10 March 2023
It takes imagination, courage and patience to be a trailblazer, and the path is not without its challenges. But, with perseverance and faith, truly amazing breakthroughs can be realised, leading the way for others to follow.
Beacon Farms firmly falls into this category, as a prime example of how the commitment and drive of a small group of people can revolutionise an industry. At the same time, it is helping some workers rebuild their lives whilst recovering from the scourge of addiction. Now, thanks to a locally made documentary by Candy Whicker – "Beacon Farms," recently screened at Camana Bay Cinema – audiences in Cayman and abroad have been given amazing insight into the inner workings of the farm.
Viewers are taken on a three-year journey through the trials and triumphs of transforming an unforgiving landscape in North Side into a thriving, growing estate.
Although Beacon Farms was started in 2017, its foray into becoming a business really started two years later, when Sandy Urquhart was brought on board. He was previously known for his groundbreaking work with Dart, setting up its 24-acre nurseries, spearheading its landscaping designs and overseeing architecture, until he retired about 10 years ago from the director of design position. From there, he started his own consultancy business and, since 2019, has been the chief operating officer of the farm.
Thanks to the generosity of philanthropist Granger Haugh of the Haugh Foundation, who purchased the 34 acres on which the farm stands, the possibility of its becoming a self-sustaining operation when the idea arose looked like a viable prospect. However, making that dream a reality was certainly not smooth sailing, all of which is captured in Whicker’s film.
The team of residents at Beacon Farms – living in the property’s main house while working through their addiction recovery process – had to learn how to plant and tend crops, operate and repair the machinery, and/or work in administration. Some took to it like grass to soil, while others struggled and moved on. The camera does not shy away from telling the stories of those who joined the staff on the farm, only to unfortunately relapse in their recovery, which means automatic dismissal from the farm.
COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 stunted progress significantly and a fire that destroyed a key piece of equipment brought further delays. But the major elephant in the room (or among the trees) was the solid rock that formed the base of much of the land. Trying to create enough soil to put atop it in order for crops to grow was proving to be the biggest hurdle of all.
When many might have thrown their hands in the air, the team at Beacon Farms pushed through, with the Haugh Foundation ever ready to step in and assist. Specialised machinery was imported, such as an impressive wood chipper. A composting shed was also set up to aid in soil creation. But the real game-changer was when Haugh made the decision to import an Italian rock-crusher to the island. Suddenly, the element that was creating the greatest barrier to farm expansion could be tackled – ground down into fine particles, and mixed with soil, ready for planting.
Whicker gained extraordinary access to the farm and its staff, who opened up to her about their struggles in the past, and how grateful they are for the opportunity that Beacon Farms has given them.
“It is a testament to them, actually, that they were so open with me,” Whicker said. “Certainly, it took a good few months for them to get used to me being around…. They just had to trust me.”
The hope is that there will be further showings at Camana Bay Cinema in the future (all ticket sales are being donated to Beacon Farms), and that some who have seen the film will be motivated to offer financial support to the farm.
This article was originally featured in the March 2023 print edition of Camana Bay Times.