Hog Heaven: Oxford farmer raises high-end, organic pork

By Carlie Kollath | NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Brad Solomon’s pork isn’t the other white meat. “The meat is redder, and it looks more like beef than supermarket white pork,” Solomon said.
Solomon owns Old Thyme Farms, a 2-year-old business venture in Oxford. His primary focus is organically raising a herd of rare Tamworth heritage breed hogs. He also raises organic produce. He doesn’t use chemicals in raising either.
His pork is used at several upscale eateries in Oxford, including restaurants owned by award-winning chef John Currence.
Solomon started the venture because he wanted to return to his early days in agriculture. One of his first jobs was working in a nursery.
Over the years, the Chattanooga native took different jobs, including working as a hunting guide in Colorado and Nebraska and as a fishing boat captain in the Gulf of Mexico. He moved to Northeast Mississippi for work after the BP oil disaster.
Once in Oxford, he researched ways to have a sustainable family farm. He chose to raise Tamworth swine, a rare English breed. About 4,500 Tamworths are left in the world, Solomon said.
The rarity makes the pigs more expensive. A common piglet may fetch $25 at an auction, he said, but his Tamworth piglets go for $250 each.
It took Solomon a year to build his herd to a number great enough to support local restaurants. He also sells breeding stock to the public.
Solomon is still growing his hog herd, which has 43 pigs and hogs. At the same time, he’s growing his sheep herd, which now has six animals.
It’s important, he said, to build the herd before trying to supply restaurants.
“The restaurants don’t want anything to do with us unless we can provide for the entirety of the menu,” he said.
He talks with Currence’s chefs often about what they need for their menu. One of the next projects is preparing a hog for prosciutto. It will be fed a diet of basil, thyme, sage and grains before it is converted to the Italian specialty ham.
Solomon credits local chefs and consumers for his success so far, and one individual stands out to him.
“John Currence has been the single, most supportive person in making this farm a reality,” he said. “He’s really helped us leaps and bounds. I can’t say enough about how … appreciative we are of him.”
Solomon also is raising vegetables. His organic produce includes varieties of spinach, kale, cabbage, lettuce, collards, Swiss chard, herbs, mustard and Brussels sprouts. And he is experimenting with growing gourmet mushrooms.
He’s rapidly expanding his produce offerings. Last month, he started work on a greenhouse and plans to finish a second one this month, for a total of 3,400 square feet of space.
His goal is to have crops ready for harvest in the cold months of January and February.
“It’ll be like Miami in here in February,” he said.
Solomon has a busy schedule taking care of the hogs and the vegetables. He and co-worker Melissa Ondrovcik operate the entire farm, along with some help from volunteers.
“We’re just getting started in this thing,” Solomon said. “I can only do so much every day.”
He’d like to see the farm grow in five to 10 years to have more pasture land for the hogs and more land for cultivating. He’d also like to expand his hog herd to about 150.
“We’re already a year-round produce and hog operation,” he said. “I’d like to expand the greenhouse production and have hot-house tomatoes.”
He has plenty of other projects too, including cultivating an orchard.
“We’re starting small,” he said.
“And growing fast,” added Ondrovcik.
carlie.kollath@journalinc.com