Move over beetroot, there’s a new beet in town. Beacon Farms has harvested its first crop of mangelwurzels, a large root vegetable from the same family as red and sugar beets and Swiss chard.
Commonly used as cattle fodder, both leaves and roots of the mangel beet are edible by humans. Although mangelwurzels are typically grown in temperate climates, the Beacon Farms team successfully trialed a winter crop in their research and development garden this year and have plans to plant more extensively in their commercial fields next year.
Beacon Farms Chief Operating Officer Sandy Urquhart said, “Mangels are a robust and versatile crop that grow well in Cayman’s soil and climate. If we can farm on a larger scale, mangels could help improve food security in our islands by providing a local food source for livestock and a nutritious vegetable for human consumption.”
With 34-acres in North Side, Beacon Farms is a non-profit organisation providing jobs and training to Caymanians in recovery. As part of their mission to increase agricultural literacy in the Cayman Islands, Beacon Farms has introduced new technology and farming techniques to expand the volume and diversity of crops that can be grown in the Cayman Islands.
In addition to local staples such as tomatoes, avocadoes and callaloo, Beacon Farms has had success growing radishes, tobacco and corn this year. Radishes and mangelwurzels are the first of the new crops to make it to market, where they have been snapped up by local retailers and restauranteurs.
Chef Jack Barwick, whose private dining company Chellamella focuses on using locally-sourced ingredients, has been experimenting with different ways to cook the mangel, transforming the ungainly, bulbous vegetable into a work of art on the plate.
“We expected such a large root vegetable usually used for cattle to be more fibrous and flavourless but in fact it was quite the opposite,” said Barwick. “The mangel went bright white after salt baking and the barbequed version created a bright orange/purple crust as if it was a sliced piece of smoked brisket. We were surprised to find that even though mangels are in the beet family, they look and taste very meat-like.”
Mangels are also in demand from cattle and goat farmers in the Cayman Islands. Local historian and author Roy Bodden, who raises cattle on his land, has used Beacon Farms mangels as animal fodder.
“My farm manager, Garry, my son James and I all agree that mangelwurzels are a great food source for cattle,” said Bodden. “It complements the grass which is the staple cattle food and we eagerly anticipate Beacon Farms production of this new crop which we highly recommend.”
Mangelwurzel is a high-sugar, high-energy food that is rich in calcium and magnesium and suitable for most animals including cattle, pigs and goats. Also known as mangolds, these beets can grow up to 20 pounds in size and store well.
“Developing our capacity to produce a locally-grown, nutritious animal fodder will reduce our dependence on importing from overseas,” said Urquhart. “Recent disruptions to the global supply chains have highlighted the importance of increasing our food security. As we scale up our agricultural endeavour, this is one area we can have a positive impact quickly.”