By Christopher Tobutt
Beacon farms keeps showing the way forward in Cayman agriculture. The 34 acres of land, just off Frank Sound Road in North Side, was started by The Bridge Foundation to help find employment for more than a dozen people who have broken free from substance abuse and need to make a new start. But it is also a visionary farm, full of good ideas. It is one of the few farms that not only grows, but markets high value product from the farm, namely Cayman’s only locally-made cigars. The proceeds then go back into the enterprise, so that more people are helped.
The idea is to sell the cigars all over the world, as well as to local vendors; part of a bold new marketing plan put together with cigar sales manager Tom Gaw. The plan includes reaching out to local bars, restaurants and liquor stores, as well as featuring the cigars at prestigious high-end events such as Rum & Robusto, part of the Cayman Cookout at the Ritz-Carlton, where ten dollars from every cigar sold went into the Cayman Islands Food Bank, or the Breast Cancer Foundation’s ‘Gintonica’ event. “Events are a real nice way to interact with the people face to face. We have developed a close relationship with the Ritz-Carlton,” Mr. Gaw said.
The cigars are made from tobacco that is grown and dried on the farm, before being made into cigars by experts, under the auspices of the Cayman Cigar Company which donates 100 percent of its profits to the Bridge Foundation. That’s great too because it shows that Cayman Farms can produce unique, niche products and so gain the profit that comes from controlling more of the supply-chain.
“The first shipment of Cayman-made cigars in the history of the island went out two weeks ago,” said Beacon Farms’ Chairman Granger Haugh. “We sent more than 5000 of them, worth 133,000 dollars, to Tampa.” That’s a first for Cayman agriculture, but it’s not the only new field being ploughed at Beacon Farms.
The farm has purchased two major pieces of machinery. There is a rock-crusher attached to the back of a large, powerful tractor which pulverizes big rocks and mixes them into the soil. It is a big investment –, and It is hoped that the crusher can be eventually hired out to other farms eventually, making the equipment a big blessing to other farms too.
The farm has also bought a big horizontal grinder which grinds up all manner of organic material – including cardboard, pallet wood, and thick tree branches, as well as ordinary landscaping waste into fragments small enough to be composted in the farm’s state-of-the-art static aerated composting facility. The composting facility is really another “first,” for Cayman agriculture, turning the material into high-quality compost in a matter of weeks by a system of air which is pumped through pipes into the compost pile, accelerating the rate of chemical reactions and producing a high temperature that kills of plant pathogens and pests. Most of the compost is going to be mixed into the soil/rock fragment trail left behind by the rock crusher, increasing the depth and fertility of the soil, but there are also plans to sell some of it to local plant growers.
The ability to increase soil depth is good news, because one of Beacon Farms’ other pioneering enterprises are beet mangels, a root crop used for animal feed, and mangels need good, rich, deep soil. Lots of local farmers are already interested in buying the mangels, which can be feed to cows, pigs, and horses chickens and goats. So far, all the animal feed in Cayman has been Imported from overseas, Mr. Haugh said, so it makes a lot of sense for Cayman to be able to grow its own animal feed. The farm is also in the process of growing its own coconut trees, to provide coconuts for the on-site coconut oil and flour processing plant.