Dominique Powell thinks he’s struck oil – coconut oil.
The longtime coconut grower sees demand rising for this popular fruit that has received “superfood” status in recent years.
“Coconuts played a very integral part in Cayman society,” said Powell, noting its oil and milk were used in many local dishes.
“Coconut oil was the best thing to cook food with and that is why I think the older folks lived a longer life. They made use of the coconut and its health benefits.”
While Caymanians knew the benefits of coconuts in days gone by, that faded in modern times, he said.
“The reasons they migrated away from it, I do not know. But I want to bring it back.”
With 5,000 coconut trees in his possession and growing, Powell is doing just that.
He has been supplying Dart Enterprises with trees for beautification purposes and is looking to expand the business.
Powell’s passion for coconuts grew after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 when he was approached by Dart to provide them with coconut trees on a regular basis for landscaping projects. He provided Dart with 500 to 1,000 trees a year until other companies came into play and Dart spread the purchases around with other locals.
Growing up in West Bay, Powell said his father Myoton Powell was known as the coconut man. He would make coconut oil for people all over the island. “I think it is something he passed on to me,” he said.
Powell remembers one day gathering as many coconuts he could to plant. He got in his truck, drove to the eastern end of the island and came home with more than 950 dried coconuts. Out of that, he was able to sprout 650 trees.
“My mother could not believe I had found so many coconuts after Hurricane Ivan.”
He said Cayman’s swampy land is the best place for growing coconut trees.
“The trees grow better in these wet areas, and that is why I am looking for an investor to acquire a couple acres to expand the business.”
For now, Powell farms his wife’s property in West Bay, and supplements his income by working in construction.
Planting coconut trees on a large scale does come with some worries. Farmers have to look out for a number of diseases such as mealy bugs, coconut bugs, bud rot, as well as immature nut fall.
Worldwide, coconuts are a multibillion-dollar industry as interest in health aspects has increased in recent years.
“I am sold that Cayman can play a part in that figure,” said Mr. Powell. “What else could we do with the swamp land? Building homes in swampy areas makes people sick because the floor is always damp. I believe they should use it to farm coconuts.”
Coconuts are known for their great versatility as seen in the many uses of its different parts. Coconuts are different from any other fruit because they contain a large quantity of “water” and when immature they are known as tender-nuts or jelly-nuts and may be harvested for drinking, according to Wikipedia.
When mature, they still contain some water and can be used as seed nuts or processed to give oil from the kernel, charcoal from the hard shell and coir, or fiber, from the husk, which is used to make products such as floor mats, doormats and brushes.
Coconut water, coconut milk and coconut oil have become increasingly popular in retail markets around the world. The flesh of the coconut has long been popular in numerous recipes, and the flesh and/or coconut milk or water are used in desserts, curries, confections and soups.
In some countries the coconut roots are used as a dye, a mouthwash and a medicine for diarrhea and dysentery. A frayed piece of root can also be used as a toothbrush.
Coconuts are used in the beauty industry as moisturizers and body butters because coconut oil, due to its chemical structure, is readily absorbed by the skin. The coconut shell may also be ground down and added to products for exfoliation of dead skin.
Coconut trees can grow more than 70 feet tall with a 30-foot leaf canopy. The fruit from tall trees are usually large and are collected in a variety of ways, but this is more labor-intensive, not to mention risky, as compared to harvesting from another variety: the dart coconut.
These trees are much smaller with more slender trunks producing usually smaller fruit but in greater numbers.
Powell says he may have the smallest coconut tree in the world. “I wanted to grow the largest coconut tree in the world, but I think I ended up with the smallest one.”
Splitting one of the smaller coconuts and a larger coconut in half to reveal the edible white meat, Mr. Powell compared the two and said growing the smaller trees with the same quality of meat would be more profitable for his business and take up less space.