URBANA, Ill. — Kurt Smith works in agricultural research and Jessica Thompson has fond memories of visiting her grandparents’ farm.
When they got engaged, they knew immediately they wanted a rural wedding. The Smiths, who met at the fair in Ford County, tied the knot at Hudson Farm, a working farm and wedding venue, on June 17.
Cecil and Joyce Hudson never dreamed of having a farm wedding business. He farms about 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans, and she is the routing supervisor for a wholesale food company. But it all started with their daughter Leah’s wedding in 2013.
“It was her fiancé Joe’s idea to have the wedding in the barn,” said Dan, Leah’s brother. “It was just an old barn full of junk. It took nearly a year to clear it out.”
He was surprised how popular the former dairy barn location instantly became with other potential wedding couples. Right after Leah’s wedding, three more women asked about getting married in the barn. In the next weeks, there were 17 more.
“We thought it would be a one-time wedding here,” Joyce said.
Now in its fourth year, there have been 72 weddings. It’s become so popular that Dan left his full-time job in northern Illinois to become Hudson Farm Weddings’ full-time general manager.
Many of the couples who get married Hudson Farm aren’t from the Champaign-Urbana area, but some went to school at the university there, Joyce said. Others are locals.
“Five neighborhood girls in a 3-mile radius were married here,” she said.
“Seven of our neighbors got married here. That makes my heart feel good, holy cow,” added Cecil.
The Hudsons held Leah’s wedding in the barn and the reception in a large rented tent. As the business expanded, the machinery shed became the reception hall. Their machinery is stored in a relative’s shed nearby.
Concrete floors were added, along with romantic lighting and other décor. They also added air conditioning and heating to extend the season. This year, for the first time, the farm can host winter weddings, Christmas celebrations and other events throughout the year.
“It’s perfect to have the ceremony and the reception at the same place,” said Kurt, who “grew up on tractors” and works for Dow AgroSciences in Gibson City.
For their wedding, guests traveled from as far away as New York and New Mexico, and had the option to stay at a Champaign hotel offering shuttle service to and from the farm.
The couple checked out three or four other venues, but some were too fancy for Kurt – who wore a white shirt and jeans to the wedding – others were too far away, or the atmosphere wasn’t quite right, he said.
“People want the real thing,” said Dan, who is the sixth generation connected to this farm.
The former dairy barn, built in 1954, keeps its rustic atmosphere. Years ago, Cecil expanded the door to park the combine inside, but the next year, he bought a new combine that didn’t fit. The would-be wedded couples like the big door, Dan said with a laugh.
The Hudsons quickly became adept at knowing what bridal parties need. They offer big reception tables and a list of services in the area, including photographers and florists.
Before wedding bells started ringing regularly here, there was a lot of work to do including getting county board approval, adding bathrooms and meeting official requirements including acquiring a liquor license.
The Hudsons considered providing the food for events as well.
“But that’s a whole other business,” said Dan. Instead, they recommend possible caterers to the couples.
For farmers considering offering a barn as wedding venues, Joyce said, “The hardest thing is that where there are people on the property, things will get damaged. If that kind of thing bothers you, it’s not the business to be in.”
Joyce estimates there are probably four other rural wedding sites within an hour of their east central Illinois farm.
“So, you have to be unique to figure how to survive,” she said.
Some of their uniqueness comes from the real artifacts on the farm that are popular with couples and photographers, including a Farmall Super M tractor.
“Grandpa bought it back in 1954,” Dan said.
An auger parked near the road with a wedding sign is also a unique part of the backdrop here.
While it is hard work, the Hudsons find it worthwhile when working with couples like Kurt and Jessica.
“We pinch ourselves all the time,” Cecil said.