By Christopher Tobutt
Beacon Farms is a place where things grow. With deep roots in Cayman’s soil, it is one of those out-of-the-box places which not only grow crops, but new lives, too. The farm itself grew out of The Bridge Foundation, a kind of halfway-house in West Bay for people who have been struggling with substance abuse. The Foundation gives people the opportunity to participate in a 12-step, 6-month programme, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. After operating for several years, Executive Director Bud Volinsky was concerned that too many people who had completed the program were returning to their old lifestyle: “In the end we nailed it to being an issue of employment,” he said. It is OK to go through a programme, but the trouble is, many people still find it hard to find a job, especially if they have a criminal record. For those who come to Beacon Farms, the rate of falling-back has decreased by 90 percent, Mr. Volinsky said.
That is where the 34 acres of land, now known as Beacon Farms comes in. A couple of years ago, with the help of a kind benefactor, the Foundation was able to buy the overgrown land, and transform it. It is already giving real employment to a dozen people. They are mostly growing tobacco at the moment, and they have their own on-island cigar-rolling factory, all proceeds going back to the Foundation, and plans to market the brand all over the world. They are also working on developing their coconut oil factory, which takes in locally-grown coconuts, producing oil and coconut four, too. The farm also grows pineapples, bananas mangos sweetsop, soursop, avocado, limes and jackfruit.
It’s about growing new ideas which act like a beacon for other farms. One of those ideas is a static-aeration composting system, where green waste, both from the farm, but also from landscaping companies is chipped and composted down with help from air which is piped into the heap from pipes running through the concrete base. The reactions inside the heap cause it to reach such a high temperature that it becomes sterile and pathogen-free. The result, in just over two weeks, is high-grade organic compost that will be bagged and sold. But there are many other ideas growing there too.
It is also about growing and developing talent. There are many different departments at the farm, ranging from heavy equipment to construction, to plant propagation and cultivation, and many of the people who go there already have some skills to offer, which are nurtured and cultivated. It isn’t about short-term, it all about long-term sustainability, with benefits not only for local farming, but for Cayman society.
Robert Ramoon, who works in plant propagation said: “God is the creator. I want to be next to the creator, and see the plants start from seed and grow. I love nature. I love plants and I love growing things. We try not to use any chemical that is not organic. It has to be organic.”
“My recovery depends on me. It’s what I do at the end of the day. But having a stable job in a place like this, where there are other people like me who are putting their life back together, and saying: “You know what? I’ve had enough (of the old way of life). It makes me feel good.”