Saying “I Do” to Opening a Barn Wedding Business

By Shelby Watson-Hampton

We stood on the dusty floor of the barn and looked around.

The left hand side had been home for over two decades to cows, horses, and the occasional sow. The right hand side had housed tractors, farm implements, and other stray pieces of farm life. The large sturdy loft, which used to store hay, now stood empty.

The barn had good bones though. The wood still glowed faintly yellow and with pressure washing would look like new. Some repairs to the roof, some minor changes, renovation of the barnyard out front, and we could be in business.

We looked at each other. We can do it, we said. We can make this happen.

Thus the farm wedding business at Robin Hill Farm & Vineyards in Brandywine, Maryland, was born.

“We” are Susan Watson-White and myself, Shelby Watson-Hampton, an aunt and niece female farming duo who are working together on our fourth generation family farm along with our husbands and other family members, who graciously allowed us to bring them into this crazy business!

We’re excited to share with you how we got into the farm wedding business, what we’ve learned, and a few funny stories we’ve collected along the way.

To keep a long story short, we’ll simply say in regards to farm history that the farm and the businesses on it have evolved with the family members and the markets over the years. Started and run by Russell & Shirley Watson (our parents and grandparents, respectively) from 1955 to 2013 the farm had successfully been at various times a tobacco farm, a hog farm, a large tree and shrub wholesale nursery, and an agritourism fall festival destination.

When Russell passed unexpectedly in 2005, Shirley (Grandma) took a few years to retire the current businesses and then passed the farm down to her daughter, Susan. Susan and I got together to decide what should be done next. We studied a lot, connected with a lot of ag groups in our area, and had a lot of discussions before we decided that we’d go into the vineyard and winery business.

However, to finance that and build some capital we’d go into the barn wedding business first.

This happened coincidentally (or serendipitously) at the time that I had just gotten engaged to Wade, my then fiance (now husband), himself a farm boy with a skilled hand at construction and repairs.

It had always been a dream of mine to get married on the farm surrounded by my horses and family and friends. Now we had an even better reason to do it; business advertising.

We kicked into high gear. Driveway renovations, roof repairs, dusting, de-cobwebbing, and pressure washing. Tree removal, sod placement, new gravel, and fence repairs (we were still painting fence the night before the rehearsal dinner!). Everything being done with the dual purpose of our wedding day, and the farm wedding business marketing and promotion.

We got a website, added Facebook and Instagram, worked on our farm business plan, printed up business cards, and started making vendor contacts. We locked in the insurance requirements, the legal contracts, and the county requirements. We told everyone we knew what we were doing and word of mouth spread quickly.

On the day of our wedding on April 26, 2014, Wade and I were doing ‘first look’ photos over by the pasture. One of my bridesmaids pointed down towards the barn and said, “Look, there’s a group of people here already, who’s that? They’re two hours early.”

I peered around her and realized I didn’t recognize any of them. It took me a minute and then I realized that Susan was leading them around and pointing at various things. “Oh man,” I laughed, “she’s giving a farm tour! On my wedding day!”

It was a brilliant marketing move.

Susan had been contacted by seven couples who were interested in possibly booking with us, so to show them the farm in its wedding best she had invited them to view our wedding day. It was a live promotion that worked. We got married, all seven couples booked with us, and we were off and running.

It’s been five years and things have progressed fast. We planted the vineyard, added another partner to the group, Susan’s husband Bob, who’s our winemaker (they got married in the vineyard) and opened the winery (brides can now have our wine at their wedding bar).

We book weddings April through November every year. We’re booking 18 months to 2 years out. Most of our brides are from the Washington, D.C., Alexandria, Annapolis and Baltimore areas. Being in a rural town only a hour or so drive away from many bigger cities, has been very beneficial to the business.

We’ve seen every type of wedding at the farm; from black tie ‘Martha Stewart’ inspired weddings to backyard BBQ with boots, and boy, have we learned some things!

Glitter, sparklers, and open flame of any kind are a hard no. People will drive and park anywhere, despite the multitude of directional signs. Brides love to have their pictures taken with the horse and goat, but have to be reminded repeatedly that if the goat can reach it, he will chew on your wedding dress.

We pride ourselves on our customer service, and going the extra mile for the people who choose to share their special day for us.

We’ve done everything from minor dress repair in the bridal suite with a needle and thread, to finding a dress shirt in my uncle’s closet that would fit a groom who forgot his, and frantically searching for rings that a groomsmen lost minutes before the ceremony; only to find them in the canoe full of beer and ice he had just visited.

Susan is what we call “the Bride Whisperer”. She is in the taffeta trenches with them, all the way from the first phone call to walk-throughs, special requests (“Yes, you can walk your horse down the aisle”, “Of course, you can ride your dad’s Harley in”.) and hugging goodbye at the end of the night. She runs the show top to bottom for our weddings, and thank God she’s great at it, and thoroughly enjoys it. She treats every bride like they’re family.

I do more of the clean-up and get-out duties at the end of the night. Reminding groomsmen to gather their things (“okay, guys, who left both their socks, and one right shoe?”), scrubbing toilets at midnight, and making sure the bridal suite and groom’s room are ready for the next wedding. I also love working on our marketing with the website, newsletter, and social media.

Grandma oversees all the action from the farmhouse at the top of the hill. We call her ‘eagle eye’, because she doesn’t miss a thing. (A note to the groomsmen who prefer to just ‘step around the backside of the barn’ instead of using the bathroom trailers; the backside of the barn faces the front side of Grandma’s house. She has a bet going every year with how many of you ‘water the bushes’).

Yes, we are a three generational operational female run farm. Without Grandma allowing Susan to take the reins, and me to bring in my ‘crazy ideas’, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

We are blessed to have our husbands who work so hard alongside us, our siblings, our parents, and many other fantastic family and friends who have helped make this happen. It has been a group effort, a true labor of love, and an adventure.

If you’d like to follow along with our family story we'd love to have you!  I invite you to find us on Facebook and Instagram under @Robin Hill Farm and Vineyards, or visit the website at www.robinhillfarmandvineyards.com. If you’re ever in Southern Maryland, please stop by for a glass of wine. Cheers!

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