#ATXBSFL Pilot Project with GrubTubs – Fighting Food Waste and Empowering Local Farmers

Austin Texas Black Soldier Fly Farming Pilot Project, or #ATXBSFL – Little Herds is partnering with GrubTubs to turn food scraps into chicken feed!

Little Herds has long been a proponent of Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSFL) farming, utilizing this particular species as a waste-management tool to up-cycle proteins, fats and other nutrients present in food waste into high quality and resource efficient livestock feed. That’s why we’re partnering with GrubTubs, a startup company integrating cities and farmers, closing the nutrient cycle and bringing “Table to Farm,” to Austin.

BSFL can convert massive amounts of organic waste (specifically food waste, not fibrous green waste or yard trimmings better suited to traditional composting methods) into quality protein, fats and chitin, all of which have immediate and potential value exceeding the value of the food waste inputs. They breed prolifically and grow quickly, providing a constant supply of nutritious feed that can be used in swine, poultry and aquaculture farming operations.

Unlike the common house fly, BSFL are not a vector for human pathogens. Because they have shorter life-spans and the adult flies do not feed once pupating, they do not spread pathogens the way other flies do. The larvae have been shown to even reduce the amount of pathogens and bacteria present in the waste inputs they consume, and because they release a chemical marker that wards off house flies, there are potential hygiene benefits to having a BSFL colony present on a farm.

Traditional livestock feed uses fish meal or soy as a primary protein source, as well as food crops like grains such as corn, wheat, sorghum and barley. If we can substitute a portion of these feeds with BSFL we will be able to reduce the amount of over-fishing currently depleting our oceans natural fisheries, as well as utilize land, soil and water resources used for feed crops to grow food crops to feed people. We can also reduce the amount of chemicals and fossil fuels used in livestock operation through the production of these traditional feed sources by substituting BSFL int he animal’s feed.

Because many livestock species like chickens are naturally omnivorous, BSFL provides a feed source more aligned with the animals’ natural diet, while reducing the need for water intensive crops like soy and overfishing for fish meal. Not only will it help the planet, but numerous research studies have shown incorporating BSFL into an animals diet can actually be beneficial for the growth of the animal. AND, the animals fed BSFL inclusive diets can even be more delicious than those fed on traditional diets.

Author Michael Pollan was on The Diane Rehm Show recently discussing insects for food and feed and had this to say about black soldier fly farming:

“I have had eggs from chickens who have eaten insects, and they are the most delicious eggs you will ever have. We can put our chickens on a diet of more insects…they’re omnivores, they love to eat insects. Ditto with many kinds of fish. If we could take the pressures off the world’s fisheries by switching [poultry and] aquaculture to a basis of insects as opposed to now where they eat bycatch and little fishes, which is really destroying the world’s fisheries; that would be a tremendous contribution to the climate change problem and to the fisheries problem.”

In addition to the broader implications on the use of soy and fishmeal as the primary sources of protein in most poultry and aquaculture diets, there are real issues facing Austin that this project will be able to explore:

  • Investing in local farms and farmers through reducing feed costs
  • Public education on waste-management practices and up-cycling food waste
  • Mitigating food waste that ends up in the landfill

Investing in local farms

Many local egg and poultry farms struggle to flourish, because they’re hit with two big costs. The first is inherent to smallholder and family farms, which is their size. Being unable to take advantage of the economies of scale puts small local farms behind the eight ball. Secondly as many small farms, especially urban or peri-urban farms in Austin, use high quality feeds that are often multiple times the price of traditional feed, their margins are even tighter and they have to price their products higher as a result. By empowering farmers to reduce their monetary feed costs with minimal time and resource investments with BSFL systems, we can provide them the means to do more than just break-even, leading to increased standards of living for the farmers and a decrease in the closure of local farms due to economic difficulties

Public education on Food Waste

As Austin continues to move towards it’s Zero Waste goals, public education plays an enormous role in moving consumers to not only adopt good waste-reduction practices, but also to understand and appreciate the nutrient value in foods that would normally be wasted. This can be as simple as understanding that an ugly apple is just as good as a “normal” apple, learning about suggested “sell by” dates, or even something as wild as choosing to buy poultry products from a farm using insect-based feed. By educating not just adults, but the next generation of entrepreneurs, scientists, farmers and policy makers, this project will take nutrient-rich food waste in Austin that can’t be used to feed hungry people, and push it up the “food waste ladder,” from compost to animal feed. The economic, environmental and health impacts to Austin and the broader public are immense, and this pilot project will lay the foundation for growing this idea into a large-scale system to not just keep organic waste out of our landfills, but truly utilize them as resource.

Mitigate Food Waste

This pilot project will be show the efficacy of BSFL farming to up-cycle food waste into high quality feed, keeping it out of landfills and recapturing all of the high-value nutrients that are squandered when food waste is just composted.


May 2016: We confirmed many of our project stakeholders and began collecting letters of intent and support

May – December 2016: We’re working to secure funding and finalize all aspects of the pilot project

January – June 2017: Begin pilot program with GrubTubs.

July 2017: Project concludes. Final report prepared and presented to stakeholders and Austin City Council, Austin Food Policy Board and/or Austin Zero Waste Commission, as well as making data accrued by Little Herds publicly available.

Our final goal is to answer two main questions; how much food can we keep out of the landfill, and how many grubs will that become? GrubTubs will be able to track data on the amounts of food up-cycled and report back the answers to these questions to Little Herds. After the pilot concludes, GrubTubs will grow the idea further, seeking additional investment. This pilot project with Little Herds is intended as an initial feasibility study and proof-of-concept.

Project Stakeholders:

  • Little Herds
  • Robert Olivier – GrubTubs
  • Quinault Childs – GrubTubs
  • Austin Resource Recovery – Identify potential food waste inputs, offset startup costs through municipal recoverable grants or city rebate programs
  • USBCSD – Facilitate food waste inputs, facilitate potential grant funding
  • 12 Local Restaurants – Pilot Participants will be listed on this page once the project begins.
  • 3 Local chicken farms – This is where the food scraps will become grubs, which will be fed to the chickens.
The GrubTubs team, in conjunction with Little Herds, recently won the Austin Resource Recovery [RE]verse Pitch Challenge, taking home $5,000 in startup funding and an additional $5,000 in matching funds.
In the short-term we are solidifying local support and confirming our restaurant Pilot Participants. In the medium-term our goal is to begin working with our pilot farms. These farms will have BSFL-growing bio-reactors where the food scraps are consumed by the BSFL, and would be designed to then feed the poultry flocks on the farm. Our goal is to have these pilot farms supplied with food scraps from participating businesses like restaurants, schools, corporate canteens and hotels. By providing the farms with a way to reduce their feed costs, farmers can grow their business without being further saddled with debt, and even increase their flock size with the additional savings!
The overarching goals of this project are threefold:
1) To empower local farmers to grow their own high-quality feed using wasted food scraps as an input, helping them reduce their annual feed costs and allowing them to increase production and provide more local food to the community.
2) To educate the public about food waste up-cycling, the benefits of BSFL farming over composting in regards to food waste, and the benefits of BSFL as a livestock feed on our local economy.
3) Mitigating food waste from entering the landfill, keeping nutrients within the local ecosystem by turning “trash” into nutritious feed.

Of course our biggest hurdle now that we have the space, the partners, the equipment and the expertise is funding, and that’s what we need your help with. We know that this project fits perfectly with so much of the Austin Zero Waste goals, now we need to be able to pay a living wage to a project manager to show Austin the true potential of this unused resource to benefit the local health and economy.

Support the #ATXBSFL Project here:

For more information on GrubTubs, check them out at www.grubtubs.com