By Caroline Shively Sucher
Photos By Carina Danielle Photography
Farmer Amanda Heilman planned and prepped her October wedding down to the last detail, from growing the flowers to raising the food to handcrafting and aging the cheese for the cocktail hour.
It was the pregnant cow she didn’t plan for.
It all started when Wes Miller, Amanda’s husband-to-be, got a special wakeup call after he spent the night before the wedding in his childhood bedroom at Chesapeake Gold Farms.
“About five that morning I hear a cow grunting and I thought, ‘Ah, it sounds like you’re in trouble but maybe you’re just being fat and preggo,’” Wes recalled thinking at the North East, Md., farm. “Then after a few more minutes, I said, ‘No, you’re in trouble,’ and out I went. She did have herself in trouble. She ended up having a breech calf and needed some help.”
Amanda had helmed the wedding planning for months, but much of the day-of activities were supposed to fall on Wes’s shoulders.
“Saturday morning, I was armpit deep in a cow when I was supposed to be putting the last bits and pieces of the wedding together,” he said, laughing.
At many weddings, that could have ended in disaster. But not this one. The friends, family and wedding party are all farmers and as Wes put it, “Adapt and overcome is the way of the farming world. ‘No’ is not an acceptable answer just because you can’t do it the planned way.”
As Wes spent hours trying to help the cow move its calf into position, he said, “My brothers and the groomsmen did an awesome job pulling in all the loose ends. They did a tremendous amount of work.”
But the teamwork from their farming family and friends started many months earlier when Amanda gathered together the women who she calls her “tribe.”
“People in the farming world, in agriculture stick together. They’re there for you no matter what,” she explained. “We have so many skills because we are farmers. My maid of honor is a florist and flower farmer and so artistically talented. She’d come over and do these amazing sketches. My matron of honor is a winemaker and she’s a wedding venue owner at her family farm, so she knew all about logistics.”
Amanda, Wes and their friends turned an empty field overlooking the Susquehanna River into a wedding paradise at Mt. Ararat Farm in Cecil County, Md., where Wes’s family also raises crops and some of their cattle.
The attention to detail was remarkable and the know-how they used to get it done, incredible. The couple and their friends grew nearly every piece of food and flower at the wedding and reception.
“For the menu, I wanted to stay seasonal. I wanted green beans and a fresh salad. I grew the beans and I wanted to grow the salad, but it was a super rainy season coming up to the wedding, so we sourced that from our neighbors. We had sliced beef from our own cow, and I grew the horseradish for a cream sauce. We molded the butter from our dairy cattle into little cows on the tables and we had a cocktail hour with a charcuterie of beef and artisanal cheese that I aged in the house.”
That’s right. In addition to being a farmer, Amanda is also a full-time cheesemaker at the University of Delaware’s UDairy Creamery.
“Right after he asked me to marry him at New Years, I started aging my Romano and Asiago cheese for the wedding,” she said.
Amanda and Wes also decided they wanted apple pie for dessert. Some couples might bring in the frozen pies for the day. Not this one.
“Our friends own Milburn Orchards, so we had fresh apple pie. I work at a creamery, so we had ice cream.”
The couple and their friends also grew everything for the decorations, bouquets and boutonnieres and made sure it all had a special University of Maryland color scheme. Amanda graduated from Maryland with an agriculture degree and wanted the colors of her wedding to reflect her alma mater.
“I wanted to have those colors of red and gold and black and white, those rich fall colors, she said. “Zinnias and dahlias were my reds, cosmos were my white. Wes grew wheat so I harvested it early on and hung it in our basement to dry. We cut and harvested alfalfa to have in my bouquet and we had wheat heads and straw flowers for the boutonnieres. Walking up the aisle we wanted milk cans filled with arrangements and I went with dried pampas grass which I took from my parents place in Ocean City, and we dried sorghum to give it a rustic look.”
Amanda also wanted to take some of their photographs in a field of sunflowers.
“I thought that might be interesting to try because I’d never grown sunflowers before,” Wes said. “I asked the photographer how many sunflowers we need for the pictures to look good and she pretty much said, ‘You’re the farmer, you figure it out.’ So, I planted ten acres.”
“I think the photographer was a little flabbergasted,” he said, chuckling.
What Wes couldn’t grow, he and his friends built.
“We literally got married in the middle of a field so Wes and his brothers and the groomsmen got together and carved the two wooden [liquor] bars and the arch to go out there,” Amanda explained.
From the rye they grew that a local distiller made into white whiskey to the pigs they raised for the sausage in the marinara sauce, every little detail was amazing on its own but put together, they showcase a way of life for a sixth-generation farmer and his wife who was born a city girl but is now a farming, cheesemaking, flower-growing farmer.
“We wanted to showcase that we’re passionate about agriculture and we’re passionate about our state and we wanted the wedding to reflect that,” Amanda said.
But you might be wondering what happened to that pregnant cow that Wes almost missed his own wedding for. Well, the calf just wouldn’t cooperate, so Wes had to call a veterinarian in to do a C-section and that left him only minutes to get ready and get to the wedding.
“I literally rolled up, got showered and dressed within 15 minutes,” he said, but he smartly didn’t tell his new bride until the honeymoon.
“Nobody told me a thing about it. He didn’t tell me and we got to the wedding and no one else told me,” Amanda said with a laugh.
And the baby?
As Wes puts it, “Momma had the calf, and it’s all good.”