Pepper Place: The Next Generation


sanctuary

Photography by D. Paul Jones, III

The power of Pepper Place and its Saturday market lies in connecting city dwellers with the rural life of Alabama and the food bounty that flows from it. 

The thousands who venture down to the Market at Pepper Place each Saturday are a fascinating demographic and that fascination extends to the young faces of the farmers on the other side of the produce booths.

Overall, farmers are an aging lot. In Alabama the average age is 59. This is a national trend, consistent with a thirty-year pattern across the U.S., which shows the farming population getting older and nearing retirement, with few younger farmers stepping up to take over and carry on for their elders. Only 6% of our country’s farmers are under the age of 35. 

What’s more, the number of family farms in Alabama also has dropped 11%, according to the last USDA Ag Census Report published in 2012. The nation’s farmers are in the process of taking another census this year, and so we’ll have to wait and see if this trend is continuing or improving in 2017. This is not good for the health of our nation. Without a new generation of farmers, our overall economy and sources of fresh, locally grown food are in jeopardy.

There is hope, however, and it is growing with the help of 

farmers markets like the Market at Pepper Place in Birmingham’s Lakeview District that support independent farmers. 

Over the past 17 years, The Market at Pepper Place has made it a mission to support established small farmers and to identify and nurture the next generation of farmers, who will step up to take their place. It wants to see the market thrive, grow and last far into the future. 

One of the ways The Market at Pepper Place is doing this is by finding and bringing young farmers to town to sell at The Market. Market manager Lisa Beasley has made it a priority to find and mentor young farmers. By supporting these start-up farms, The Market hopes to keep farming families thriving and growing in Alabama. 

Some of the young farmers at The Market at Pepper Place are: 

Belle Meadow Farm

Andrew and Laurie Beth

Kesterson

Tuscaloosa

www.facebook.com/ttowngrows

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.

Eastaboga Bee 

Company

Justin Hill, Lincoln

eastabogabeecompany.com

Justin Hill is the founder of the Eastaboga Bee Company. Located near Lincoln, his bees live on the land his great-grandfather farmed. Three generations later, Justin continues to farm and keep bees on the family farm. His high quality honey products pay homage to the family commitment to do the best you can in all things.

Harvest Farm

Trent Boyd

Cullman

If you see Trent or his wife Jennifer at the Saturday market representing Harvest Farm, you’ll likely find rows of their delicious heirloom tomatoes or strawberries (in the right season). In addition to those main crops, the Boyds also grow onions, collards, broccoli, pumpkins, kale, apples, peaches and blueberries on their 50-acre farm in Fairview, about 60 miles north of Birmingham.

Farming is nothing new to the Boyds. Their children will be the fifth generation on their land that was first farmed in 1909. Trent and Jennifer began farming at Harvest Farm in 1998 and took over full operations ten years later.

Hepzibah Farms

Charlie and Frannie Griffin

Talladega

www.hepzibahfarms.com

The Hepzibah Farms family say their mission is simple: “We want to make things better.” They strive to make the land better by farming as sustainably, creatively and as organically as they can imagine. They also want to make their lives better by working hard, together with friends and family, at what they love most: farming.

heron-hollowHeron Hollow Farm

Will Doonan and Liz Meyer

Maplesville

www.instagram.com/heronhollowfarm

This small farm in Maplesville raises absolutely natural foods with every regard to the Earth. Their produce includes beans, beets, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, herbs, collards, eggs, garlic, greens, kale, lettuces, okra, onions, peppers, pumpkins, radishes, squashes, tomatoes, turnips, and zucchini.

Hornsby Farms

Joshua and Elizabeth Hornsby

Auburn

www.hornsbyfarms.com

At this small family farm located minutes from downtown Auburn, the Hornsbys grow over 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables year round and sell them at farmers markets, through weekly basket deliveries and to local restaurants. They also have a commercial canning kitchen at the farm where they make sweet jams, pepper jellies and pickled vegetables.

Jones Valley Teaching Farm

Katie Davis, Farm Manager

Birmingham

www.jvtf.org

Their mission, put simply, is to make the community a healthier place. And their focus is empowering future generations with an education to eat smarter, think healthier—and live better.

The people at Jones Valley do this by connecting standards-based education to real-world food issues, collaborating with partner city schools to provide students with innovative, hands-on programs that improve student learning and increase access to healthy food. Selling at Pepper Place provides a source of revenue for the organization, and serves as an important opportunity for the Jones Valley team to engage with the community and other farmers.

Knights Farm

Slate Knight

Clanton

Knights Farm has been family owned and operated since 1937. Today they grow peaches, blackberries, plums, squash, melons, cantaloupe, corn, and okra.

Marble Creek Farmstead

Matthew and Jesie Lawrence

Sylacauga

marblecreekfarmstead.com

Marble Creek Farmstead is a sustainable, small family farm raising fruits and vegetables, and focusing on humanely-raised all-natural pastured meats and eggs. Jesie and Matthew Lawrence started Marble Creek in January 2014. Matthew was a founding member of Hepzibah Farms in Talladega, AL in 2011. Jesie had a raised bed garden and honeybees in the suburbs. In 2014, they  moved to a new home in Sylacauga and started a  farming family, renovating a  1930s farmhouse.

Penton Farms

Scott Penton

Verbena

facebook.com/pentonfarms

Scott and Rachell Penton began their branch of the family farm in 2000, specializing in peaches and cattle. Since then, they have successfully expanded to growing strawberries and blackberries in addition to peaches. In the summer of 2010, Scott and Rachell started a U-Pick Strawberry Patch called “Sugar Hill”; and in 2016 opened their Pumpkin Patch for its first season.

Rora Valley Farms

Noah and Dorothy Sanders

Goodwater

The farm began in 2009 with a desire to serve others through producing healthy foods organically. Their methods require using all natural production that honors the design of creation. The Sanders work their farm as a family, including their 3 small children as much as possible. They grow lettuces and other vegetables, fresh eggs and free-range chickens. They also sell homemade stoneground wheat breads, rolls and cookies.

sanctuarySanctuary Farms

Milan and Jeannine Davis

Southside

sanctuaryfarmsllc.weebly.com

Sanctuary Farms is a small, sustainable family farm and pesticide-free apiary located in Southside, about 65 miles northeast of Birmingham. Sanctuary Farms grows all of their produce from non-gmo seeds and uses organic growing practices. Among their diverse crops you’ll find many heirloom varieties selected for their unique beauty, taste, history, and local value. Sanctuary Farms also offers their own custom line of herbal Apothecary goods, local wildflowers, free-range non-gmo fed chicken eggs, raw honey and other seasonal artisan eco-products.

snows-bendSnows Bend Farm

David Snow and Margaret Ann Toohey  Tuscaloosa

www.snowsbendfarm.com

In 2004, David and Margaret Ann Snow began gardening about a quarter acre. As their determination grew, so did their garden. In 2009, the farm became home to the first of their livestock. By 2010, Snow’s Bend had expanded plant production to ten acres, producing about 50 different vegetables, encompassing nearly 250 varieties. Future plans for the farm include: a biodiversity and wildlife habitat for birds, bats, bees and beneficial insects.

Southern Foothills

www.southernfoothillsfarm.com

Southern Foothills grows shiitake and oyster mushrooms year-round as well as seasonal varieties including: lion’s mane, maitake, reishi, king oyster, and chestnut. They grow their mushrooms on a natural substrate mixture of Alabama-milled oak sawdust, organic wheat bran, and organic whole grains.

Todd’s Produce

Todd and Tasha Hayes

Clanton

facebook.com/Todds-Produce-Gifts

Hal and Dordie Hayes took an unconventional path to farming. When they opened a produce stand in Clanton, Alabama in 1988, they simply named it after their only son, Todd. Naturally, that boy would grow up helping his dad harvest the peaches for which the Hayes became known.

They later added blueberries and blackberries to the operation, which now spans more than 100 acres. Today, Todd and Hal still work the peach orchards together, while Dordie and Todd’s wife, Tasha, run the produce stand, which sits off Exit 205 on I-65, and features other produce, plus homemade ice cream, jams and jellies.

Leave a Reply