Happily Ever After

Jersey Shore Rustic Farm Wedding Possible at Sassafras Hill Farms

Feb 23, 2018

A wedding at the Jersey Shore doesn’t need to be on the waterfront, or even water-view to be authentic or special. Let that sink in a minute before asking: what other kinds of weddings are there? For those who are willing to think outside the box or hoping to fuse the Long Beach Island region’s unique blend of sea and sand with the Pine Barrens, there is Sassafras Hill Farms.

Situated between Routes 72 and 554 in Barnegat Township, about 20 minutes from Long Beach Island, depending on the time of year, the 27.5-acre working farm is nestled in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a heavily forested zone in the flat, low-lying area abutting the coast. Its proximity to Long Beach Island – over the Causeway and straight on Route 72 for roughly 13 miles from Ship Bottom – provides the perfect combination of surf and turf. A waterfront wedding and a cozy, intimate, rustic reception at the farm, run by Tina Mueller, a former professional chef, and partner Jay Thompson, is how Sassafras Hill Farms got into the wedding business.

Farm manager Chris Adams, who was born and raised in Manahawkin, and his wife held their reception at the farm last June after being married on the bayfront in Harvey Cedars where they met.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” Mueller said, noting the farm, established three years ago, is opened to weddings from June through September. Interested couples are encouraged to work with an event planner, and the farm can help fill in the rest of the services, including parking, she said.

The farm is a blank canvas for couples wanting their wedding day to reflect their personality and highlight what is important to them, while having fun with it. Still, it’s important to note an outdoor wedding venue isn’t for the faint of heart. There are such issues as weather, fluctuating spaces, shifting ground and native vegetation to take into consideration. All of it can be addressed through décor and by simply embracing the beauty and unique qualities a natural habitat provides.

From daytime weddings under bright blue skies to nighttime festivities with sparkling white al fresco lighting strung from tents and tree limbs and around trees, the possibilities for a one-of-a-kind wedding are nearly limitless. String lights hung in a close grid format produce an intimate, romantic sensation while lights strung farther apart can act as task lighting while still creating a starry night ambience – even under a starless sky. There is electricity available at the farm for caterers, DJs, lighting and portable restrooms, Mueller said.

A growing trend in outdoor weddings is embracing natural elements such as wild foliage as part of the backdrop for the ceremony, which can be held at the farm, too. Among outdoor wedding trends is using bold colors to pop against the natural wooded backdrop. Using variations of blue and red will create a sense of harmony and balance.

Another trend is seeing fancy floral arrangements being replaced with indigenous greenery as wedding bouquets and for tablescapes. Landscape photo opportunities on the farm, of which 10 to 12 acres are cultivated at any given time, are plentiful, Mueller noted.

“Growing crops can be seen from every vantage point of the wedding location,” she said. Depending on the growing season, the farm produces blackberries and raspberries, arugula, beans, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, Chinese cabbage, collards, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, herbs, kale, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, okra, onions, parsnips, peas, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, scallions, squash, spinach, Tat Soi, tomatoes and turnips.

Photo props are also available, including an antique motorcycle with a sidecar, Mueller said. She noted the farm is always in flux, so wedding guests may witness some of the ongoing work to bring farm to table ingredients to the local community. That’s the vision Mueller and Thompson have for the farm, and what’s community but a family?

“A family starts with two strangers coming together,” Mueller said. And that is what a wedding is all about.

The farm is located at 184 Route 72, complete with a working farm stand, which this year debuts a restored carriage house from Cape May. For more information about scheduling your wedding, call 609-698-1110.

— Gina G. Scala

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