He may be best known for his juicy tomatoes, but Al Solomon is also one of the founding fathers of the Harrison County Farmers’ Market. Solomon, of Ammerman Pike, has been farming produce for 10 years, eight of which have been with the farmers’ market.
His family has played a large role in his success as a farmer, and have been working with him since he started.
In high school, Solomon started working on a produce farm in South Dakota that specialized in watermelons and tomatoes.
In 1984, he was asked to move to Cynthiana to transfer to a satellite plant with Weaver Corporation. The Cynthiana plant closed after two years and he was offered a job in Reno, Nevada.
“We liked the people, we liked the area, so we settled,” Solomon said of the decision to remain in Cynthiana.
Out of the 30 families, the Solomons were the only ones to stay in Cynthiana.
Since he was no longer with the company, Solomon decided to pursue one of his life-long dreams of raising rabbits.
“I’ve always wanted to raise rabbits on a large scale,” Solomon said.
He built the barns on his property in 1987 to raise the rabbits, and is still raising them today.
In 1992, Solomon was hired at 3M, and after 10 years with the company, he retired.
Solomon started farming produce in Cynthiana with former Harrison County Judge Musser Carroll. Solomon said that Carroll showed him the way so that he could start farming produce on his own.
He started selling produce in 2004, sitting near Leono’s by the train tracks for three years.
Solomon has been working with the Harrison County Farmers’ Market for eight years.
It started when he would sit in the ditch on the edge of Flat Run Veterans Park for two years.
“The money was alloted for the structure, and we have been here for four years in the pavilion,” Solomon said.
Vickie Fryman, member of the Harrison County Farmers’ Market, said the pavilion is one of only three in the state, and Solomon has been there since the beginning.
“He’s kind of like our founding father,” Fryman said.
Change in Farming
A lot has changed since Solomon left the farm in South Dakota.
“The whole thing has changed,” Solomon said.
There is more competition and more vendors, unlike when he would sit in the ditch at Flat Run Veterans Park and have lines for hours of people waiting to buy his produce.
Solomon said there are more regulations to consider now as well.
“I suppose it’s for the good,” Solomon said as he reminisced on the days he would be able to cut open a watermelon to make sure it was fresh before putting the piece back in. “We did a lot of things back then,” he added.
Now, with higher regulations, it is harder to determine whether a watermelon is fresh, he said.
Solomon said farming produce has changed for the good as well.
New technology has given Solomon the ability to garden a lot easier. A plastic sheet is placed over soil with water lines running underneath to keep the ground moist and the weeds away. There is no bending and weeding out a garden, Solomon said.
“I wouldn’t do this at all if it weren’t for the new technology,” Solomon said. “I wouldn’t be pulling up those weeds.”
Solomon runs four plots of land totaling 4.5 acres, and plants various crops, such as five types of tomatoes, peppers, kale greens, lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, watermelon, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, and more.
Solomon is focusing on his warm plants because cold plants, such as cabbage, broccoli and lettuce, are finished by mid-July. Warm plants are starting to be picked around mid-July, Solomon said.
He started planting his warm plants in May. Beans are planted continuously all summer because the whole process of planting and picking is 50 to 52 days. Most other crops would only be going through one or two cycles, depending on the farmer.
Solomon said it isn’t easy. The hardest crop to keep up with, Solomon said, is tomatoes.
“They are like babies,” Solomon said. “You have to tend to them and care for them more than the other crops.”
Last year was a hard year for Solomon with tomatoes. He lost 75 percent of his crop, Solomon said.
“Anyone can grow a tomato,” Solomon said. “The hard part is getting the perfect tasting tomato.”
The easiest crop to grow is lettuce, Solomon said.
“You plant it, it comes up and you pick it,” Solomon said. “You don’t have to fight the insects.”
At the end of the day, when produce is left over, the Solomons takes the extra to Living Hope Church for their dinners or the Food Bank.
“Might as well give it to someone who will get use of it,” said Holly Laytart, Solomon’s daughter.
Technology has played a large role in Solomon’s farming, mainly because the Internet is available to seek what might be wrong with a crop, he said.
“Before that, all you had was trial and error,” Solomon said.
Solomon said Laytart is helpful with the technology.
“I don’t think I can even turn on a computer,” Solomon said.
Laytart said she works on the marketing aspect of the farm, and when blythe hit the tomatoes, she was there to try to figure something out on the Internet. She also checks the prices from other county farmers’ markets to see what they should price their produce at.
Family is important to Solomon, and every family member is involved in his farming in one way or another.
His grandsons, Clayton, 7, and Liam, 1, help out with picking the crops. “Liam is the bean picker,” Solomon said, laughing. “And then we have caboose, here,” he added, pointing to Clayton.
Clayton seemed to be involved in every aspect of Solomon’s farming. He followed him along to different counties and its farmers’ markets, he picked the crops, helped with the rabbits and attends the Harrison County Farmers’ Market, where he bounces around to every table to help each farmer.
Solomon’s wife, Connie, attends the Harrison County Farmers’ Market and helps Solomon sell his produce.
Despite the extra hands, Solomon is thinking about retiring in August due to his health.
“I thought it would never happen to me,” Solomon said.
His children, including those living in South Dakota, have been telling him to stop for a while, Solomon said.
“I think he’s realized he can’t do everything,” Laytart said.
Solomon is thinking of slowing down to four crops if he decides to continue.
“My daughter wants to do it,” Solomon said. “She’s kind of scared to get her feet wet.”
Solomon said that if he was Laytart’s age, he would at least try it out.
“I would love to do this full time,” Laytart said. “Maybe in a year or so.”
She said it wouldn’t be to the same scale as Solomon’s because of her full-time job at The Animal House, but she hopes that one day it would reach that size again.
“A lot of people are looking for fruit,” Laytart said. “Maybe I’ll expand to grapes when I start taking over.”
But Solomon doesn’t seem quite ready to give up, despite what he says.
“All my kids tell me, ‘Slow down Dad, go fishing,’” Solomon said, “but if I don’t do this, what am I going to do?”