Mealworms may not seem like a very sexy business to get into, or for a rural community like Cashmere to get excited about. But there are plenty of reasons for excitement, in part because Beta Hatch’s forward-thinking promises to create new jobs while using a once-closed juice plant.
Such is the way of innovation in Washington. Old meets new in the most unexpected ways.
Let’s start with the old. Apple and pear production was big businesses in the town of 3,200. The 50,000 square foot Tree Top plant pressed thousands of tons of the local fruit into juice. In 2008, a shortage of juice-grade fruit occurred and China’s low-cost production was hard to compete with.
The building stood empty until last September when Beta Hatch came to town. The company had plans for the empty facility. It was going to become one of the largest insect production farms of its kind in the world.
Mealworms have the potential to now only be big business, but address climate change. Beta Hatch takes the apple cores and other fruit waste and feeds it to the mealworms, who in turn, become a protein-rich, food for animals. The waste from the mealworms can even be turned into fertilizer, so it creates a full circle in the environment, leaving little to no carbon footprint in the environment.
Beta Hatch’s founder and CEO Virginia Emery intentionally set her sights on creating an eco-friendly operation.
Virginia Emery, Beta Hatch founder and CEO, intentionally set out to create an eco-friendly operation. The facility is entirely powered by clean energy. In the winter it also uses waste heat from a nearby crypto-mining operation to warm the growing mealworms.
It’s a win-win for the environment and the community at large. Often, rural communities find it difficult to replace a large employer and new companies working in the clean energy and climate space can be a welcome addition since it aligns with the values of the community. Beta Hatch’s connection to helping make the food ecosystem greener is a good match for all involved.
“I have yet to encounter somebody saying, ‘We don’t want these jobs because of where they came from,’” Brian Young, the climate and clean tech lead for the Washington State Department of Commerce.
The attractiveness of rural parts of the state extends can be found on many levels. Besides a ready workforce, many rural communities offer cheap, reliable power made possible by the hydroelectric dams in the Eastern part of the state. The availability of existing facilities that can be repurposed helps reduce costs, and for those exploring uses of organic materials, the proximity to timber and agriculture is an added bonus.