Rural wedding venues growing in appeal
By Lori M. Quiller
Could the days of black-tie weddings be numbered? Probably not, but the number of weddings hosted in more casual, rustic settings are certainly on the rise in Alabama.
According to TheKnot.com, an online wedding resource, ranch or farm-style weddings have been on the rise since 2012. Nuptials in the country can provide a rustic and memorable event for the bridal party and their family and friends, and Alabama has plenty of spaces to host your special day with a country flair.
Lisa Woodham, owner of Woodham Farms in Dothan, Ala., agreed that rural weddings have become much more popular in recent years and is a trend that’s here to stay.
“Oh, absolutely! It’s more than just country chic, I think. These types of wedding have a certain type of unmistakable charm and sweetness about them. We want people who come here to feel special.”
Newlywed Christina Clark Okarmus said she and her husband chose a Lee County farm for their outdoor wedding in September 2017 for several reasons, but it was the laid back atmosphere that sealed the deal.
“It was a perfect fit for us,” Okarmus says. “We visited a couple of other places in the city, but they just didn’t seem to be the right fit. The farm was far more laid back, and that’s more our style. The farm had housing for our family to stay all week and have plenty of space, and there was a playground for the kids, too. All these things fit into our budget nicely, and it just felt like the right spot for us.”
All kinds of venues
Alabama has a variety of locations for couples looking for the perfect rural wedding spot.
The Hitching Post Farms is 30 acres of land in Eclectic, Ala., owned by Diane and Robert Crosby. While it may not have started off as the couple’s dream to host weddings on the property, now it’s truly a labor of love.
“A lot of our clients want that outside, rustic look for their wedding,” Diane Crosby says. “They want their wedding to be different and special. We work very hard to make that happen for them. Every wedding is always something special, not just for the couple, but for us, too. I feel like it’s my responsibility to fulfill these dreams of these brides who come here and have been planning their weddings their entire lives. It’s an honor to help fulfill those dreams for them.”
However, The Hitching Post Farms was almost lost before it began. The Crosbys had rented the property for a time before eventually purchasing it for themselves. Their dream was to build their perfect home, but they decided to build a barn instead to use for family camping events. Then tragedy struck.
“When the tornadoes came through in 2011, it took out our home. So we started building on to the property to what we have now. It took 18 months to rebuild. Out of that destruction we were able to make something very special and beautiful that we can share with others,” she says.
For couples looking for an all-inclusive, but still farm-style location, Stone Bridge Farms in Cullman, Ala., has been hosting weddings since 2010 and does more than 80 each year. It’s an old family tradition that owner Ron Foust has been working to bring back to life.
As a young boy, Foust remembers his grandfather, a minister for more than 50 years in Cullman County, performing marriages, baptisms and other ceremonies on the family property. Slowly over the years, parcels of the family land were sold. Foust began buying it back until he could restore the family’s 75-acre estate so he could carry on his family’s tradition of hosting weddings on the property.
According to event coordinator Janet Fortner, Stone Bridge Farms handles catering and flowers, as well as photography, for their clients. There’s even a baker on staff, although it’s not mandatory to use the staff baker.
“Sometimes it’s just easier to do everything at one place. We would like the event to be a one-stop-shop so it’s less stressful for our clients,” Fortner says. “We have a design team meeting with our brides on day one, [so they can] get to know them from three to four months out from the wedding. Then we’re there with them to help get them down the aisle as stress-free as possible. Our goal is to make each event as stress-less as possible.”
Stone Bridge Farms, a customer of Cullman EC, offers lodging with five cabins and three homes on property for rent to out-of-town guests. The location doesn’t host only weddings, but also corporate retreats, meetings, birthday parties, showers and other events.
Beyond the farm
If the rustic charm of a barn or farmland isn’t quite what you’re looking for, did you know there’s a vineyard in North Alabama at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains?
Wills Creek Vineyards and Winery in Attalla, Ala., is a working vineyard — and not what you might expect from an outdoor wedding venue.
“When I think of Napa Valley and I see pictures of weddings in Napa, I’m reminded of our wedding space next to our vineyards where it’s lush and green — it’s just such a different setting than a rural barn setting,” says owner Janie Coppey. “Our location is special because you can see the Appalachian foothills that run on the other side of the road, and depending on the focal point of the photographer, some of those mountains will be in your photos. In the spring, summer and fall, everything is so colorful and makes a beautiful setting for a wedding.”
Wills Creek Vineyards and Winery and the event space is two miles away from the six-acre vineyard. The vineyard is a popular destination for bridal showers, brunches, proms, class reunions and other events, thanks to the location’s covered event space. With an on-site coordinator to help pull details together, Coppey says the goal is always to take as much stress off the client as possible.
“Brides, grooms and their families have enough stress, so we want to take as much of that off them to help make their day as special and memorable as possible. We want them to enjoy their day, have beautiful memories, and enjoy the vineyard while they’re here,” Coppey says.
Tips for finding a rural wedding space
Ask questions. If you’re on a budget and using an outdoor space, you should know up front if there are set-up and cleaning fees, what decorations are provided, and whether it’s mandatory to use the venue’s caterer and florist. Have an idea of how many guests plan to attend. Your quote will be based on this number. Do your research. It’s fine if you haven’t settled on your wedding style when you meet with your venue representative, but your meeting will go much better if you have some ideas. The venue will most likely have an event planner on staff to help you along in the process.