When Teresa DeFalco and Edward Lupo began searching for a wedding venue, they knew they wanted something different -- and something outside.
"We love the North Fork of Long Island," says the bride, a 33-year-old training manager for Organic Avenue, a chain of New York City food shops. "It was one of our favorite places to go when we were dating, so we started looking there."
The couple found, though, that many of the area's outdoor wedding locations, particularly wineries, were out of their price range. Then one day they stumbled upon an online listing that featured a place they hadn't heard of: Salt Air Farm. "Their website wasn't that sparkly compared to other wedding venue websites," Teresa Lupo says, "but there was something about it, and we were, like, 'Oh, that's interesting.' "
"We are the quietest farm market you're ever gonna see," says Prudence Heston, who runs Salt Air Farm with her husband, Dan, and their 9-year-old daughter, Sadie. "I do not try to be the first website that comes up. I want people who are finding us to really be looking for this kind of thing. And so, when they do, they're like, 'I found it!' "
Salt Air Farm specializes in cut flowers and fruits specifically for floral arranging and event use -- weddings, in particular. It is in the gateway between the farming village of Cutchogue and the fishing village of New Suffolk and stretches between two salt marsh inlets along Peconic Bay. Heston is a descendant of the Wickham family, which has been farming this land since 1680 (Heston's daughter is the 12th generation). Five years ago, Heston, who had been running the sales of the Wickham Fruit Farm, created a new business plan geared toward the bridal industry, carving out about a third of the property for what would become Salt Air Farm.
Intrigued by the farm's no-frills website, which features an event pricing work sheet that lays out all expenses -- including a site fee based on guest count -- the Lupos took a trip out to Salt Air Farm in February 2012, the dead of winter, to check out the farm for themselves. "It wasn't the best time to go, because the farm was like, nothing. Just an empty field," says Teresa Lupo. "But Prudence walked us through the property and showed us what it could be."
"We just try to be a blank canvas and let them take a farm setting and make that into whatever they want it to be," Heston says. "That can vary tremendously, from a pig roast and barbecue with hay rides and fruit picking to people who want horse-drawn wagons and want to hang chandeliers from the trees. I keep waiting for the person who tells me, 'I want to do a hot-air balloon.' I think that would be so much fun."
Turns out, Salt Air Farm was just what the Lupos were looking for. "We wanted it to be almost like a backyard party feel, where people could participate in whatever activity they wanted to do leisurely," says Teresa Lupo, who got married there in July. "So we had boccie ball set up. We had croquet. Prudence was taking people for tours through the farm. And then we had a typical DJ and dance floor. The best part was that everyone really mingled, because they were drawn to the activities that they were interested in. I mean, my old Italian uncles were playing boccie ball with my husband's college roommates. And Prudence even threw in extra flowers -- she actually surprised me on the day of my wedding by making additional decor, which was really nice."
Salt Air Farm offers a vast array of flowers -- from hydrangeas to dahlias to wildflowers -- on a seasonal basis, from the second week in June through September, and works closely with brides to bring the goodness of East End farming to their event. "For some brides, that means growing pumpkins in greens, whites and creams that are used as organic vases for their table flower arrangements," Heston says. "Or, we may have a bride that wants an upscale garden party. In a situation like that, we'll mix our hydrangeas with berries or crabapples and have them spilling out of baskets. Or perhaps we have a minimalist who is looking for sheafs of wheat to place along long, wooden tables. We can do that, too."
Couples have the option of buying cut flowers wholesale directly from Salt Air Farm (there is a 100-stem minimum) and doing their own flower arranging, having Heston do the arranging or taking the stems to a traditional florist of their choice. (In October, Salt Air Farm suffered damage from the tidal surge caused by superstorm Sandy -- one of the farm's dikes broke, resulting in the flooding of more than 100 acres with salt water. However, Heston says, "While it did affect some of the other areas of the farm pretty severely, fortunately for brides, it did not affect where we grow the flowers.")
Six weddings a year
Salt Air Farm also offers fresh raw honey favors, which can be ordered online and come in 3-ounce jars. Intrepid couples looking for more of a hands-on experience, however, can participate in "bee camp," which allows them to set up and care for their own colony of honeybees for one season, through honey extraction. "It's lots of fun," Heston says.
Right now, because the family is farming full-time, Heston limits the number of weddings held on the property to six a year. Although the farm is booked for weddings this year, Heston has openings in 2014 -- at least for couples who are astute enough to find them.
"We're in no big rush," Heston says. "When the right person comes along, it's the right person."