Rustic Wedding Venues Draw Couples in Rising Numbers
by MARY TOOTHMAN
photo by JOE LEDUC
photo by TEELYN PHOTOS
“Our trade secret is pretty simple: Just love people and treat them like family.”
— Michelle Welch, Wishing Well Barn
Brides today are indicating in increasing numbers that their dreams for the most special day of their lives do not necessarily center around fancy country clubs, expensive yachts, or rented ballrooms.
More and more betrothed couples are researching available venues where they can marry amid livestock and tractors. They are drawn to the romantic appeal of the old, the real deal offered at farm, ranch or barn wedding venues.
They want mason jar drinking glasses, weathered barns and perhaps a few tolerant farm animals.
The Instagram photo opportunities alone might pull a city girl right out to the farm.
On a recent Sunday night, a Google search for “barn weddings Instagram” had 540,359 posts. Clearly, word is out. It’s absolutely a thing.
As the demand for rustic wedding venues grows, some farmers — including growers in Central Florida — have taken notice. Historically flexible and open-minded about changing crops so they could make a living, growers whose land may have only hosted oranges in the past could be greeting wedding guests and bridal parties.
And the farmers — often farming couples — are happy to share their peaceful settings, and appreciate the new form of income.
Michelle Welch, who runs Wishing Wells Barn with her husband, Blake, saw the barn wedding trend coming — and it was whipping together like a Florida storm.
The farmers who said “yes!” and opened their barn doors to the public, and to romance, may well have signed up for one of the Sunshine State’s most upbeat and successful “crops.”
As for Michelle Welch, she and her husband hosted three weddings in their own rustic venue — for three of their sons all within about a year. She got to test the idea.
And Facebook fever had taken over. When unique, romantic barn weddings posted … BAM! New customers were born. It was the perfect storm.
It made perfect sense to Welch. Brides and grooms were looking for venues like theirs. And Wishing Well Barn needed the couples, too.
“We needed money.”
The concept was perfect, she says.
“We had folks asking to host their weddings here. And I wanted my husband home to help take care of his father and our five sons.
“I filed to incorporate our business and then I told my husband what I had done. He said, ‘People ain’t gonna pay money to host their wedding on this farm.’ Boy, was he wrong.”
That “Florida storm” she had seen coming was a Category 5. But in a good way. Barn weddings offer couples down-home, wholesome venue for nuptials.
And while Florida citrus has seen sunnier days, who would have envisioned brides hugging cows instead of canker? Well, who besides Welch.
Welch said word-of-mouth was all they needed to get going.
“Word got out, the phone started ringing and honestly, it hasn’t stopped.”
Not without its trials
There were challenges along the way. One was a humdinger.
“The very first year of opening was very tenuous for us up until the Agritourism Law passed,” she says.
“Our biggest challenge with getting started was getting agritourism signed into law, and then, getting weddings added to the language back in 2013.
“Our county planning division, the local fire administration, and zoning all told us that weddings could only be hosted in a commercial location or a church. We overcame hurdle after hurdle those first few years, thanks to the patience and the grace of God.
“But passing this land on to our grandchildren to continue our legacy of love will be such a blessing to our family.
“A true farm has life all around. We have acres of blueberries, beautiful moss-covered, grandfather oak trees, a herd of cattle with babies year-round and horses grazing in the lush, green pastures.
“Our brides want the elegance of chandeliers and twinkling lights of the barn; the grooms love the fun and nostalgia of the ‘saloon’ feel of our bar area in our barn and the couple and families together love being treated like family.”
The rural, rustic venue struck a chord with couples, Welch said. In part, it’s about seeking out simpler times. Whatever force sent the lovebirds to rural venues, it shows no sIgns of slowing down any time soon.
“Back in March of this year, we celebrated our 600th event,” Welch said. “That’s pretty amazing, since we started in 2012. Not all of those are paid events, though.
“We open our doors for many charity events throughout the year. We’ve been blessed to get to know people from all over the world.”
According to an annual survey by The Knot, an online wedding-planning platform and magazine, 15 percent of couples chose a barn, farm, or ranch for their wedding reception in 2017, up from just 2 percent in 2009.
Meanwhile, more traditional wedding locales are losing their appeal. (The number of couples who celebrated in banquet halls dropped from 27 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2017; similarly, hotel receptions dropped from 18 percent to 12 percent.)
Today’s brides and grooms can select a venue that suits them best. Rural was the way to go for Deanna Feist, one of Wishing Well’s happy brides.
“Not only did I want that rustic country feel, but I wanted it to feel warm and inviting. My husband and I have never been the fancy, dressed-to-the nines type of people,” Feist said. “We wanted a venue that reflected our personalities and our love.
“We didn’t want to have our guests move from location to location, we wanted one romantic, whimsical location that can cater to our guests while still keeping our ceremony intimate with only family and closest friends.
“Wishing Well Barn was everything I dreamed of since I was a little girl, and well within our price point. It was our own slice of heaven, no couple could ask for a better venue or team to work with. This was the first and only venue we saw, and we fell head over heels.”
And since love and marriage continue to thrive, weddings no doubt will carry on.
Now, that’s what they call a #happyending.