From hay bales to cupolas

Rustic barns offer charming wedding venues

  • 5 min to read

The rustic wedding trend has been going strong for several years now — think burlap and blackboards, lots of natural materials and exposed wood, and a whole lot of mason jars.

For the ultimate in rustic chic, couples can take it to the next level with a farm wedding.

If you want to rusticate in Vermont, plenty of farms will deliver a beautifully bucolic setting for the big day. They range in size and scope from single-barn family homesteads to sprawling buildings on hundreds of acres.

When picking a farm venue, it’s important to consider what you want out of the experience — and what your budget is. While many properties have a do-it-yourself vibe, with few restrictions on caterers, décor and rentals, some have exclusive vendor agreements and provide considerable support. Prices reflect that, too — a small, simple venue might run around $2,000 for a weekend; one large, elaborate property we saw had a base fee starting at $13,000.

Farms may or may not provide tables and chairs (or hay bales), sound systems, ceremony seating and décor, tents and staging areas. Depending on the venue, you might need to rent portable restrooms.

Here’s a look at a few properties that provide unique amenities and an agricultural experience.

Spotlight: Lang Farm celebration

Elena Kostka-Murphy, 29, is a nursing student who grew up in Maine and moved to Lake Elmore with her family in 1998. She married Bryan Murphy, sous chef at an event and performing arts center in Colorado, in a small ceremony at the Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church in Burlington. Their reception was held at Lang Farm in Essex Junction, with about 140 guests joining for a celebration on a beautiful July day.

The couple lives in Colorado Springs — Kostka-Murphy’s parents in Vermont “did the legwork” looking at venues, she said.

When they saw Lang Farm, she said, “they called me right away and said they had found it.”

What did they love about the venue, which sports a plant nursery, antique store, golf course and, of course, a big red barn? It was “the whole package,” said Kostka-Murphy, “Beautiful landscaping, attention to detail inside the barn was unreal … The owners were very helpful, always available for questions.”

Food was provided by Moretown-based Spice of Life catering, which creates custom menus with “elegant, wholesome foods” that focus on seasonality and Vermont’s “rich, local farmland.” Kostka-Murphy said the only challenge of using the Lang Farm barn was the lack of an on-site kitchen, but rented equipment solved the problem.

Handmade touches blended perfectly into the classically Vermont setting.

“It was a DIY wedding,” said Kostka-Murphy. “My mom and her friend did all the flowers, my dad made a photo booth, we cut tree slices with chainsaws (for table numbers and décor), we grew grass to place seat assignments in,” she said.

Kostka-Murphy cited several favorite aspects of the celebration — the atmosphere, the setting of the venue, the barn — and noted that hard work put in by friends and family helped make it a wonderful and memorable day.

Isham Family Farm

In an era where small farms in Vermont aren’t as prevalent or profitable as they used to be, hosting weddings and events can be a great way for beautiful and historic farm sites to stay solvent.

Mike Isham, a fifth-generation owner of Isham Family Farm in Williston, said that, after selling the dairy operation, his parents operated a bed-and-breakfast out of the farmhouse. When the maintenance became difficult for them, Isham decided to implement some fresh ideas.

“I thought with the location and beauty of the farm, I could do something with it,” said Isham. He started pick-your-own berries and cut-your-own Christmas trees, updated and doubled the size of the maple sugaring operation, and leased space to a greenhouse.

“The 200-year-old barn was at a crossroads of either needing to destroy or restore, and I elected to restore the barn for my daughter’s wedding,” Isham said.

The farm is now in its second year of hosting weddings, and has town and state permits to host six per year. Guests can pick berries and pumpkins in season, with pest control provided by a flock of chickens; there are hiking trails on the property, and sunflower and corn mazes in the summer and fall. The property is used year-round for photo shoots, said Isham, and wagon rides, feeding and petting baby calves and other farm experiences contribute to a picturesque and memorable setting.

For farms that would like to start hosting weddings, Isham suggests to “proceed slowly, and understand how weddings fit in with regular farm life. I feel it’s important to work both together, which allows a unique experience for everyone.”

Intervale Center

The nonprofit Intervale Center in Burlington is known for its sustainable agriculture initiatives. The forsaken farming site was rebuilt and restored in the 1980s.

The 350-acre expanse of farmland and wildlife corridor now provides a home for 11 privately owned farming operations as well as a Food Hub and Conservation Nursery, which supports local agribusiness and promoties sustainable land use and stewardship.

The Intervale’s Community Barn is a renovated 1860s-era structure on the site of Burlington’s last working dairy farm, the historic Calkins Farmstead.

The 128-person-capacity barn is available for weddings and private events from May through September. Two landscaped acres (with a frog pond and gardens) are available for party use; the working farms are about a mile from the events site.

Couples who choose the Intervale for their wedding “tend to be young, 20s or early 30s, and with some connection to Vermont — they grew up here, or went to school here, or currently live here,” said Chelsea Frisbee, development coordinator at the Intervale.

Intervale hosts about a dozen weddings per year. Catering is not provided, but the organization is happy to provide a long list of suggested caterers, florists and farmers to work with, including Intervale-grown crops and flowers.

“Our space and policies encourage a ‘do-it-yourself’ wedding,” said Frisbee. “Most couples appreciate the fact that the Intervale Center is a nonprofit and that their rental fees are going to support our work strengthening the community food system.”

The barn rental is from 5 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Monday, giving couples ample time to set up (and clean up) and dine, dance and celebrate to their heart’s content.

Riverside Farm

If one barn simply won’t cut it, the 700-acre Riverside Farm in Pittsfield has five restored barns, ranging in color, style and size from a small, natural “garden barn” to the traditional big red barn of lore.

Owners Courtney and Joe Desena bought the property 15 years ago and began renovating the various barns and buildings dotting the land, even disassembling old barns at other locations and reconstructing them at Riverside. They held their own wedding there, which drew outside attention.

As word of mouth spread, the Desenas put more effort into the wedding business (not that they do anything half-hearted — Joe Desena started the ultrachallenging Death Race, which spawned the ultrapopular Spartan Races). In the 12 years of hosting weddings at Riverside, they have grown from fewer than 10 weddings per year to more than 35, accommodating parties of up to 400 people.

Other arcadian features at Riverside include an on-site covered bridge, 50 miles of trails for hiking and biking (or snowshoeing, depending on the season), fire pits, and a large stone patio. A charming mile-long stone staircase that leads up the mountain to a stone cabin was built by competitors in the 2013 Death Race.

Riverside Farm and partner/neighbor Amee Farm are also home to Sweet Georgia P’s, a family-run farm that grows organic produce, and has a herd of dairy goats and a flock of laying chickens. With advance planning, wedding parties can choose from a variety of agricultural experiences, including farm tours and cheesemaking demonstrations.

While the small farm doesn’t produce enough to feed an entire wedding party, the property works closely with the nearby Vermont Farms Catering to provide farm-to-table cuisine.

You might get your shoes dirty and a little hay in your hair, but you can’t beat the rolling fields, open sky, fresh air and pure Vermont charm of a farm wedding.

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