A family farm | Opelika Observer
By Hannah Lester
Two people need a little extra money. They both hate tomatoes. The logical conclusion, then, is that both would grow and sell tomatoes. Harman Family Farm isn’t all hydroponically grown tomatoes and lettuce. It’s a family of 15 that always seems to be growing.
Chris and Rita Harman initially decided to start growing tomatoes when their daughter, Megan, was 16. She wanted to drive a car and get her license, like all other kids her age.
But finding a car for Megan was going to take a bit more work and money – she’s a functional quadriplegic.
Megan was born with arthrogryposis, Chris said.
“Basically your muscles aren’t growing properly while the fetus is in the mother’s womb and basically you were born with about as much muscle as you are going to have,” he said. “You don’t get much stronger, build a lot of muscle with that.”
So when Megan was looking to drive, finding a car that would allow her to drive would cost $ 100,000, Chris said.
Chris and Rita began to consider ways to afford it, aside from the partial help the state was going to provide.
“I’ve always had a certain interest in what they call aquaponics, which involves growing fish and also plants, but… I saw in a magazine a guy who grew tomatoes hydroponically”, Chris said.
The idea was born and the family bought a greenhouse.
Now they have two greenhouses and grow not only tomatoes, but also lettuce in hydroponics.
“It allowed me to have a second job and stay home, and I was able to get help from my family,” Chris said.
Chris needed to be home as much as he could because the Harmans have so many children.
They’ve been growing their families for 14 years now.
The Harmans have taken in over 75 to 80 children over the years and adopted four. They also have five biological children.
So while Megan finally got the equipped van she needed to drive, growing tomatoes also became a way for the Harmans to support the foster family.
And now they’re a family of 15. Chris and Rita have five biological children and four adopted children: Megan (30), Ben (29), Kim (21), Kyle (18), Kelly (18) , Erica (15 years old). , Brandon (13), Jacob (10) and JadaLynn (10). The Harmans currently host four: Madi (19) and her son Sebastian (4), Bree (18) and Nicey (17). And let’s add one more: Chris’s mom also lives with the family! So a family of 16.
Planting in hydroponics essentially means planting in something other than the soil, Chris said.
“For a long time, I grew them in compost or in a crushed coconut shell,” he said. “This year, to try and cut some costs, I went back to growing them in finely composted pine bark.
Something interesting to note – the Harmans have tomatoes while most others don’t. They plant in October and the season runs from January to July 4.
“We don’t compete with summer tomatoes, so our season starts really early,” said Rita. “We have tomatoes in January… Our big goal is not to compete with garden tomatoes but to have good tomatoes in winter. “
There are 580 plants this season, Chris said, with two plants in a container. A walk through Harman’s Greenhouse is a walk through rows of tomato plants that extend to the ceiling.
Each week, the Harmans remove the “suckers” from the plant, that is, the extra branches from the tomato plant. They want long vines, Chris said.
“[The plants] will grow up to ten feet, then about five, six times a year, we’ll have to drop the soles about two or three feet and then slide it around, and that basically leaves room for it to grow more ”, did he declare.
Essentially, this means you have vines hanging out on the ground for a few feet before climbing up to the ceiling in the greenhouse.
Like all plants, you also need to pollinate. To achieve this in the greenhouse, Chris places a bee hive inside.
By the end of the season, the Harmans will have harvested 10,000 to 17,000 pounds of tomatoes.
The Harmans run the business on an honor system. They have a building where all the tomatoes are stored in crates. There is also a ladder. Customers weigh their tomatoes and deposit the cash in a letterbox.
The family behind the tomatoes:
Over the past few years, the whole family has contributed to the tomato business, Chris said.
“[Megan] helps me with social media and computer work, printing stuff, I guess you could say some kind of advertisement, ”he said.
Many Harman children have grown up with the company.
“My eighteen year old twins are the most involved right now,” he said. “With all the foster kids who were quite old, they sometimes worked there.”
Household chores also involve chores in the greenhouse.
“It really is a family farm,” said Chris.
Rita said as the children got older they were also able to take on the responsibilities she took on.
“They have lightened my load to next to nothing,” she said. “I’m getting old now and the scaffolding, I don’t like being on top of the scaffolding.”
Children all see different paths in life and many of them are interested in medicine. Harman’s oldest son Ben is enrolled in Auburn’s VCOM program, Kim also works at the hospital, and some of Harman’s recent graduates are considering treatment.
Hospitality remains a big part of family life.
“We usually take older kids because nobody wants to take older foster families, everyone wants babies, they want younger kids,” Rita said. “We’re pretty much the only people in town, well, out of town they call us from all kinds of counties, ‘please take a teenager.’ And I think my love right now is this mom and these babies because I’m becoming a chick, a grandmother. I become a girl for the baby and a mother for the mother. And so if we can help moms have great careers and move forward in life, then hopefully this cycle will be broken.
“… My children have grown up serving. When it comes to foster children, they give up their clothes, they give up their rooms, they give up whatever they have to help take care of the children. We couldn’t be the foster parents we are today without them.