We asked Andrew Kesterson, farmer at Belle Meadow Farm in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, how he stores his own prize-worthy heirloom tomatoes. Even the most ardent tomato fan will learn a bit from Kesterson.”
We Could Not Grow
without Your Love!
“Way before the farm-to-table movement became a thing — and now, practically a cliché — Highlands was championing the efforts of state and regional farmers and ranchers by using locally sourced produce, meats and dairy products for the restaurant’s French-inspired Southern dishes. In addition to utilizing such growers as Andrew and Laurie Beth Kesterson of Belle Meadow Farms in Tuscaloosa and Trent Boyd of Harvest Farm in Cullman, Frank and Pardis Stitt put what they preaches into practice, raising hens and growing heirloom vegetables at their own Paradise Farm outside of Birmingham.”
Belle Meadow Farm, Tuscaloosa
The Makers: Andrew and Laurie Beth Kesterson
Andrew and Laurie Beth Kesterson both grew up near farms, but neither seriously considered tilling the soil for a living.
“I’m originally from Texas,” Andrew says. “My mother always planted a small garden and we had some relatives in Iowa that owned a farm, but I wasn’t especially interested in it.” And although Laurie Beth’s grandfather lived on a farm a few miles south of Tuscaloosa, “I grew up in town,” she says.
Now, as owners and operators of Belle Meadow Farm, the former city kids tend rows of okra, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, watermelons and more – and sell their organically grown produce, herbs, fruits and flowers to customers and restaurants in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
‘The Zimmern List”
Season 2, Episode 1
“Andrew travels to Birmingham, Alabama, home to one of the fastest growing food scenes in America. From the state’s signature barbecue to innovative takes on Southern cuisine, he gets a taste of what makes the Magic City so unique.”
The Travel Channel
“Morning sunlight bathes the Belle Meadow Farm stand at Pepper Place farmer’s market. A couple admires the verdant okra, fat cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, and other vegetables that Andrew Kesterson harvested yesterday. They snap a selfie with the bearded farmer and his beautiful produce.
Later, a man asks for the incredible Fairy Tale eggplant he ate last night at Highlands Bar and Grill. The menu specified it was Belle Meadow’s; he wanted to cook what Frank Stitt serves at one of the nation’s most outstanding restaurants.”
“Bottega, the middle child in Stitt’s restaurant family, celebrates its 30th anniversary this month. But in that time, Stitt has not lost a grain of zeal for sharing its bounty.
Whether praising the “personality” of salad greens from Terra Preta Farm, or raving about how tiny Fairy Tale eggplants from Belle Meadow cook so “pillowy soft,” it’s obvious, Stitt gets giddy about great ingredients.
“I need to spread the gospel,” he says. “I love to turn people on to flavors that are sensual and delicious.”
Stitt opened the Italian-influenced Bottega six years after founding his flagship restaurant, Highlands Bar and Grill. Both have profoundly affected Birmingham. Many local restaurant owners today trained at one or both.
While Highlands gets the national press and accolades, including this year’s prestigious Outstanding Restaurant award from the James Beard Foundation, Bottega seems to operate in its shadow, despite being every bit its equal.
Those desserts that earned Dolester Miles this year’s Beard award for national Outstanding Pastry Chef? She and her crew make them at Bottega.”
Some of the young farmers at The Market at Pepper Place are:
Belle Meadow Farm
Andrew and Laurie Beth Kesterson
Andrew and Laurie Beth Kesterson are the owners of Belle Meadow Farm, located in Tuscaloosa County. This young farming couple grows everything from potatoes and dill to corn, squash and eggplant. They also enjoy raising herbs, sunflowers and a few varieties of fruit. While not certified, the Kesterson’s farm is managed according to organic practices. Their emphasis is on permaculture and beneficial insects. Organic sprays to control pests are a last resort. Belle Meadow Farm has about ten acres under cultivation, along with a hoop house and greenhouse.
“We’ve managed to push through and that’s also why if you come here on a Tuesday, there’s limited amount of vendors,” Andrew Kesterson, Belle Meadow Farm owner and operator, said. “But I think as the weeks transition forward, you’ll be seeing more of a change and more variety of vendors and products to buy.”
Farmers say right now, expect lettuces and other leafy greens. Kesterson said squash should be readily available by early June, and then tomatoes and okra in late June to early July.
For more information, please visit http://www.tuscaloosarivermarket.com/.
“Alumnus Andrew Kesterson was an entrepreneur long before he stepped into his first class in Culverhouse’s Master of Science in Marketing program. His entrepreneurial spirit even shows in how he introduces himself to others students, ‘Hi, I’m Andrew and I run an organic farm in town,’ says Kesterson. What he didn’t reveal was the fact that engaging in the degree program was a big risk—taking him away from his farm, Belle Meadow. Enrolling in the marketing master’s program meant taking his eyes, ever so briefly, off the farm. And for what purpose?Almost instantly, he found his answer. ‘Every class I took applied directly to what I was doing with the farm,’ says the 2015 Culverhouse graduate. ‘A farm, at the heart of it, is one of the most basic business marketing ventures you can think of. All the things I was learning in my production class made me think of how I could improve my own production line—getting vegetables from the field to being washed, stored and distributed. One of my final projects for the production line class was basically revamping and rewriting my process. It was rewarding to delve into the business side of the farm.”
Culverhouse Business school at The University of Alabama
Mo Fiorella, the Homegrown Alabama market manager, describes Homegrown Alabama as an important asset to the Tuscaloosa community.
“We like to think our first Thursday events remind people that farmers markets are fun and that they are happening,” Fiorella said. “They bring people together and encourage more people to shop for healthy, fresh, local food. They also stimulate sales, which is good for our local economy.”
Andrew Kesterson, owner of Belle Meadow Farm, is a new farmer and vendor at Homegrown Alabama.
“Homegrown Alabama contributes to Tuscaloosa by giving all residents another option to buy local food that is healthy and delicious,” Kesterson. “Some people also may not be able to find time to make it to the other markets during the week and Homegrown offers a third day during the week that all Tuscaloosans can buy local produce. It also offers a convenient option for the University community to buy local produce and to support their local community.”
Kesterson grows watermelon, a single variety of cantaloupe, honeydew and a “french melon” type of cantaloupe.
A history major turned organic farmer, Andrew Kesterson has an eye for original and unorthodox produce to sell.
“Stuff that a lot of people don’t have, that’s what I like,” said Kesterson, a vender who sells his products at the Homegrown Alabama market each Thursday.
Homegrown Alabama market is held on the lawn of Canterbury Episcopal Church, 812 5th Ave., from 3 to 6 p.m. each Thursday from mid-April through October. The market, run by University of Alabama students, features local farmers, product vendors, music and face panting.
Keterson, 27, comes to the market each Thursday with a mix of sunflowers and soybeans, peaches, sweet potatoes and potatoes. But he’s best known for is the elusive moon and stars watermelon.
The watermelon, dating back hundreds of years, is a summer treat and a best seller for Keterson’s Belle Meadow Farms. The green melon is adorned with varying sizes of yellow spots that resemble stars and a moon, hence the name.
“Our biggest seller is the watermelon,” he said. “The customers just can’t resist.”
People come back to Keterson’s stand week after week asking if the melons are ripe yet. The melons sell fast when they finally are ready. The taste also makes them special, he said.
“People love how sweet they are,” Kesterson said. “I just like their history.”
Kesterson runs his small farm off Highway 69 South with his wife, Laurie Bethe Kesterson. The Kestersons have been selling their products at local farmer’s markets for several years.
Kesterson said he grew up in a town in north Mississippi and learned the trade from his father growing up on their family-owned farm. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he first picked up organic gardening as a hobby, but soon became a full-time organic farmer when he decided to forgo graduate school and take up farming on his wife’s family land.
“The opportunity presented itself,” he said.
He said the 12-acre plot is part of the elite 5 percent considered prime farmland based on a 1985 soil survey by the Tuscaloosa County. Even after nearly seven years, Kesterson said he’s still growing as a farmer.
“You’ve got to grow things that will feed people – that’s why I’m here,” he said. “I’m still learning what are hot sellers.”
To learn more about the Kesterson farm and its fresh products, visit www.facebook.com/ttowngrows .
“Last week my daughter and I went to visit Belle Meadow Farm!The owner, Laurie Beth was the sweetest, and made us feel so welcome! They have some gorgeous flowers and delicious veggies! It was really wonderful to see the excitement in my daughter’s eye understanding where a lot of our foods come from. Belle Meadow Farm sets up often at different local farmers market, including Tuscaloosa River Market . You must go check them out and buy some of their produce and flowers!
Congratulations to Maria Hargrove @ Beautiful Horizon Photography for being awarded Tuscaloosa's Best Of The Best in PHOTOGRAHY for 2018!
“At the Garden Party we pair local farmers up with local restaurants and those restaurants create exclusive dishes using local farmers’ produce that oftentimes aren’t featured on their menu,” Turner said. “Guests get to come sample local delicious fare as well as drink beer from the three Tuscaloosa breweries.”
Druid City Brewing, Band of Brothers Brewing, and Black Warrior Brewing will have a variety of beverages on hand. The farmers at the Garden Party will be AA Farm Creamery, B & S Farms, Belle Meadow Farm, Carol & Jean’s U-Pick, Dan’s Produce, Druid City Garden Project, Hewett’s Honey, Larren’s Farms, Miss Emily’s Tomatoes and Snow’s Bend Farm. There’ll also be live music by Matt Jones on the River Market stage.
“If you are a die-hard local food supporter, the upcoming Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network’s (ASAN) 3rd Annual GRAZE: Birmingham “farm to fork” fundraiser on September 17th, 5-8pm at Avondale Brewery is a “must attend” event.
Find out which farmers work with your favorite Birmingham chefs, and will be ‘paired’ to make a new taste creation at ASAN’s GRAZE: Birmingham event!
“I supply Highlands and I know Chef Zack well. I enjoy working with him and am happy to ‘pair’ with him for GRAZE, too,” stated ASAN Farmer Andrew Kesterson.
18 farmer/chef “pairs” are expected to participate in ASAN’s GRAZE event.”