Two years ago, a Bartholomew County couple decided to open their 42-plus acre farm to couples with a desire to say “I do” in an outdoor setting.
Farm weddings are one of the hottest trends in the wedding industry, said Juli Bartells, who opened White Creek Acres with her husband, Bruce, after deciding to capitalize on the trend.
“These farm weddings are the bomb right now,” Juli Bartells said. “I’ve turned away at least four times as many weddings as I’ve been able to book. The demand is unbelievable.”
But an outdoor wedding venue is about more than making money for the couple who moved to southern Bartholomew County from southern California five years ago. “We wanted to have a business where we could give something back to the community,” Juli Bartells said.
Outdoor weddings are a national trend, and those in a “barn/house setting” are particularly in vogue, said Indianapolis wedding planner April Foster.
Foster has planned a wedding at White Creek Acres and said the wedding setting that the Bartellses offer is in high demand.
“Barns are by far the most popular venues right now, at least in central Indiana,” Foster said. “For the past four years, it’s probably been on the rise.”
Outdoor weddings cost about $25,000 on average and take a lot of planning, Foster said.
But weddings in an outdoor setting are an opportunity to capitalize on nature’s beauty and make a wedding something that won’t be forgotten, Foster said.
The Bartellses had been trying to find a way out of Southern California for 20 years. Juli Bartells is originally from the Chicago area.
The couple learned about the White Creek area through Juli’s sister — who lives in this area — and the first-grade teacher of the Bartellses’ children. That Lutheran school teacher had grown up in the house next to the one the Bartellses wound up buying at White Creek.
“We came here one Friday, looked at it and bought it Monday,” she said.
That was an easy decision, Bartells said.
“There’s just such a sense of community here in White Creek,” she said. “It an old community, and these families have been together for generations.”
The people of the area take care of each other, she said.
The idea for an outdoor wedding venue came about after the Bartellses took a deeper look at their property, which include the couple’s home, a barn, a pond, a gazebo and a second residence that has become a bride’s cottage. They saw plenty of potential in it, she said.
“It had been zoned commercial years ago, and a man had a business here,” she said.
The property sits between White Creek Lutheran Church and school and White Creek Methodist Church.
The couple received approval May 28 from Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals to operate the business as a wedding venue. The business has addressed issues with the board about traffic, noise and inspection of facilities with county planners, who reviewed the plans for the property and made recommendations.
Jeff Bergman, City of Columbus–Bartholomew County planning director, said the reason for the review is simple.
“It lets the applicants know of any deficiencies in their application,” Bergman said.
Approval of the outdoor wedding venue means the farm has become an agri-tourism business, which is what the couple planned, Juli Bartells said.
The property also has a lot of history, she said.
The cabin the couple call home had been moved to the site from Columbus by a doctor in 1950. The logs, however, date to the 1840s, she said.
“We’ve been told the cabin was one of the first barns in Columbus,” she said.
It didn’t have electricity or running water. “He used it as a summer cottage,” she said.
The doctor sold the property to a man who owns race horses, and there’s a rumor a $1 million race horse is buried on the property. “My son wanted to dig it up,” Juli Bartells said.
She said the next owner was a farmer, who purchased the property back in 1970. He still farms the tillable acreage, growing corn and soybeans.
“It’s a working farm,” she added.
Juli Bartells described herself and her husband as entrepreneurs.
“This is just such a beautiful area,” she said. “I want them (visitors) to really enjoy their time here on our farm. It’s a neat experience to meet people and watch them decompress right in front of you.”
Juli Bartells said she didn’t want to be an event planner but wanted to remain involved in helping brides with their wedding plans.
“I just didn’t want to be the go-to person when it came to planning,” she said.
The venue is open from May 15 to Oct. 31, but the business books only one wedding a weekend.
“I don’t want my brides to be rushed,” she said. “That gives them the day before and after to set up and tear down.”
The venue requires those who rent the property to provide caterers and bring in furniture for their event.
“The nice part is we can send business into Columbus,” Juli Bartells said of couples renting items to be used in their weddings on the farm.
Reporter Chris Jones contributed to this story.