Belle Meadow Farm!
(Photograph By Mark Sandlin for Alabama NewsCenter piece)
History of The Farm
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 now call Alabama.
Andrew and Laurie Beth Kesterson now call this farmland theirs, and with the utmost respect for those that came before them, and will come after, as 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 his own garden along with show horses.
Albert Taylor or “Daddy Bo” was LB’s grandfather’s name; he and his son “Al” raised show horses, managed the small community of Belle Meadow Loop Rd, 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, until Andrew’s interest was sparked. Al was then more than willing to teach Andrew the ways of the land and how to operate a tractor, and well… The Rest is HISTORY!
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. He began by growing potted peppers, herbs, and even tomatoes. Then one year he asked “Mama Peggy”, Laurie Beth’s grandmother, if he could borrow her tiller to break up Laurie Beth’s hard back yard, a thing she laughs about now thinking about how their dogs would tear through the yard with no care in the world for his precious garden.
Each year Andrew would experiment, learn, and be absolutely enthralled in the miracles 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 off fantasy even.
And then reality occurs.
While studying in college, the economy suddenly takes a turn for the worst and upon graduation (2010-11), 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 down the road his PhD. But during the preparation process many things occurred, one being the April 27th tornadoes, which re-focused the couple on what they really wanted out of life.
Instead of committing to a decade (or more), 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. Laurie Beth’s family was ecstatic that they would being making Tuscaloosa their permanent home.
With the blessing of Mama Peggy, Andrew broke ground on Belle Meadow farm in the Spring of 2012. He started with just a small 60×100 garden. Uncle Al did the all the tractor work for him that first year affording Andrew the opportunity to learn various farming techniques.
LAURIE BETH KESTERSON
Concurring with the fast growth of the farm, Laurie Beth has fully committed herself back to the farm life. She could not be more elated to get back to her roots and down in the dirt. A once small business manager to owner of a local nursery design boutique, Laurie Beth is in charge of the marketing and finance aspects. You can find her at Tuscaloosa River Market every Saturday from 7am-noon, Tuesdays (April-November) from 3-6pm, as well as quarterly at The 5th Street Vintage Market held at the Northport Farmers Market.
The best trait about Belle Meadow Farm is that we know no matter how far we have come, there is always room for improvement. We are constantly looking for ways to evolve every aspect of our operations and take input from customers very seriously. It is one of the things that guides the farm: daily learning.
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 our short farming career, we have 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. We believe attention to detail is what sets us apart.
Belle Meadow Timeline
2012- small 60 x 100 garden plot
2013-an acre and a half
2014- a little over two acres
2015- doubled to a little over 4 acres
2016- about 6 acres
2017- about 6-8 acres
2018- 8-10 acres in full production and we have an orchard we are hoping will be ready for 2019!