The building is an innocuous one. A short hop from Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, the newly constructed two-story warehouse stands near the edge of a short access road.

From the outside, it would be impossible to know about the tens of thousands of crickets chirping away inside its dark walls.

The insects are not free, jumping helter-skelter on floors and ceilings as one might imagine would be the case at a cricket farm, but rather are confined unceremoniously to large plastic bins.

The teeming masses of arthropods are the result of likely the state’s first commercial cricket farming operation. Cowboy Cricket Farms, as it is known, was founded in January by husband and wife duo James and Kathy Rolin as a way to bring insects to the dinner table.

The bugs’ benefits — which include high levels of nutrients and low environmental impact compared to other livestock — are easy sells. But convincing people to eat an animal typically viewed as a pest is another matter entirely.

“In Western culture, insects are seen as disgusting things. But they are processed; just like you wouldn’t eat raw chicken, you wouldn’t eat raw crickets. Ultimately, it comes down to a social stigma that insects are not not useful or helpful, they’re pests,” said James Rolin.

It’s not hard to see why the pair was attracted to the idea. The insects are, for the most part, low maintenance. The process begins with a batch of females and males, some finely ground organic chicken feed and a soft bed of dirt. Twenty-four hours later, the bed — now pockmarked with hundreds of comma-sized eggs — is removed and placed in a separate container where it is kept hot and humid for 10 days, after which the baby crickets begin to hatch. Six to eight weeks of chicken feed and a small sponge for water and the crickets are fully grown and ready for harvest, or freezing, before being roasted.

The insects produce a quarter-yield, according to James Rolin, meaning every pound of crickets translates to a quarter-pound of flour or powder.

“If you show people a roasted cricket, not many will eat it. If you show them cricket powder, some would. If you give them cookie, lots will,” he said.

Bugs are a common part of diets around the world. Approximately 80 percent of countries practice entomophagy, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, which touts insects as a potential solution to food security and an alternative to the large carbon footprint of cattle.

And the idea is gaining traction in the states. The Rolins have consulted with several other farmers across the country and in early March won second place in the Montana Small Business Development Center’s Shark Tank competition, taking home $2,500. The waiting list for the farm’s wholesale products is three years long, the founders said.

Cowboy Crickets is not the pair’s first foray into business ownership. The Recession put an end to their last venture — a “family fun center” based in Michigan — but didn’t discourage them from pursuing entrepreneurship.

“It was hard, but it was a learning experience,” Kathy Rolin said. “It taught us a lot about knowing your market.”

The two moved to Montana along with their three children, spending a year in Great Falls before uprooting to Bozeman, where they have lived for the past two. In James Rolin’s words, the Gallatin Valley is “by far the best place we’ve ever lived” — high praise from a couple who lived in 16 cities over the first eight years of their marriage.

Settling has also given both Rolins the opportunity to head back to school at Montana State University, where she studies nutrition and he economics. It was during these studies — when Ian Toews, director of the food documentary “Bugs on the Menu,” visited her class — that Kathy Rolin first got the idea to start a bug farm.

“The more research I did, the more I liked it,” she said. The financial feasibility, environmental benefits and progressive nutritional aspect all made sense to the 29-year-old. The first thing to do was find a space.

“Landlords pay a lot to keep bugs out of their buildings, and we wanted to keep 20 million intentionally in,” said James Rolin.

But after several encounters with incredulous property owners, the two found the Belgrade warehouse. The space will be a temporary home, though, as the Rolins plan to hit their capacity of 20 million bugs by September.

At $43 per pound of cricket flour, the couple said that insects won’t be replacing large-scale livestock production anytime soon. But they can act as an alternative to traditional protein sources.

“We’re not trying to change the economy or agriculture here, we’re trying to add to it,” James Rolin said. “It’s a way to add variety and give people another option. We need collaboration and community to make this work.”

The couple understands that their success hinges, at least in part, on overcoming the social stigma of eating bugs. To this end, the business has an open door policy and has hosted several tour groups — from students to local nonprofits — in an attempt to normalize the practice. Moreover, their target market is children, who, in the Rolins’ experience, are typically more open to trying new foods.

“We’ve gotten nothing but support; the reception has been crazy,” said James Rolin. “Especially in a place like Bozeman, where people are open-minded, they are at least willing to try it.”

And at the end of the day, it’s difficult to argue against the facts, Kathy Rolin added.

“We have almost zero waste, other than heat and a little bit of water. It’s very, very efficient, it’s better for the environment and it just makes sense,” she said. “(The challenge is) opening up people’s minds just a little.”

Kendall can be reached at lkendall@dailychronicle.com. Kendall is on Twitter at @lewdak

Kendall can be reached at lkendall@dailychronicle.com. Kendall is on Twitter at @lewdak