The Black Warrior River region was host to the most thriving Native American city in North America: Moundville. These native peoples, called Mississippians by modern anthropologists, made their civilization in and around the black warrior, utilizing various pieces of rich farmland to support their large population. Belle Meadow Farm, situated in the very beginning foothills of the Appalachian range, located in southern Tuscaloosa county, is one of the fields in which native peoples most certainly farmed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before white settlers came to what we know now as Alabama.
Andrew and Laurie Beth Kesterson now call this farmland theirs, and with the utmost respect of those that came before them, and will come after, we choose to farm organically. According to the most modern records that Andrew can find, the thirteen-acre pastureland that is now known as “Belle Meadow Farm” was used extensively for cotton production in the 30’s and 40’s, soybeans in the 60’s, and was purchased by Laurie Beth’s grandfather in the mid 1970’s with the purpose of raising show horses. “Daddy Bo” was LB’s grandfather’s name; he and His son “Al” raised show horses and kept a small garden there, until his tragic death in 1995. The thirteen-acre, prime farmland designated field lay fallow for over twenty-years, with three to four times yearly bush hogging by Al, who didn’t have the heart to continue farming the way he once had with his father.
Andrew graduated in 2011 from the University of Alabama with a degree in history, a minor in English literature, and a passion for organic gardening. Throughout Andrew & Laurie Beth’s first formative years they found solace and joy in keeping a small organic garden at Laurie Beth’s home. Each year Andrew would experiment, learn, and be absolutely thrilled at the wonders of growing food organically, using only natural fertilizers, and employing the latest in small-scale techniques pioneered by organic growers. Andrew always thought this would be one hell of a way to make a living, but the idea of running an organic farm always seemed to be a far flung possibility, a fantasy even.
And then reality occurs. While studying in college, the economy suddenly takes a turn for the worst and upon graduation 2011, Andrew and Laurie Beth, whom are both liberal arts majors, found it nearly impossible to find employment without committing to furthering their educations. Andrew seriously investigated and prepared for applying to obtain his masters in history, and hopefully eventually his PhD, but during the preparation process many things occurred to re-focus the couple on what they really wanted out of life.
Instead of committing possibly a decade plus of his life in pursuit of his PhD, in a state very far away from Alabama and Laurie Beth’s home, Andrew decided to take the big leap and become an organic farmer here in Tuscaloosa, and to make Tuscaloosa their permanent home. With the blessing of Mama Peggy, Laurie Beth’s grandmother, Andrew broke ground on Belle Meadow farm in the Spring of 2012. He started with just a small 60×100 garden. His uncle-in-law, Al Taylor, did the tractor work for him that first year to help Andrew gain knowledge.
That small garden was maintained entirely by hand that first year and Belle Meadow saw wild success at the newly opened Tuscaloosa River Market. So much so that the decision to “fully commit” to the farm life was made. Each year Belle Meadow has grown, from a small garden, to an acre and a half the second year, to a little over two acres the third year, and now in it’s fourth year Belle Meadow currently has a little over 4 acres in full production. Andrew uses his fierce research skills to stay on top of the latest in farming techniques and often converses with farmers across the country, via social media, on the latest in organic farming and farming strategy.
Today, Andrew has been fully trained in the use of various farming implements, does all of the tractor work himself, and has found himself fully transformed into the role of farmer.
Laurie Beth Kesterson
Concurring with the fast growth of the farm, Laurie Beth has fully committed herself back to the farm life this year. She was elated to get back to her roots and down in the dirt. A once small business owner herself, Laurie Beth is a behind the scenes manager. You can find her out on the farm Tuesday’s packing and delivering CSA boxes, Wednesday’s running the greenhouse, Friday’s preparing for Markets, and Saturday’s selling at Tuscaloosa River Market.
The best trait about Andrew & Laurie Beth is that they know no matter how far they have come, there is always room for improvement. They constantly look for ways to evolve every aspect of their operations, they take input from customers very seriously, and it is one of the things that guide the farm: listening. The one thing that Belle Meadow emphasizes over anything else is quality of product. Scouring through seed catalogs, we aim to find the most unique, best tasting, healthiest growing, and well suited varieties for our southern region. Over Andrew’s short farming career, he has grown nearly 8 different varieties of okra alone, just to see which ones exhibit the best combination of yield, flavor, tenderness, etc. This kind of commitment to finding the very best product to sell is evident in everything Belle Meadow Farm grows. We also have an on-site walk-in cooler in order to preserve the freshness of our harvests, until we bring it to market or deliver it to a customer.