Connecticut farmers cultivate wedding business | Crain's Connecticut

Connecticut farmers cultivate wedding business

  • Lori and John Bennett got married at a historic homestead at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield. | Photo by Joey Toppan

    Lori and John Bennett got married at a historic homestead at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield. | Photo by Joey Toppan

  • Horses came into play for this wedding at Candlelight Farms Inn in New Milford. | Photo by Basia

    Horses came into play for this wedding at Candlelight Farms Inn in New Milford. | Photo by Basia

  • The Overlook at Geer Tree Farm in Griswold provides a picturesque setting for exchanging vows. | Photo by Rhymes with Sky Photography by LA Chhay

    The Overlook at Geer Tree Farm in Griswold provides a picturesque setting for exchanging vows. | Photo by LA Chhay for Rhymes with Sky Photography

  • Allegra Anderson married her fiance, Steven, at Rose’s Berry Farm in South Glastonbury. | Photo by Lynne Reznick of Lynne Reznick Photography

    Allegra Anderson married her fiance, Steven, at Rose’s Berry Farm in South Glastonbury. | Photo by Lynne Reznick of Lynne Reznick Photography

City girl Lori Bennett, 36, had a vision in mind for her special day: Mason jars—lots of them—filled with flowers or the soft glow of candlelight, a cute red barn, and an intimate gathering at a historic homestead on a great big farm.

As it turns out, the 1,100-acre Lyman Orchards in Middlefield checked all the boxes for the Boston school counselor and her then-fiancé, John. The duo—John is originally from Connecticut—got married right at the front door of the Lyman homestead, built on a parcel of land purchased by John Lyman in 1741. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the farmhouse seemed to be made for a close group of 75.

“It was perfect for us,” said Bennett.

Lyman Orchards started hosting weddings in the 1970s at the farm’s former restaurant, Greenfields.

“Now brides can choose to get married at the golf club or meadow, the homestead, the orchards, and even in the corn maze,” said Tim Burt, Lyman’s spokesperson. The farm charges a flat rate of $500 for up to 500 guests, excluding food, alcohol and rental equipment, for any venue, and hosts between 15 and 20 weddings each year.

Lyman Orchards is one of approximately 2.1 million farms nationwide, down from 6.8 million in 1935. Nationwide, net farm income—calculated by subtracting farm expenses from gross farm income—which reflects the total value of agricultural output, is forecasted to drop by 10.5 percent in 2017. Family-owned farms in Connecticut, like others across the country, have had little choice but to diversify their revenue stream to stay afloat.

“Farms cannot make it on hay,” said Nancy Saggese, who manages the wedding business at Candlelight Farms Inn in New Milford, which also runs a bed and breakfast. “We have 600 acres and can’t keep the machinery up by selling hay at $5 a bale.”

Founded in 1936, the organic vegetable and hay farm, which also has a stable of about 20 horses for riding lessons, launched its wedding business 10 years ago. The bride and groom could get married at the farm, or in the nearby airport at a rustic wooden hangar. Prices for just the venue range from $5,500 to $19,000 plus 15 percent service charge for the exclusive weekend wedding package, which includes the hanger location. And Candlelight can accommodate more than 500 guests.

“We host around 35 weddings a year,” said Saggese. “They help the farm stay in existence.”

Some couples might be drawn to the 160 acres of Christmas trees dotted across the Overlook at Geer Tree Farm in Griswold, open since the 1680s.

Bowman Geer came up with the idea in 2012. Now, the farm hosts 30 weddings a year and up to 200 guests per wedding.

“Christmas trees is a winter business,” he said. “This is an opportunity to bring extra revenue in the summer months.”

Geer charges a flat rate of $7,000 for renting the location, including a cigar bar, and, like all farms, provides a list of vendors. Geer Tree is located right next to Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos, a big draw.

“After the wedding, guests go there and continue the night,” he said.

Stephen and Julia Paproski built all of the original barns that still stand today at the 64-acre Castle Hill Farm, which they purchased in 1927 in Newtown and turned into a dairy farm until the milking herd was sold in 2001. The farm continues to produce corn for cows, grows mulch hay and vegetables, and provides the community with agro-tourism activities such as a corn maze and a pick-your-own pumpkin patch.

“We began hosting weddings for our friends for years, but officially began booking weddings for the public in 2015, which we kicked off with a wedding of our own” said Stephanie Paproski Kearns, fourth-generation farmer. Venue rental costs range from $2,000 to $3,600 for a maximum of 250 guests.

“We have built a wooden bridge over a brook and planted six willow trees for ceremony backdrops,” Paproski said. “We also built a pavilion that hosts birthday parties, too, and provides school groups with a covered shelter for lunch. We continue to improve the farm in ways we never would have if it weren’t for the weddings we have begun hosting.” 

Mark Sanderson, marketing and events manager at Rose’s Berry Farm in South Glastonbury, and owner Sandy Rose, got their own romantic start at the 100-acre property surrounded by Italian countryside-like views.

A widower and a widow, the duo met at an online dating site and deepened their relationship after Sanderson, a self-employed photographer, began working at the farm to help out Rose.

Founded in 1908 as a 20-acre fruit farm, Rose’s Berry is now amongst the largest blueberry farms in Southern New England, said Sanderson, who came up with the idea of hosting weddings four years ago.

The bride and groom have the option of getting married at a deck overhanging with a profusion of flowers and overlooking the farm, or under a tent in the great outdoors. Costs are $1,800 for renting the deck, which can seat up to 150 guests, and $2,500 for tent weddings—extra cost for the tent—which can accommodate well over 110 people. The farm’s vendor list includes Mercado, a Spanish catering company with a food truck.

Among the list of brides is Allegra Anderson, an Emmy-award-winning photographer who lives in Glastonbury just minutes away from the farm. She got married there this June.

“My fiancé Steven and I enjoy berry picking at Rose’s farm, and we often go to their Sunday breakfast with a view,” said Anderson. “We decided to get married here because it’s a beautiful location and we wanted to support a local farm that has a backyard feel.”

August 14, 2017 - 12:55pm