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Tuesday, Nov 20, 2018
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For Clam Farmer, Family Gets Priority

RIVERVIEW - RIVERVIEW - Dan Solano is old Florida to the core. "I'm thirteenth generation," he said. "My ancestors ... came to St. Augustine with Pedro Menendez in 1565." Pedro Menendez de Aviles was a Spanish seaman who founded St. Augustine. When Solano was 10, his parents moved to Riverview. He has lived on the Alafia River ever since. A standout baseball player at Providence Christian School in Riverview in 1976, Solano was recruited to play first base at Stetson University in DeLand, but he returned home in 1978 to work in the family real estate and property development business.
After two decades in real estate, Solano wanted to get involved in an enterprise that was more Florida-friendly. So he partnered with some friends interested in clam farming around Cedar Key. In 1994, the Florida Constitution was amended to ban certain types of net fishing, effectively putting many fishermen out of business. Clam farming looked to provide eco-friendly employment, and Solano liked the business. "I leased land from the state and jumped right in," he said. "We've grown the business. As many as 50 small farmers grow clams for us. We farm, and we're a processor. We package and grade and ship." Cedar Key Aquaculture Farms has become the largest clam farmer in Florida. "Last year, we sold a million and a half pounds," Solano said. "That's 30 to 40 million pieces. The bulk of our business is fresh. ... Plus, we do clams on the half shell and cooked vacuum-packed. Our biggest competition is China - but only processed." The reason Solano doesn't live in Cedar Key is the rest of the story. "Family is my priority," he said. "We want to raise the children in Brandon." Four of Solano's five children attend Foundation Christian Academy on Lithia-Pinecrest Road in Valrico. "This is our ninth year," he said. "Timothy started in pre-k. This coming year, he'll be in seventh, Sarah in fifth, Daniel in third and Joseph in kindergarten." His oldest son, David, 20, is a sergeant with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Force deployed in Afghanistan. Solano has been on the board of directors at Foundation Christian Academy for the past three years. It's the other great passion of his life. "I'm not a great academic," he said. "I came on board to help in sports. I grew up playing with four brothers, and I wanted to help the school. We're in the Brandon Area Christian Youth League. He said the school had students involved in seven sports this year - golf, cross-country and track, volleyball, flag football, basketball, softball and soccer. "Then I help sometimes with assistant coaching," Solano said. He also helped launch Foundation Fathers, a group of men dedicated to spending quality time with their children. "We started last school year," he said. "We realized we need help spending time with our children. Once a month, dads and kids do different functions - campouts, Rays games, canoeing. We average 15 to 30 dads with 25 to 50 kids. It's been a great blessing." Solano says Foundation Christian provides the kind of atmosphere parents are looking for. "The core group here has worked together many years," he said. "It's that small-school atmosphere, where everybody knows your name. The old, small-town America concept. We're not afraid to use the word God, and we use a Bible-based curriculum." Solano is especially excited about the coming year. "This year, we're adding our first high school grade," he said. "We've been adding a grade a year. ... There are good public high schools in Brandon, but what we offer is a more specialized personal relationship with teachers and administration. If you want to be a part of something, then that's what this school provides." The school is expected to be accredited by the National Christian School Association in September, he said. Solano, who will turn 50 this summer, said he is optimistic about the future - with his family and the school he supports. "I try not to worry too much about things that are not in my control," he said. "We live life in the positive." MEET DAN SOLANO OCCUPATION: President, Cedar Key Aquaculture Farms BORN: Jacksonville, 1958 MOVED TO RIVERVIEW: 1968 EDUCATION: Providence Christian School, Stetson University DeLand campus MARRIED: Patricia Coupe, 1993 RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION: Member of Bell Shoals Church of Christ BOARD MEMBER: Foundation Christian Academy

Derek Maul can be reached at [email protected]

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