For their wedding at Oz Farm in Mendocino County, Kate Schatz and Jason Pontius came up with unusual gift baskets, which included head lamps, flashlights, walkie-talkies and other items better suited for construction workers than teary-eyed guests.
The natural landscape of Mendocino County embraces the wedding of Schatz and Pontius.
But this was a farm wedding, without hotel-like amenities, and the couple from Oakland wanted to make the 30 or so friends and relatives staying the weekend as comfortable as possible.
Unfortunately, they forgot about the bats.
"There were eight bats in our cabin and we had no idea how to get them out," said Julia Mayer, 29, who was rooming with her boyfriend and three other guests. "One of us had a head lamp on, so they were flying in our faces. We opened the window and tried to turn off the lights, but nobody could see anything. We slept somewhere else."
Weddings held at farms are not exactly new, but just as the wine craze decades ago sparked a vineyard wedding industry, the green crusade, with its emphasis on organic and local products, seems to be spurring interest in farms as the ideal venue for vows.
But these weddings are not for every bride and groom. The couple must want not only an outdoor setting, but also a close -- some might say too close -- connection with the land. While working farms may offer romantic sunsets over golden fields, and truly local, organic food and flowers, couples must also be game for some rural challenges, like uncertain electricity and plumbing and the occasional runaway chicken or pig, not to mention a family of bats.
Not for perfectionists
In other words, Bridezillas need not bother.
"If you're the kind of person who wants everything to work out exactly right, I wouldn't let you have it here," said Judy Lessler, the owner of Harland's Creek Farm, a historic site in Pittsboro, N.C., which she is preparing for weddings starting next year. "This venue is for people who like the outdoors, love the romance of it and are willing to be somewhat flexible."
The farm as a wedding site owes much to agritourism. About 50,000 farms, or roughly 2 percent of all farming operations in the country, were open to the public in 2004, offering weddings, lodging, hayrides and horseback riding, according to a survey released last year by the Department of Agriculture. The survey is the first to quantify farm-based recreation.
While some farms hold only a few weddings a year, others can't keep up with demand. Kruger's Farm, on a river island near Portland, Ore., started holding weddings six years ago and as many as 50 weddings are now held there annually. It has requests for three times that many, said Don Kruger, the owner.
"The response has been startling," Kruger said. "It's kind of an earthy crowd, in their 20s and 30s, educated, who have very strong leanings toward the environment.
Millie Martini Bratten, editor in chief of Brides magazine, said that while the majority of weddings still take place in traditional sites like restaurants and country clubs, her magazine regularly receives wedding submissions set in farms and ranches.
"People want a relaxed atmosphere and they want to have fun," said Jane Eckert, an agritourism consultant who last summer launched RuralBounty.com, a database of farms, ranches, wineries and other sites open to the public.