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The Recorder - ‘We wanted something good to happen’: Saying ‘I do’ in the era of COVID-19



This time of year, Valley View Farm in Haydenville usually has a very busy schedule. The property, first settled and turned to agriculture in the 1700s, is a popular destination for live music and theater, dining and lodging, and especially weddings — including big weddings, as two relocated and renovated barns at the site can accommodate more than 200 people.

But just as it has halted or disrupted so many other aspects of day-to-day life, the COVID-19 outbreak has thrown a wrench into any number of wedding plans this spring, leading to postponements and rescheduled dates that themselves remain questionable, given the uncertainty about when the state will lift restrictions on larger gatherings.

At Valley View, co-owner Suzy Fortgang says 20 weddings originally scheduled for March, April, May and early June have been moved to later this year or to 2021. Meanwhile, she and her team are advising couples scheduled to be wed later in June, as well as in July and August, to have a backup date planned.

“It’s been a difficult time,” Fortgang said during a recent phone call. “This is such an important day (for couples), and so much planning goes into it, and then to have to postpone things … People have been very flexible, but it’s not easy, and certainly we’re losing income.”

To accommodate these postponements, and in anticipation that there are likely to be others, Fortgang said Valley View Farm has opened up days later this year for bookings that are typically not used for weddings, such as Mondays and Thursdays — and they’re also scheduling Fridays and Sundays in winter.

“The uncertainty is what’s so hard,” she said, noting that the big weddings her business typically hosts — 150 to 200 people — can require complicated coordination with several different vendors, such as a caterer, photographer, videographer, musicians and others; sometimes Valley View provides services such as catering.

All of that can make rescheduling a wedding both a logistical and emotional challenge, Fortgang said: “And that’s not to mention (rescheduling with) family members scattered across the nation and sometimes the world.”

Jenelle Wilkins, event manager at Quonquot Farm in Whately, says the farm’s wedding center has postponed its four May weddings and is working with couples scheduled to wed later this year on possible backup plans. June, September and October are the farm’s biggest months for weddings, Wilkins notes, but with no sense yet of when the state will lift its ban on public gatherings of more than 10 people, “We’re really taking things day to day and week to week.”

Valley Wed, an exposition at Quonquont for wedding vendors that was scheduled May 17, has now been postponed to Aug. 6, Wilkins said, and Quonquont is also offering couples space for simpler, small wedding ceremonies that would take place exclusively outside. “Our clients have been spectacular in dealing with all these changes,” she said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can help them in some way.”

Elopements andsmall ceremonies

In Florence, Hannah Grace, an interfaith minister who officiates at weddings throughout Massachusetts and in other states, says six couples she has been working with have all postponed their May and June weddings, while another, in New Hampshire, has been exploring the possibility of holding the ceremony via Zoom. Though she helps plan ceremonies at both large and small weddings, Grace said, even many people doing smaller weddings can be leery of getting together under these circumstances.

“It’s something couples have planned for months,” Grace said during a recent phone call. “There’s so much emotion and feeling invested in it … most want to be able to be together” with family and friends.

Yet there are exceptions, said Grace, who also helps craft memorials, baby blessings and other ceremonies. She just recently heard from a Northampton couple looking at the possibility of a quick wedding before a military deployment.

Another couple she has worked with dropped their plans for a “destination wedding” in April for an August wedding planned at Black Birch Vineyard in Hatfield, while a third postponed a November wedding until October 2021.

As a result of the pandemic, Grace said, “I do expect to see a lot more elopements, small ceremonies, mid-week events, etcetera.”

One thing couples can do during this uncertain period, Grace added, is to take a closer look at their relationship and try to visualize married life, a process she calls premarital conversations. “It’s a good time to look at your strengths, your challenges, and just build on your relationship,” she said. “My job is to help strengthen people’s bonds and have them look at this stage of their journey.”

But not everyone wants to let the novel coronavirus call the shots on a wedding. Alexis Bonavita and her spouse, Teresa Bonavita, had planned for a big wedding May 2 with a little over 200 guests at Valley View Farm. When it became clear the large gathering could not take place, the Springfield couple instead decided to hold a quiet, small ceremony in Haydenville on April 4.

The weather cooperated that day, Alexis Bonavita said in a phone call, and she and Teresa gathered with a small group — their parents, a few siblings and in-laws, a photographer and a justice of the peace — on a patio area at Valley View. All but immediate family members did the social distancing thing and, said Alexis, “it was a wonderful ceremony, simple and sweet.”

“We wanted something good to happen,” she said. “We didn’t want to wait because we’d been talking about this and planning it for so long.” With a laugh, she said she’d gone shopping for a wedding gown last October.

Alexis, an access service representative at Baystate Health with Baystate Hospital, said she and Teresa, a manager at the Towne Taproom in Agawam, had to cancel other events leading up to their wedding, like a “Jack and Jill” party/wedding fundraiser. “So we didn’t want to cancel everything,” she added. The couple are now scheduled to host their original large wedding party at Valley View on June 21.

Suzy Fortgang says her farm hosted one other very small, outdoor wedding in April. She also wonders, like Hannah Grace, if — even when the state lifts restrictions on large public gatherings — weddings at Valley View Farm and elsewhere might end up being smaller over the next year of so, with 50 guests rather than 150 or 200, as people try to navigate the uncertainty of the coronavirus.

COVID-19 “is probably going to change the way we do a lot of things, including weddings,” she said.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.



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