by Adrienne Wichard-Edds, photos by Katelyn James, Cat Thrasher, and Kate Headley
When 38-year-old finance director Betty Danti met her now-husband, Anthony, an attorney in D.C., she was living on frozen food and canned vegetables. Anthony—who grew up with a mother who cooked every meal from scratch, often using ingredients plucked from the family’s garden—changed all that.
“Since I met him, no matter what time we get home, we cook our own dinner. We go to the farmers markets on the weekends. Now, eating local, organic, and fresh is a priority to both of us.”
They honored that priority at their October 2011 nuptials. The Dantis found a private farm in The Plains, Va., that allowed them to incorporate everything that was important to them—including their dog—and put together an elegant celebration that showed off both the terroir and the bounty of the season.
“We wanted our guests to experience everything that Virginia had to offer,” says the bride.
The couple asked Star Catering to assemble a menu that showcased the best of autumn in the Commonwealth. An arm of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Star Catering sources much of its produce from Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture in Alexandria. Catering director Richard Kalins notes that their clients are usually savvy about sustainability and food origin, and while buying directly from artisan farmers often costs more than buying from large distributors (10 to 15 percent more, according to Kalins), to those couples, it’s a worthwhile investment.
Bridezilla has ceded her tiara to the Locavore Bride, a species who is “more flexible, less stressed, and less mired down in details,” said Niall Reid, general manager at Charlottesville’s Clifton Inn. He estimates about one-third of the couples who get married there do so because of Clifton Inn’s commitment to using local and organic products. “They tend to worry less about controlling everything and stay focused on what’s really important.”
Cammie Fuller, a flower designer whose work has been commissioned by clients ranging from brides to Bloomingdale’s, moved to Wollam Gardens flower farm in Jeffersonton, Va., where she got married in 2004. Now, she helps advise other couples who get married there. “When I work with couples who are interested in going local, they’re more relaxed and enjoy their wedding more,” Fuller says. “They’re willing to make more compromises. They tend to think: How can we make our day great with what we have at that time? It becomes an adventure.”
Couples who opt for food and flowers that are seasonally plentiful are rewarded with fresher, better-tasting, and better-looking products. Anita Kane and Barbara Bowman, both high-security-clearance government employees who work in D.C., are planning a fall wedding that reflects the priority they put on eating local. Because they are interviewing chefs and sampling dishes this spring, six months ahead of the season in which they’ll wed, they paid more attention to the chef’s style than to the specific ingredients.
“We want the flavors to speak for themselves,” says Kane. “We don’t want something overly done or cream-sauced.” Despite the recession, they can showcase something decadent on their menu—like oysters, which are abundant and in season at that time of year—without blowing their budget. Plus, what they spend goes right back into the local economy, Kane points out.
When Flavor publishing intern Hali Plourde-Rogers married Maxim King at his family’s home in Williamsburg in May, they planted flowers on the property rather than hire a florist, then drew upon their relationships with local farms and a North Carolina seafood company to gather the ingredients for the reception meal. They hired a bluegrass band from Charlottesville and purchased wines from nearby Chateau Morrissette and Williamsburg Winery.
For couples already living a locavore life, mining the connections they’ve established can save both time and money.
Jill and Buddy Powers asked friend Dan Solburg, former chef for the staff at Polyface Farms (where Buddy interned in 2010), to cater their April 2011 wedding with products from the area.
In addition to roasting a whole Polyface pig, Dan planted a “salad garden” several months before the wedding. He served homemade barbecue sauces, salad dressings, and mint tea, as well as apple juice from Golden Acres Orchard in Front Royal. Jill and her mom scoured thrift stores to collect hundreds of pieces of mix-and-match china. The couple fashioned a fallen branch found on the property into a cupcake stand.
Not BFFs with a chef or plugged into a CSA? You can still find caterers, florists, and venues that are willing facilitators for locavore weddings. Many vendors have responded to the outcry for local, environmentally responsible weddings by establishing relationships with food purveyors within 150 miles, composting food and floral waste, harnessing solar power, and installing low-flow fixtures in kitchens and bathrooms.
Start the planning process by learning what’s in season for both food and flowers before choosing a date and a site. Eric Michael of Occasions Caterers cautions that as far as food goes, in springtime, local offerings are slim: “The early stuff isn’t in yet, and the holdovers from the winter months are beginning to look kind of tired.”
What can you get in early spring? “Ramps,” says Tucker Yoder, head chef at Clifton Inn, with a bit of a smirk—it’s hard to base an entire menu around those garlicky wild leeks. “Morels, too—and people do go crazy for those things, but you have to wait until later in the spring before you start seeing options like strawberries.”
Only in July do tomatoes, berries, melons, and peaches start to flourish. By late September, summer fruits are fading and are replaced by root vegetables, squashes, and leafy greens like kale and chard. And the apple is king.
Amalia Scatena, executive chef at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards near Charlottesville, suggests that brides think big-picture when it comes to choosing the main dish. “It’s not easy to mass-produce products on a local level; you’ll have an easier time finding local produce and poultry, but a cow can make only so many beef tenderloins.” If one tenderloin feeds only eight to 10 people, you’ve got to go through a lot of cattle to serve a party of 200.
Scatena suggests considering pork loin or chicken instead. “A good cut of local, pastured chicken done right and paired with something seasonal, like peas and morels, can be killer.” For seafood, local options include crabs, oysters, bluefish, and rockfish, but if you opt for something caught outside of the Delmarva region, pay attention to how it’s pulled in—that is, sustainably raised or line-caught rather than netted, cautions Occasions’ Michael.
Local flowers can diminish your environmental impact even further. At Local Color Flowers in Baltimore, owner Ellen Frost works only with Maryland and Virginia growers to assemble her arrangements. Inspired by Amy Stewart’s book “Flower Confidential,” which uncovers the complex and environmentally grueling international flower trade, Frost instead supports local growers, eliminating weeks between the moment a flower is pulled from the earth and the moment it touches a bride’s hands. Because Frost visits so many local growers each week, she’s able to provide significant variety. Even winter produces interesting textures of greenery, branches, and berries. She also provides couples with flowers in bulk and hosts DIY flower parties to teach attendants how to make their own bouquets.
Centerpieces can outlive the wedding weekend: “One of my couples did a lot of flowering bulbs, potted herbs, and succulents on the tables,” Frost says. “When the wedding was over, they took them home and planted a wedding garden in their yard.” If your flowers are cut, ask your florist to help you donate them to a local hospital or senior center.
Eco-chic is the new standard in weddings, and the couples who choose to marry in the Capital foodshed are lucky to have an abundance of local resources at their disposal. We’ve assembled a cavalcade of local venues, food, flowers, and extras from recommendations by brides and grooms as well as vendors who are highly regarded by others in their field. Know some we missed? Shoot us an email at email@example.com. And send us your own locavore wedding photos and ideas!
For more information about wedding vendors who source locally, check out Flavor’s Locavore Wedding Guide.
For a behind the scenes look at our cover shoot, click here.
Adrienne Wichard-Edds is a freelance writer living in Arlington, Va with an affinity for the Charlottesville/Albemarle area.