Beacon Farms, Cayman Islands
A place where people and produce grow.
Words by Hannah Reid of Bush Girl Medicine. Photos courtesy of Beacon Farms.
Down a marl drive that curves off the Frank Sound Road lies Beacon Farms – a 34-acre farm surrounded by native forest, unlike any other in the Cayman Islands. The farm was purchased in 2017 by Granger Haugh, founder of the Haugh Family Foundation, and his son Scott. The Haugh family have a long history of philanthropic charitable connections in the Cayman Islands, having resided here for over 40 years.
I am meeting Sandy Urquhart, the farm’s chief operating officer. Aside from the calls of native birds – woodpeckers, parrots, doves – the farm is quiet. Sandy is enjoying a cigar when I arrive, one of Beacon Farm’s signature products. The cigars are blended and rolled locally at the Cayman Cigar Company shop in Bodden Town, using imported tobacco for now, but the farm is well on its way to growing organic tobacco.
But it’s not only the organic tobacco that puts Beacon Farms in a class of its own.
“It’s not just what we farm but how we farm and who does the farming,” Urquhart says. “The farm gives employment to people who are making genuine attempts to recover from substance abuse. It creates an environment in which they work with others who have the same issues and are in the same phase of recovery.”
Beacon Farms participants learn positive life skills and pro-social behaviours in a safe, supervised, and sober working environment. Through the programmes, they gain the skills and knowledge they need to re-enter both the community and the workforce.
“They receive a full wage, pension and healthcare, and they can stay here and work here as long as they like,” Urquhart says, noting that the farm currently employees 13 people. “That’s the real objective behind absolutely everything.” At its heart, Beacon Farms is a place where people come to grow.
The first stop on our tour is the state-of-the-art static aeration composting facility which turns cardboard from Foster’s, shredded paper from CayShred, wooden pallets from Progressive Distributors and green waste from local landscaping companies into nutrient-rich compost.
“What normally takes six months, this facility can do in around 20 days. Right now, we primarily use the compost to enrich the soil in our fields,” Urquhart explains. “We’re expanding the facility, and, in the future, we plan to make it available to anyone who needs high-quality compost for their fields, landscaping or home gardens.”
From there, we walk to the tobacco field, currently a quarter-acre test site where the teams are experimenting to get the perfect leaf. To me, they certainly look perfect – not a nibbled leaf in sight – but Urquhart explains creating wrapper grade product includes not just visual appearance but also texture, flavour and chemical composition.
Beyond the tobacco field, another acre of empty land waits to be planted. Unlike the rocky forest that borders it, this field is flat and fertile thanks to Beacon Farms’ Valentini Rock Tiller, which grinds down rock and earth to a depth of 14 inches. Hitched to the back of a John Deere tractor with wheels that tower over my head, this machine enables the farm to turn portions of the property into deep, level fields. Add nutrient-rich compost, and you have the perfect growing conditions for a variety of fruit and vegetable crops, including apple bananas, breadfruit, ackee, pink guavas and avocados, all organically grown.
Next, we pass a small field where the team is experimenting with Mangel Beets, an excellent feedstock for cattle, horses, goats, and chickens. “Local livestock are fed mostly using imported feed; this will be another step in helping to create greater food security for the country,” Urquhart explains.
Our final stop is the Agriculture Processing Unit, where brown coconuts are turned into organic oil and flour using a combination of traditional methods and modern technology. The finished products are tested by the Beacon Farms research and development laboratory to ensure the quality and nutritional content of each batch. Available for purchase online, Beacon Farms looks forward to having its unrefined coconut oil at all local supermarkets.
Urquhart lays out the farm’s ambitious master plan in the main office, which will include an orchard, hydroponics and aquaponics, a cacao orchard, solar power, educational and research facilities, beehives and nature trails added to the property over the coming years.
“How quickly we get there is all dependent on fundraising,” he says. On a nearby whiteboard, a hand-drawn flowchart maps out the connections – some realised, some yet to materialise – between the farm and other sectors: health and well-being, education, environment, hospitality and academia. These connections help define what Urquhart calls ‘agricultural literacy’.
“It’s not just for the people here working in agriculture; it’s about connecting with other farmers, exchanging ideas, developing a much more sustainable agricultural business model on the island generally,” he says. “And it just so happens it’s occurring at a time when we all really need to be thinking about that.”
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local, regional and global supply chains reinforced the importance of food security for many over the past year, highlighting the emerging role of local growers and farmers in keeping Cayman’s shelves stocked.
The true strength of Beacon Farms lies not just in the quality of its products but in the connections it cultivates between people, between industries, between Cayman and the world.
“It’s the most amazing project I’ve ever been asked to be part of,” Urquhart says. “I think there’s just a natural instinct in people to feel a lot more comfortable when they are closer to the earth. It’s peaceful. Although it can get exciting at times, it’s a great environment for people to continue their journey.”
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