Nestled in the countryside of Keene, ON, is Jenn Austin-Driver and Matt Smith’s beautiful farm and wedding venue property – Farmhill Weddings. Over five years ago Jenn and Matt took over this farm from Jenn’s family and immediately began making this space their home. While they share the property with a variety of farm animals including sheep, alpacas and pigs, Jenn knew she wanted something more.
“While we dubbed ourselves farmers the minute we took over the farm, we knew our true passion was in creating experiences for others” explains Jenn. “We love curating memories and sharing our passion for local food with others.”
With 10 years of experience as photographers in the wedding industry, Jenn and Matt knew that their farm had the potential to be a great space for new couples looking for a natural, picturesque location for their wedding day. While working as the photography team at one of the over 200 weddings they have photographed together, Jenn and Matt decided to go for it. Never one to abide by long term plans, Jenn began dreaming and planning Farmhill Weddings the very next day.
“Creating a wedding venue was originally supposed to be a ten-year plan type of project. But anyone who knows me knows I don’t really do things long term on long term timelines,” Jenn shares. “I knew we had a great idea and I wanted to get moving on things right then and there. After hosting a large 30th birthday party on the farm a few months later, we knew we had the right things in place to create a magical event space.”
After an almost two-year rezoning process with their township, Jenn and Matt were finally able to break ground on their dream wedding venue in September 2019. As Jenn explains, the venue structure was originally supposed to be a more temporary, tent-like building but the couple later decided to go forward with a full permanent structure designed for weddings up to 200 guests.
“We’re ‘all in’ kind of people,” laughs Jenn. “It just really isn’t like us to not jump in with two feet. So we did.”
With the venue structure completed in May 2020, Jenn and Matt were incredibly successful in their first season of business. “We had 25 weddings on the books for our Summer 2020 wedding season,” explains Jenn. “That is truly incredible for an opening season, especially considering we did not have a completed building to show potential guests. We knew then that we were on the right track and filling a gap in the local market.”
And then in March 2020, the world stopped as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As one of the hardest-hit industries, wedding venues all around the world were forced to reschedule, cancel and reimagine weddings. In the Summer 2020 season, Farmhill Weddings was still able to host seven micro weddings out of their original 25 bookings. For Jenn, being able to still host these smaller-scale events was a blessing.
“Summer 2020 certainly did not look how any of us expected it to but we made it work,” says Jenn. “ I still feel so fortunate to have been able to create a magical day for seven of our couples and to be able to test run all of our business operations on a smaller scale. We know that when it is safe to do so, we will be fully prepared to scale up seamlessly to large events and weddings in our space.”
As a bit of a hidden gem tucked away in the hills of Keene, ON, the Farmhill Weddings property allows guests to experience a farm wedding unlike any other. Rather than focusing on a classic rustic wedding style, Jenn and Matt decided to use more modern finishings and timeless decor in their space to create a unique, contemporary feel all while providing a experiential agri-tourism element.
Farmhill Weddings is best known for their fully immersive experience for not only the bride and groom but also all their guests. From covered wagon rides, craft beer and locally sourced food to selfies with alpacas, events at Farmhill Weddings are anything but traditional.
Looking ahead to the 2021 wedding season, Farmhill Weddings already has over 50 weddings on the books and counting. “We couldn’t be more thrilled about how well couples have responded to the space and our vision for Farmhill Weddings,” shares Jenn. “It’s absolutely amazing.”
As a recipient of the Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development Starter Company Plus grant, Farmhill Weddings has truly become one of the region’s most promising, up and coming wedding venues. Jenn credits the Starter Company Plus program as being a true driver of this success. For her, the business community in Peterborough has been incredibly supportive with a strong “community over competition” outlook.
“I can’t say enough positive things about the Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development team and the Starter Company Plus program,” says Jenn. “The financial impact they played was incredible but beyond that, the insight and guidance they provide is something you could never put a price on. From help with business planning, networking and navigating the challenging world of small business ownership, the team at Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development really did change the trajectory of Farmhill Weddings for the better.”
“2020 was a challenging year, and we know there are challenges ahead of us in 2021, but we’re so thrilled to be able to do what we love every single day with Farmhill Weddings,” says Jenn. “We love being able to be a part of ‘the first’ happiest day of peoples lives, it’s truly an experience unlike any other.”
For more information on Farmhill Weddings, visit their website at farmhillweddings.com