First Food Residency is currently actively involved in various projects at the university, and is even growing and using a beautiful crop of amaranth in one of The MERL’s experimental garden beds.

Image of child handling amaranth (A.K.A. 'love lies bleeding') at the Show. Copyright Anna Bruce for First Food Residency.

Getting up close and personal with amaranth (A.K.A. ‘love lies bleeding’). © Anna Bruce Photography for the First Food Residency.

It was fascinating to hear about how amaranth – also known as ‘love lies bleeding’ – was once a staple in the Aztec diet, but was banned by the Spanish conquistadors for its use in rituals, where sculptures were made from popped amaranth seeds, human sacrificial blood and honey. The subsequent decline in popularity of amaranth and its recent resurgence as a nutrition-packed ‘superfood’ demonstrates how our eating habits change over time and will continue to evolve in the future.

Drawing inspiration from amaranth’s rich history, Greer sculpted an Aztec-style pyramid from popped amaranth seeds, which worked as a sort of altar to food. Visitors were invited to make their own contributions in the form of paper offerings which were pinned to the pyramid. In this way, people of all ages and backgrounds were able to share their thoughts, wishes and pledges centred on food, and to share their favourite foods worthy of an altar.

Image of Greer Pester working on the amaranth pyramid sculpture at the start of the day. Copyright Anna Bruce Photography for the First Food Residency.

Greer at work. © Anna Bruce Photography for the First Food Residency.

Image of a child pinning a paper offering to the amaranth sculpture. Copyright Anna Bruce Photography for The First Food Residency.

© Anna Bruce Photography for The First Food Residency.

Image of a close up view of the amaranth sculpture. Copyright Anna Bruce Photography for the First Food Residency.

© Anna Bruce Photography for the First Food Residency.

Image of Greer and visitors working on the amaranth sculpture. Copyright Anna Bruce Photography for the First Food Residency.

© Anna Bruce Photography for the First Food Residency.

It was fitting that the work appeared towards the exit of the University’s marquee, leaving people in the right frame of mind to reflect on the sacred qualities of food and to consider how they might cultivate a more positive relationship with food, health and nature.

Image of the completed amaranth sculpture entitled: 'When your love lies bleeding squish it into joy'. Copyright Anna Bruce Photography for the First Food Residency.

The finished piece, entitled: ‘When your love lies bleeding squish it into joy’. © Anna Bruce Photography for the First Food Residency

If you missed The MERL at the Berkshire Show, don’t forget to catch us at our Grand Opening Festival on 22 October.

Discovering the Landscape: Preparation, progress and preservation – 3 years on

Plans, papers, press cuttings and publications…. we have spent a busy three years working on the Landscape Institute collections here at MERL.

Alongside continuing to work on the collections to make them available, we are now looking to encourage use, awareness and engagement with our rich and varied landscape heritage collections.

What have we achieved?

Our progress from unpacking, to processing, cataloguing and display

Our progress from unpacking, to processing, cataloguing and display

Archives

Over 200m linear metres of archive material have been sorted and made available for researchers.  This vast amount of invaluable material includes press cuttings, minutes, membership lists, financial papers, Institute publications, a slide library and an album containing the Institute’s royal seal, logo and name badge (now on display at the LI’s headquarters).  The associated archive collections include the business records of significant landscape architects including founder member of the Institute Geoffrey Jellicoe.

Peter Shepheard sketchbook on display in 'Discovering the Landscape' exhibition at the University Library

This Peter Shepheard sketchbook was on display in our ‘Discovering the Landscape’ exhibition (Jan-June 2016)

Library

Thousands of books have been processed with 2500 so far added to stock and available to readers on site at MERL.  A selection of rare books have been added to collections held in our stores.  All of the journal titles received have now been sorted and listed.  Very soon we will be working to fully integrate the LI books into the MERL Library.

Selection of Shell Guide's received from the LI which have been added to our existing collection

Selection of Shell Guide’s received from the LI which have been added to our existing collection

Volunteers

Volunteers: thank you – we couldn’t have done it without you!

In the period 2013-2016 volunteers working on LI collections have contributed an impressive 10,000 hours to the project.  This includes tasks such as: book bib checking, book labelling, listing, indexing and digitising slides.

Volunteers Ron and Jan have been working on digitising slides and were featured on our Tumblr

Volunteers Ron and Jan have been working on digitising slides and were featured on our Tumblr

Events and engagement

Events that showcased out LI collections have included a seminar series (Spring 2015), a joint MERL and LI Annual Lecture with James Corner (October 2015) and a treasures exhibition (Jan-June 2016).  Throughout the project we have been sharing highlights and news from the collections with you via our social media channels, twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and this blog.

We also work closely with FOLAR (the Friends of the Landscape Library & Archive at Reading) and have hosted their study days, such as about Brenda Colvin and New Towns and Gordon Patterson.

James Corner speaking at MERL and Landscape Institute Annual Lecture, University of Reading's Great Hall, 22 October 2015

James Corner speaking at MERL and Landscape Institute Annual Lecture, University of Reading’s Great Hall, 22 October 2015

For more information about our LI collections you can visit this dedicated webpage or contact us via our Reading Room service on merl@reading.ac.uk.

Claire Wooldridge, Project Librarian

 

Ladybird books needed!

Do you have any Ladybird books at home that you no longer want to keep or that your children no longer read? Would you like to help contribute to a display in the new galleries at The MERL?

We are looking for Ladybird books to form part of a duplicate set of the books which we will use as part of a display in the new galleries.

ladybirdexhib

 

We have quite a few duplicates already – over 200! – but there are some titles in particular that we are looking for, and if you would like to donate these for the display, we would be very pleased to hear from you!

We are looking for any editions of the following titles:

  • British birds and their nests, by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, colour illustrations by Allen W. Seaby.
  • The story of printing, by David Carey ; with illustrations by Robert Ayton.
  • The elves and the shoemaker, retold by Vera Southgate; with illustrations by Robert Lumley.
  • Exploring space, by Roy Worvill and illlustrated by Bernard Herbert Robinson and B. Knight (or any of the Ladybird ‘Achievements’ books).
  • Any recently published (in the last twenty years) Ladybirds (but not the recent adult parody versions!), especially children’s film tie-ins and reprinted fairy tales.

Please contact Fiona Melhuish (f.h.melhuish@reading.ac.uk) or Erika Delbecque (e.delbecque@reading.ac.uk), the UMASCS Librarians, if you have any Ladybird books you would like to donate, ideally by Friday 7 October 2016.

We are always pleased to hear from anyone who would be interested in donating their Ladybird books to us for our main Ladybird Collection as well, held in the rare book collections.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Pledge your apples!

Do you have an apple tree? Do you hate to see rotten apples on the ground going to waste? We have a solution!!

APPLE PRESSING

 

At our Grand Opening Festival on October 22nd, Richard Paget from ‘My Apple Juice’ will be pressing apples into delicious juice. Richard is on a mission to reduce food waste and bring communities together to turn our fruit harvest into delicious juices, and we need your help!

If you have an apple tree in your garden, on your street, or at your school or place of work, or know of a neighbour or friend who has excess fruit from their garden trees, pledge now to bring your fruit to the MERL on Thursday 20th or Friday 21st October and we will turn it into juice at the Festival. In return, you’ll receive bottled, pasteurised juice after the event!

The aim is to create a database of fruit trees and ‘pledgers’ who can be contacted every year, so that in future as little as possible is wasted.

How it works…

1. To pledge your apples, email merlevents@reading.ac.uk any time from now until October 19th, with the following details:

Full name
Address (including post code)
Telephone number
Type of fruit (apples (cooking or eating) or pears are fine)
Location of tree (your home address, school, neighbour etc)
How many trees or approx weight of fruit you think you can provide

2. Bring your fruit to the MERL on Thursday 2oth or Friday 21st October, or to the Festival on Saturday 22nd by 12pm.
Please separate different types of fruit (cookers, eaters and pears). We will make a note of the quantity so that you will receive the appropriate number of bottles of juice in return.

3. Come to the Festival to see your fruit turned into juice, or wait for us to contact you about collecting your juice once it has been processed and bottled.

We can’t think of a better way to celebrate our abundant autumnal harvest and stop precious fruit going to waste, so pledge your apples now!

 

 

 

 

Discovering the landscape: landscape research bursaries available

This year, thanks to generous funding from the Landscape Institute, we are pleased to offer bursaries to encourage use and engagement with our varied and fascinating landscape collections.  Read more about our Landscape Institute collection here, including the collections of Geoffrey Jellicoe, Sylvia Crowe and Brenda Colvin.  See a full list of our collections here.

Details below, please apply by email to merl@reading.ac.uk

From AR COL A/6/5, Folder relating to Little Peacocks Garden, Filkins [Brenda Colvin's home from 1960s]

From AR COL A/6/5, Folder relating to Little Peacocks Garden, Filkins [Brenda Colvin’s home from 1960s]

Student travel bursaries

The purpose of the student travel bursaries is to enable students to access collections held at Reading related to landscape, including landscape design, management and architecture.

We are offering 2 bursaries of £150 each.

Applications will be by email to merl@reading.ac.uk (please put “Landscape Bursary” in the subject line) will be invited from any student in part or full-time higher education. Interested applicants should submit a CV, and a short statement (max 400 words) outlining their interest in and current work on landscape, and stating how a bursary would be beneficial to their studies. Applicants should identify those materials in the archive that would be of most benefit to them.

Plate from 'The art and practice of landscape gardening', by Henry Ernest Milner, MERL LIBRARY RESERVE FOLIO--4756-MIL

Plate from ‘The art and practice of landscape gardening’, by Henry Ernest Milner, MERL LIBRARY RESERVE FOLIO–4756-MIL

Academic engagement bursary

The purpose of this award is to encourage academic engagement with collections held at Reading related to landscape, including landscape design, management and architecture.

Successful proposals will attract a stipend of £1,000. The funding can be used to offset teaching and administration costs, travel and other research-related expenses. Appropriate facilities are provided and the successful applicant will be encouraged to participate in the academic programmes of the Museum.

The intention for this award is to create an opportunity for a researcher to develop and disseminate new work in the broad arena of landscape.

Applications will be by email to merl@reading.ac.uk  (please put “Landscape Bursary” in the subject line).  Interested applicants should submit a CV and a statement (max 800 words) outlining their interest in, and current work on, landscape.

AR JEL DO1 S2/20

Geoffrey Jellicoe collection, AR JEL DO1 S2/20

Timetable

The timetable for the award of these bursaries will be:

1 September 2016 – applications open

31 October 2016 – applications close

30 November 2016 – successful candidates announced

Any work will need to be carried out and monies claimed by 31 July 2017.

For informal enquiries please email c.l.wooldridge@reading.ac.uk

We look forward to receiving your applications!

In the Garden: Reading Tree Wardens and MERL

It’s not every day that you spend the morning looking at trees, but recently a group of MERL staff did just that. Looking for information to be able to create interpretation in the gardens, we had called upon the expertise of the Reading Tree Wardens (http://www.readingtreewardens.org.uk/).

So on a gloriously sunny day back in July, Anna Iwashkin and Dr Michael Keith-Lucas came to the museum for several hours to help with the identification of trees in the front and back gardens, as well as from within the edible garden area next to the Reading Room.

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Dr Michael Keith-Lewis and MERL staff

As we moved around the garden the sheer amount of knowledge they demonstrated was incredible. Usually able to recognise trees with just a quick glance, Dr Keith-Lucas would rarely need to turn to reference books for a more precise identification.

researching

A rare shot of further research

Dr Michael Keith-Lucas would also provide some amazing facts about the trees seen during the visit. The first of these was about this 100+ year old Black Mulberry tree towards that back of the museum, where we learnt these were introduced to the UK in the 18th century by people wanting to encourage silk worms. This turned out to be a mistake as silk worms actually feed on White Mulberry.

mulberry

Black Mulberry

Other new information included that lime fruit won’t be growing on this row of small leaf lime trees. In this context, lime is actually a derivative of the word ‘line’. The bark fibres of the tree were used by our ancestors to produce string.

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Line of Small Leaf Lime

This Ginkgo is a living fossil and can be identified by it fan-shaped leaves. The tree, unchanged since the Jurassic period, has various uses in traditional medicine and its seeds are used in cooking.

ginkgo

Ginkgo tree and leaves

The dark bushy undergrowth at the very back of the MERL garden is typical of Victorian planting which probably done when the Palmer family lived in the building. These plants are a deep green colour and originate from Japan. The family would have wanted to plant exotic, fashionable and impressive evergreen plants. During the period, plants were imported from the Southern Islands of Japan after the country opened its doors in the last half of the 19th century.

IMG_2026

Hidden away at the back of the MERL garden

A brief and fascinating trip meant that we were all taking lots of notes. Even then staff had to compile our observations which we used to create a basic map of the gardens.Plan

Come have a look at the gardens when we reopen in October. If you can find this root graft, you’ll have discovered our ‘star tree’ as selected by the Reading Tree Wardens.

IMG_2027

Root graft and our star tree

Discovering the Landscape: From London traffic to an Italian Prisoner of War camp

Book Production War Economy Standard stamp

Book Production War Economy Standard stamp

Over the course of a large scale cataloguing project, many hundreds of items pass through your hands.  Since acquiring the library and archive of the Landscape Institute in late 2013, we have made nearly 2500 books available to readers here at MERL.  Added to this figure are metres of journals and pamphlets – and this is to say nothing of the huge amount of varied and fascinating archival material that has been catalogued and made to available to readers so far (more on this next time).

Town Planning and Road Traffic by H. Alker Tripp (London, Edward Arnold & Co.,1942)

Within this wealth of material it is inevitable that some items catch your eye or stick in your memory more than others.  Striking cover designs, exquisitely illustrated plates, or an unexpected personal relevance are often those that stay with you.

Surprises keep things interesting!  Sometimes that faded cover, with its generic title, gives way to a book with a fascinating story or provenance – often raising more questions than you can answer – which transform the item you hold in your hands from every day to truly unique.

 

 

Town planning and road traffic, by H. Alker Tripp.

London: Edward Arnold & Co., 1942.

Title page with inscriptions in pencil relating to a prisoner of war camp

Title page with inscriptions in pencil relating to a prisoner of war camp

Sir Herbert Alker Tripp (1883-1954) was a senior English police official, who for much of his career, worked to find ways to address London traffic problems.  Blackouts and the blitz following the outbreak of WWII led to an even more complicated traffic situation in London.  In 1942 Tripp’s Town Planning and Road Traffic was published.  Tripp looked ahead to post-war reconstruction of urban areas and made pioneering suggestions about big new roads that could connect towns: motorways.

As with all of our LI books, Town Planning has an LI book plate pasted down on the inside cover.  It also has a small label which tells us that the book was donated to the LI library by Maria Shephard.

Bookplate showing previous life of the book as part of the LI library, donated to them by Maria Shephard (Tripp, Town Planning, 1942)

Bookplate showing previous life of the book as part of the LI library, donated to them by Maria Shephard (Tripp, Town Planning, 1942)

Maria Teresa Parpagliolo Shephard (1903-1974) was an Italian landscape and garden designer.  A member of the Landscape Institute (frequently contributing to their journal) and involved in the setting up of IFLA, Parpagliolo worked and travelled across Europe as a pioneer of European landscape design.  Parpagliolo trained with Percy Cane in the early 1930s and worked on a string of high profile projects including the Regatta Restaurant Garden at the Festival of Britain in 1951.

In 1946, Parpagliolo married Ronald Shephard, the “‘town major’ of the British military in Rome, whom she met during Rome’s liberation by the Allied Forces. She followed him back to England in 1946” (Dümpelmann, 2010).

Landscape architects gifting their books to the LI library after their deaths is not unusual in itself.

Pencil inscriptions and an ink stamp on the title page relating to a ‘Camp Leader’ at a ‘Campo Concentramento 82’ – however – are not something I have seen before.

Curiouser and curiouser.  Pasted on to the back of the title page is a label confirming that the book was sent to ‘The Camp Leader’ via the ‘Prisoner of War Post’.  According to the I Campi Fascisti project, Campo Concentramento 82 was a prisoner of war camp in Laterina, near Arrezzo, where the Italian fascist state held thousands of British, Greek, New Zealander, South African and Greek prisoners of war during WWII.

Prisoner of War Post label

Prisoner of War Post label

A further notable feature of the title is the ‘Book Production War Economy Standard’ stamp printed onto the back of the title page (you can see this at the top of the post).  We have a small number of other books within our collections which also feature this intriguing marking.

The book production war economy agreement the schedule with an introduction and notes on interpretation. 1942. MARK LONGMAN LIBRARY--070.5-PUB

The book production war economy agreement the schedule with an introduction and notes on interpretation. 1942. MARK LONGMAN LIBRARY–070.5-PUB

 

 

We have all heard of rationing during WWII, but did you know that even paper was rationed?  From 1940-49 paper was rationed, with publishing companies having to cut back on their use of paper by 60%.  In 1942 ‘The Book Production War Economy Agreement’ between the Ministry of Supply and the Publishers Association introduced strict guidelines which covered, for example, print size, words per page and blank pages.  Published in 1942, Tripp’s Town Planning could have been one of the first titles to published under this scheme.  It does contain one large fold out plate.  Despite these restrictions, demand for books grew during WWII.

 

 

Why was this title sent to a prisoner of war camp leader via the prisoner of war post?  Perhaps in the context of needing to rebuild urban areas after the war.  How did Maria Parpagliolo have this book?  Could a member of her family, or her husband, have been connected with the camp?  Perhaps she purchased it as a reference book and the provenance is incidental.  This fascinating book gives us a tantalising insight into this historical period – but raises more questions than answers!

Fold out plan at the back of Tripp, Town Planning, 1942

Fold out plan at the back of Tripp, Town Planning, 1942

Please contact us (using the form below or at merl@reading.ac.uk) if you have any further information.

For more on Maria Parpagliolo, Sonja Dümpelmann has published several articles and a book (such as Dümpelmann, S. (2010). The landscape architect Maria Teresa Parpagliolo Shephard in Britain: her international career 1946–1974, Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, 30:1, 94-113, DOI: 10.1080/14601170903217045).

For more on publishing in war time, Valerie Holman’s Print for Victory is a great start.

Claire Wooldridge, Project Librarian

Cricket farming Q&A with Newtri Foods (Part 2)

This is the second and final part of a Q&A with Matt Grant and Matt Hardy – Co-founders of Newtri Foods. Newtri Foods aims to be one of the first companies in the UK dedicated to the farming of crickets and the creation of cricket-based products (flour, protein bars and whole crickets) exclusively for human consumption.   [Click here to check out Part 1 of the cricket farming Q&A.]

Is farming crickets and making flour an energy efficient and environmentally friendly process?

There are many eco-friendly benefits to farming crickets for protein over current practices. We have listed a couple below which compare cricket and cattle farming:

  • Crickets emit 80 times less CO2 and require significantly less water than cattle rearing.
  • Farming Crickets takes 95% less land space than rearing cattle on farmland that is shrinking every day.
  • We hope to one day use solar power to heat our warehouse to reduce our environmental impact even further.

Has it been difficult to get started? Are the regulations for this burgeoning industry easy to navigate?

The process to get started can be lengthy due to the natural breeding and raising process of crickets and there are also health & safety guidelines and practices that need to be put in place like any other food manufacturer. There are a many online documents that make the regulation side a lot easier to navigate and get your head around.

Are there any incentives to get involved in edible insect farming?

There is currently no government support that we are aware of however we have had support from our local growth hub in Northampton. We are potentially looking at launching a KickStarter campaign to raise some extra funds to get our products out to the UK market quicker so everyone can enjoy the benefits of eating cricket-based products.

Who are your target clientele?

We have no set clientele and hope that our products will appeal to all those who are initially a little bit curious and adventurous but also willing to try an alternative, healthy protein source that comes with many other health benefits as well. We think there could be high interest within the sports and fitness market segment as their openness to new products with high protein content is high. Our products are gluten, soy and dairy free so we hope to be able to target a wide audience. People who love baking and want to make goodies that are a little healthier will also love our products.

We use cricket flour to make tasty brownies.

We use cricket flour to make tasty brownies.

How are you going to convince people that cricket flour is for them?

That is the million dollar question, the western world is not familiar with eating insects at present but we believe the tide is slowly turning. The US and Canada have several farms now and have reported great successes with many happy and healthy cricket-eaters. We believe the same can be done with the UK market and have already had interest from a local gym network as well as catering companies throughout the UK. Market research will of course remain a key tool to continuously work on product placement and branding to encourage uptake.

It took a many years to persuade the UK public to try sushi, but when they did the outcome was fantastic and now it is one of the most popular types of food that exists. We believe that one day insect-based foods can do the same!

Where will you sell your products?

We aim to market our products both online and in affiliated stores. Our interested clients operate across both platforms. We will also take our products to local and national markets and fairs to help promote awareness and get as many people to taste our products as possible.

What’s your favourite thing about cricket farming?

We both love that we are helping to develop a new frontier in both nutrition and sustainability of our planet. The health benefits that we have already seen through using cricket products are also something that continues to drive us. Although still in our early stages, we hope to one day be one of the key drivers of this industry as it grows and grows. Another great thing is the beautiful chirping sound they make. It may be pouring with rain outside, but in the warehouse with the warmth it feels like you’re sat on a beach in the Mediterranean… just without the sun, sand and cocktail in hand!

What’s your biggest frustration?

I would say there are no big frustrations (at the moment!) but as farmers of living creatures the process of raising crickets can often be timely and therefore a patient mindset is definitely necessary.

How would you describe the current state of edible insect farming in the UK?

It is very much in its early days. There are a few companies trying to explore and develop this industry in the UK that I know of. I have heard of more starting recently, so hopefully the industry will start to develop more rapidly and more cricket products will be available to the public in the near future. Interest in cricket products is definitely picking up though. We’ve recently had an enquiry from a company that wants to use our crickets in their canapés! Yum!

When it comes to edible insects, what is your vision for the future?

We believe that there is huge potential for the edible insect industry in the future, not only globally but in the UK as well. Every year there is more and more pressure being placed on traditional livestock and protein sources, and we believe that one day demand will outstrip supply (or they will have to severely reduce the way livestock are kept to increase production, which we don’t want).

Insects are highly nutritious, not just in terms on protein but also in other nutrients such as iron, amino acids etc. They require a lot less water to raise, a lot less food, a lot less space and release less harmful gases into the atmosphere. In places like Africa, which still suffer from severe malnutrition, we believe that insects could be one of the ways to solve this problem due to the small quantities of resources needed to raise them and their nutrition values.

In places like the UK, which are more developed, we believe people need to be more aware of the environmental impact that our over-consumption of livestock is causing and be open to trying alternative protein sources which in their original form may look unappetising, but used as an ingredient in other forms can be delicious and add an extra health kick to their meals. Changing people’s opinions is always a difficult task, but we believe that once this happens the insects-as-a-food-source industry will flourish.

Please do write us a comment if you have any other questions that relate to cricket farming or edible insects and we’ll try and rustle up some answers.

Cricket farming Q&A with Newtri Foods (Part 1)

The founders of Newtri Foods talk to science engagement officer, Robyn Hopcroft, about cricket farming in Part 1 of a Q&A about their edible insect business.

Edible insects have been touted as the next big thing in food. Even the United Nations has recognised edible insects as a “promising alternative for the conventional production of meat…

Image of edible crickets by Tim Olson

Edible crickets. Image by Tim Olson [ CC BY 2.0].

So at MERL we’ve been thinking about the future of food and investigating edible insects as one possible means of addressing the growing need for sustainable sources of protein. Last month I witnessed many people taking to edible insects with great enthusiasm at the University of Reading Big Band Lunch. This week, we paid a visit to the Highdown School Science Fair, where game students were lining up try mealworms, cricket flour brownies and giant waterbugs.

While watching people chomp on creepy crawlies is quite entertaining, it also made me wonder about the other side of things. I’ve seen people consume plenty of insects, but how are they produced? What’s the deal with edible insect farming? Thankfully I managed to track down a couple of friendly cricket farmers based in Northampton, who were happy to answer a bunch of questions posed by the curious staff at MERL.

This is the first part of a Q&A with Matt Grant and Matt Hardy – Co-founders of Newtri Foods. Newtri Foods aims to be one of the first companies in the UK dedicated to the farming of crickets and the creation of cricket-based products (flour, protein bars and whole crickets) exclusively for human consumption.

How, when and why did you get into edible insect farming? Where did the idea come from?

We have both been lucky enough to have travelled extensively. Matt H explored South East Asia for a year whilst Matt G lived and worked in South America for a year. Through these travels we both had the opportunity to try various meals and dishes that incorporated insects. They were all extremely tasty and after a bit of research we soon realised that they were also extremely healthy. This got us thinking as to why very few people in Europe consume insects and if the option was available in various forms whether people would give it a try. Currently many UK companies producing cricket-based products are importing from places like Thailand and Canada. The fuel used to transport them to the UK offsets the environmental benefits of consuming insects so we want to assist this market by providing these companies with locally sourced crickets, reducing their carbon footprint and the impact on the environment as a whole.

Are you regular insect eaters, yourselves?

We have tried a range of different insect-based products and dishes abroad and often include cricket flour in our daily lunches and dinners. Healthy cricket flour brownies are one of our favourite snacks!

Why crickets and not some other kind of insect?

We are both enthusiastic about maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle and the high protein content in crickets was something that attracted us to farming them. Crickets are also one of the insects that are most accepted by the wider population to eat, and they have a mild taste so it seems like a great place to start and get people accustomed to eating insects before other insect types enter the market.

What type/s of cricket do you use? Where do they originate from? Are all types of crickets edible?

We currently farm the Acheta Domesticus species, and the original batches were sourced from the USA where cricket-consumption is a lot more established. All the breeds we have researched so far can be consumed by humans.

Acheta domesticus image by Brian Gratwicke

Acheta domesticus. Image by Brian Gratwicke [ CC BY 2.0 ].

What are the steps to raising crickets?

We raise our crickets in a sterile environment with a minimum temperature of 25-28 degrees Celsius. The warmer the temperature the more active the crickets are, which promotes their breeding activities as well. We have a separate area for incubating the eggs and managing the young crickets before reaching adult size.

Do they ever escape?

Thankfully none have escaped our units so far, although it can be difficult with the babies! We have toyed with the idea of keeping a resident lizard in the warehouse to catch escapees before they get outside the unit!

What do you feed them?

Our crickets are fed on a gluten-free organic feed; this is supplemented by fresh organic vegetables from our allotment.

How are crickets harvested? Is it humane? Is there ethical guidance on farming insects for food? 

Yes, there is ethical guidance on farming insects which is widely available and discussed online on respected forums and organisations’ websites. Crickets are cold-blooded and therefore the most humane way to harvest them is to reduce their body temperature through freezing which humanely and rapidly slows down their metabolism.

What are the steps to making cricket flour?

Our crickets go through multiple different stages before being made into cricket flour from freezing to drying. Unfortunately this is a process that we cannot reveal too much about for the moment!

Do you use the whole insect to make flour?

No, the cricket’s wings and legs are sifted out throughout the process. This isn’t to say that none slip through, however they are just as edible as the rest of the cricket!

Image of Deep-fried house crickets sold as food at a market in Thailand by Takeaway

Deep-fried house crickets sold as food at a market in Thailand. Image by Takeaway [ CC BY-SA 3.0].

 

Around how many crickets does it take to make a bag of flour?

Quite a few and it depends on the size. We’ve found that it roughly takes around 1000 crickets to produce 100-120 grams of flour.

How long does it take to get from cricket egg to cricket flour?

The cycle is usually six to seven weeks from hatched baby to harvesting time.

How easy is cricket flour to use in baking? Is it just for use as a replacement for wheat flour?

Cricket flour is not a substitute for wheat flour. Although flour is in its name it is a different ingredient and can be used in protein bars, drinks, smoothies, and baked products to add a significant protein boost and health-kick to whatever you are making.

[Check out Part 2 of our cricket farming Q&A with Newtri Foods]

Volunteers’ Voice: Work Placement – Daisy

Daisy tells us about her work placement at MERL and the benefits of volunteering after university. 

The question of what to do with my life after I graduate has been particularly pertinent this week as, on Tuesday, I received the results of my history degree. I got a first, in case you were wondering. Even if you weren’t wondering, I am very pleased to be able to tell you that! Nonetheless, from all the many horror stories I’ve heard, the real world of jobs and careers is a scary place at the moment! So I decided that during my final few weeks in Reading, after the post-exam celebrations calmed down, I would do some work experience that would (hopefully!) help me decide what I want to do in the future.

Daisy researching for the MERL Players

Daisy researching for the MERL Players

As a history student, the Museums and Heritage sector is an obvious one. I’m fascinated by everything and anything to do with the past and I’ll never turn down the opportunity to work in a beautiful historic building! MERL definitely delivered on both counts. Although the museum itself was closed I could still enjoy the splendour of the Palmer’s entrance hall and got a behind the scenes look at the archives and art collections.

During my week’s work placement I tried out a number of different roles at MERL. I worked on the front desk, welcoming visitors and doing stock checks of the museum shop. I did some research for the MERL Players’ upcoming production (which will look at the lives of different rural residents). My favourite story was of a Land Girl who was a tractor expert but who sometimes found it hard to make the 7.30am start after a night of dancing! I staged a takeover of the MERL volunteer twitter feed, updating followers on what I was up to and giving a behind the scenes insight of MERL and Special Collections. Finally, I transcribed some oral histories of British farming. I enjoyed every role and it was lovely to be able to try out lots of different things. From what colleagues have told me, that’s the joy of a smaller museum – you can mix and match different tasks that interest you and can always find something useful to do! There is something lovely about the atmosphere of a museum, too. While in the office I’ve been shown, and vigorously encouraged to try, hand creams made from Victorian recipes! In the staff room I’ve been part of National Cream Tea day (i.e. eating lots of scones) and have drunk a ridiculous amount of tea!

A snap from Daisy's archive and library tour

A snap from Daisy’s archive and library tour

My week at MERL has given me an insight into the world of museums and heritage and, I can confirm, I definitely still want to work in this field! Personally, my dream museum job would be in marketing or PR because I really enjoyed having the opportunity to show MERL off in its best light and thinking of innovative and interesting ways to engage people. However, what MERL has taught me is that I could enjoy almost any role in a museum environment. As long as the people are fun, the tea is flowing and the nerdy history discussions are never far away, I’m happy!