The Party Barn: Are Rustic Weddings Destroying a Way of Life in Rural Orange County? | News Feature | Indy Week

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The Party Barn: Are Rustic Weddings Destroying a Way of Life in Rural Orange County?

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Kara Brewer is, quite literally, surrounded by neighbors who want her gone.

She didn't seem especially bothered by this fact the day I drove out to her property in Bingham Township, in southwestern Orange County. Brewer, thirty-seven, was visible from Millikan Road, working inside a small garden encased in deer netting. She wore black leggings and a sporty turquoise tank top. She looked like she was on her way to Whole Foods after a yoga session.

Instead, she was inhabiting a role higher up the agrarian supply chain, tending to some recently planted sunflowers and zinnia, and discussing the eventual honey yield on three beehives that sat twenty yards away. Brewer pointed across the path, at a cluster of saplings wrapped in white cylindrical guards.

"And those are the chestnut trees," she said. "We're starting with forty, and plan to add another forty each spring until we get to three hundred or so. We'll have a processing facility in the barn for them because we're going to be making gluten-free flour from them. The flour comes from the chestnut itself."

Brewer and her husband, Chris, live in a part of Chapel Hill that lies in Chatham County, near Jordan Lake. Through an LLC called Southeast Property Group, they purchased this land—twenty-two acres—in March 2015. At the time, it was completely wooded. They kept in place the trees around the property's exterior but hollowed out its guts.

On the day I visited, a man in a large Boosan excavator was carving out a second road into the property. Deeper inside, where several acres of trees had been felled, branches burned on a pile, part of the clearing process.

"That's where the parking lot will be," Brewer said. "Over there is where the flower beds will be; we'll start with a half-acre of cut-flower production and keep adding until we have one and a half or two acres for production. And then where we're standing right now is where the barn will go."

The barn, built in 1860, is being imported from upstate New York. Brewer says it will serve many purposes: refrigeration for the hand-cut flowers, storage for the chestnuts. It will also host weddings.

"But that's a small part of what we're doing," Brewer told me, a faint strain in her voice. "It's not the whole picture."

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