There are 7,000 plants in the ground at a North Side farm and if all goes well, smokers will be able to enjoy cigars that contain Cayman Islands tobacco sometime this year.
The Cayman Cigar Co. project is one of many initiatives of Beacon Farms, a non-profit organisation that has a main purpose of assisting those recovering from drug and/or alcohol addiction by giving them meaningful work in a stable, structured and supportive environment. Beacon Farms provides the “next step” for those who have completed various recovery milestones at The Bridge, a halfway house in West Bay. The men and women at that campus, which is operated by another non-profit organisation, The Bridge Foundation, would have been referred there from the Parole Board, Probation, Drug Court, Caribbean Haven or The Counselling Centre.
Realising that those recovering from addiction need safe, sober living environments to reduce the chances of recidivism, The Beacon of Hope Foundation purchased 34 acres of land along Frank Sound Road and established Beacon Farms, with Frank “Bud” Volinsky serving as the operations manager. The idea of Beacon Farms is not only to provide a safe, drug-free environment to the people who come over from The Bridge, but to also teach them marketable skills that they can use for the rest of their lives, helping them become productive members of society.
It’s not just tobacco that Beacon Farms is growing using organic farming methods: there are 14 different kinds of fruit trees on the property, including coconut, mango, avocado, breadfruit, papaya and jackfruit. There are also many kinds of vegetables, tubers, herbs and even sunflowers.
Volinski says that all of the employees are treated with respect and can be taught many different skills at the farm, depending on their aptitudes. In addition to field work, skills needed in a farming operation can include operating heavy equipment, construction, bookkeeping, food processing and selling — all of which can be developed over time at Beacon Farms.
“It’s about more than just keeping them off the streets, out of the jails and out from in front of a judge,” says Volinski. “It’s also about having them contribute to the economy of this country by helping them develop a career path so they can transition from here and find meaningful work.”
Although Beacon Farms is able to sell many different crops, the idea of creating a unique product like cigars that could be exported was very appealing, partially because the farm wouldn’t be competing with anyone else in Grand Cayman’s farming business by growing tobacco. However, because a tobacco licence was needed to sell cigars and non-profit organisations can’t hold tobacco licences, Cayman Cigar Co. had to be set up as a for-profit entity — and then donates 100 per cent of its net profits to charity.
After getting all of its necessary licensing, Cayman Cigar Company opened shop on December 1, 2018, in Bodden Town. It then made its first public appearance at the 2019 Cayman Cookout in January, presenting a workshop with its master cigar roller, Barbara Garcia, and then providing samples of its cigars from a booth at the “Rum and Robusto” event. It then followed up that event with a booth at the inaugural KAABOO Cayman festival in February, for which it produced a special KAABOO corona-sized cigar.
“The feedback from those events was fantastic,” says Cayman Cigar Co.’s Director of Marketing Derik Feher.
Currently, Cayman Cigar Co. buys its filler, binder and wrapper tobacco from high-quality sources abroad and rolls its cigars here, with Garcia overseeing the process. Feher says that for now, Cayman Cigar Co. will concentrate on producing three mild-to-medium bodied cigars — the medium-bodied “Sovereign No. 1,” the lighter-bodied “Sovereign No. 2,” and the fuller-bodied “Sovereign No. 3” — in the robusto and corona sizes.
However, because it has a variety of fillers, binders and wrappers, Feher says Cayman Cigar Co. can custom tailor cigars to any strength and can brand them for special corporate or personal events, and even have the cigar roller on hand.
“We’re already booked for a wedding in June,” Feher says.
In the future, the company hopes to use the tobacco grown at Beacon Farms for filler. The initial crop planted last year didn’t fare well, partially because of the chemical composition of the soil.
“The pH of the soil was too high,” says Feher. “It was around 7 and ideally, we need to get it down to around 5.5.”
By using a variety of soil conditioners, including sulphur, manure and compost, Feher say Beacon Farms has been able to reduce the pH to between 6 and 6.5 depending on the area and because of that, there is high hope that the second crop will succeed. Although the result won’t be known until sometime this month or next, initial testing of the plants has been very promising with the tobacco farmer brought over from Cuba saying it tastes “sweet.”
In addition to its Bodden Town store locations, Cayman Cigar Co. cigars can be purchased at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, and soon will be available at Churchill’s Cigars under a special co-branded label.