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At This Farm, I Thee Wed

By Jane Eckert

For any one of you contemplating a new venture at the farm, how about hosting rehearsal dinners, weddings and wedding receptions? Over the past few years I have observed more farms getting into the wedding business, and most are glad they did. 

While this venture is certainly not for everyone, the farms that I interviewed for this story believe that it not only makes good income, but also maximizes many of the facility improvements that they have been making the past years.  The wedding business is helping to recover costs invested in improved buildings, attractive permanent restrooms, expanded parking lot, installation of a certified kitchen, scenic photographic landscaping, etc.

The current wedding trends appear to support farms as being a good venue to host weddings.  Brides today are looking for “individuality” and no longer want to follow the traditional path (or aisle) for their big day.  Part of the trend is the so-called “destination” wedding, where people travel long distances—and often to exotic resorts—for their special day.  But the destination wedding is not in the budget for most couples. Nonetheless, fewer are choosing the more traditional church wedding, hotel ballroom, or local event hall for their occasion, and more are opting to choose a unique “local” venue, such as a scenic farm or ranch.

If you are tempted, there are a couple of ways you can enter the wedding business.  As a first step, you can provide your venue as a space rental and let the bride handle the rest of the details.  More complicated, but arguably more profitable, you can offer full service, providing the space and all the food preparation. Most of the farms I’ve talked with are currently in the space rental business, and simply provide the bride with a list of preferred caterers. However, if your farm already has a certified kitchen then being a full service provider might be the way for you to go.

Let’s talk about what is included in the space rental fee.  Typically the farm includes the tables,  chairs and table linens up to a certain number of guests.  After that number, additional rental charges may apply. Here are some other items that may be included in the fee or added:

  • On site venue coordinator for rehearsal and wedding day
  • Exclusive use of the site for typically 5-6 hours.
  • Set up of tables, serving area, bar (optional) etc.
  • All clean up and disposal of garbage
  • Gift table
  • Sign in table
  • Dance floor
  • Back space for caterer to store and serve
  • Permanent restrooms
  • Interior decorations, white lights etc (although the bride typically will supply more)

Other Optional Amenities

  • Dressing room for bride and wedding party
  • Area for wedding service
  • Outdoor heaters

Space rental fees vary greatly, but typically range between $2,200 up to $5,000 for a weekend event.

The farms that are offering space rental typically build relationships with others in the wedding industry-caterers, cake makers, photographers, disk jockeys, etc. It does take awhile to know who will be reliable and please the wedding party, and who will not.  It is common to be selective with the caterers, cake providers and photographers because all of these services make for a special day.  The farms that are in this business tell me that by being selective they minimize any problems that can occur when a new wedding provider comes onto the farm.

This summer I visited Steve & Cindy Frey at Weston Red Barn in Weston, MO. to take a look at their wedding reception area, which was already set up for a wedding that Friday night.  I learned a lot from Steve. Because brides more often prefer weekend weddings, Steve and others offer a reduced rate for weeknights.  The savings is attractive enough that the farm can book several week nights that probably would not have been sold if the fee had been the same as a weekend.

Many of you might be thinking that this is a “farm wife project” but in the case of Weston Red Barn Farm (www.westonredbarnfarm.com)  - Steve is the man.  He shows the property, he works with the brides and brides mothers and is on site in the evenings for the weddings.  Cindy wants nothing to do with this part of the business and goes home while Steve tends to the wedding.  As a matter of fact, Steve has been so successful in fully booking his wedding business that he has now helped a neighboring farm get into the business.  Steve assisted them by helping them design their building specifically to service this business, based on his own experience. All those brides he must turn away because his own farm is booked, now go to his neighbor.

Nate Krause and family from Swans Trail Farms (www.swanstrailfarms.com) in Snohomish, WA., slook at weddings as being a very good off-season income. A few of Nate’s recommendations include: be sure and have a contract, control the alcohol and have a person as your wedding coordinator.  It takes lot of patience to work with the bride but the rewards are worth it. Nate is already on track to host over 50 weddings in 2013.

The serving of alcohol is certainly your decision and Swans Trail actually set up a separate company that is an alcohol pouring service, with a separate contract with the bride. 

I visited Swan’s Trail this fall and want to mention that their landscaping and grounds are beautiful.  They have a special place for the ceremony where the bride walks over a bridge of a large waterfall and Nate says, “It is this grand entrance that always sells the bride on our farm.”  The backdrop is beautiful and quite special for photographs of this special day.

Let me say, I also know a couple of farms that got out of the wedding business.  The time commitment is huge and for some farms they don’t want to work nights and deal with guests who may drink too much. Every business has its pro’s and con’s, and I would certainly suggest that you do your own homework regarding this business. Both Steve and Nate would be great people to call to begin your research.

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.