In a remote part of Port Allen, situated on a gravel-lined, fenced-in compound, Fluker Farms quietly operates a sizable live cricket selling operation.
There's more here than meets the eye.
As it turns out, a cricket farm looks a lot like a warehouse. Inside, workers package, label and prepare hundreds of white boxes in various sizes for shipping throughout the U.S. Wire slats in the boxes insure the crickets can breathe, and markings on the side indicate how old they are — between three and six weeks.
Next to that operation is a modest office, where owner David Fluker and several other employees handle the firm’s bustling online selling operation and complicated logistics.
The farm is an impressive outgrowth of a small bait shop that Fluker’s father founded in the 1950s. That small shop was only open seasonally, next to a bar on U.S. 190. Now, a Google search for “crickets for sale” brings up Fluker Farms as the first organic result online.
But Fluker Farms, located off a quiet road a few miles north of the Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge, sits on 10 acres — far more than is needed to run only the live cricket business. Beyond the cricket operation and the one-story office building next door, there are more than a dozen other buildings on the property.
A tour of the facilities reveals, bit by bit, a surprisingly diverse array of business ventures, seemingly cooked up at random at the site of this decades-old cricket farm. In recent months, in his office, Fluker has devised his latest invention, a financial tech company called Liquid P2P, which launched in recent weeks, underscoring the firm’s unlikely embrace of tech and e-commerce.
“Everybody has their own little fiefdom out here,” Fluker said.
Each of the operations run more or less independently of one another, though they share the same chief financial officer and human resources director.
Near the main office, a large warehouse is lined with stocked shelves, shooting up toward cavernous ceilings, full of boxes of freeze-dried pet foods and other products for iguanas, bearded dragons, leopard geckos and the like.
A production facility adjacent to the warehouse smells strongly of fish food. A contraption processing freeze-dried pet food whirs loudly. In a nearby room, workers use another piece of large equipment to shovel dried black soldier fly larvae into Culinary Coop bags, destined for farms with chickens.
Black soldier fly has come into sharper focus at Fluker Farms in recent years. Fluker bought the domain soldierfly.com a decade ago and has worked steadily to bring products to market using the insect. The farm now sells it as a pet product and as a feedstock through Culinary Coop in Walmart stores.
Now he’s working on developing a general feedstock. Devon Britts, a South Africa native and LSU Ph.D. candidate in entomology, makes the trek to Fluker farms regularly to start up a colony of black soldier flies and to do basic research on creating sustainable waste and foods for the livestock market.
“The potential for this animal to create sustainable waste is remarkable,” Britts said.
Britts' work represents only the latest in a yearslong partnership with LSU’s entomology department, which began after Fluker left college there and linked up with researchers at the school to do selective cricket breeding.
Across the gravel walkway from the dry foods operations, in a similarly nondescript building, is a vastly different business: Roux Brands.
Inside, techno music is blaring, and Casey Johnson’s office space is set out on top of what appears to be a roughly 15-foot-by-15-foot piece of wood flooring. His desk sits on top.
Johnson, who runs Roux Brands as executive designer and producer, shows off a few new products for the company’s fall line, including a “flying pelicans”-patterned throw blanket and soup bowls. On his desk is a book of Louisiana history, from which he draws inspiration for the home décor products he designs for sale in boutiques and online.
“David has given us such a good opportunity for us back here just to be creative,” Johnson said.
Soon, Johnson will move to an office outside of Fluker’s compound to make way for a big order for the dried foods line, which Fluker said will take over Roux Brands’ current space.
If Roux Brands is a stark departure from Fluker’s other businesses at the farm, his Liquid P2P venture is even starker.
Back in the main office, Fluker and Erin Trahan, director of marketing and development for Liquid P2P, demonstrate how the program works. Users investing with LendingClub, a peer-to-peer lending giant, use the program to liquidize their positions in loans.
Liquid matches buyers and sellers automatically, and “cherry-picks” loans to fit certain investment profiles.
Running the farm, Fluker said he delved deeply into accounting systems and the tech side of the company, as he built up the online selling end of his business model. One day, while relaxing at home, he read a Forbes article about LendingClub, which sparked his interest. A few years later, he’s launched his platform.
Recently, Fluker said a friend called him to discuss Liquid P2P. Fluker recalls his friend telling him: “There's nothing that earns my financial trust more than a cricket farmer.”