#EscapeWithNCAg is a year-long series that will focus on agritourism across North Carolina. Many farms, wineries and other agricultural businesses in our state offer events such as tours, yoga, educational classes, pick-your-own events and festivals, to entertain the public and teach them about our state’s number one industry. Each Thursday, we will feature a new site for you to visit with friends or family. Stay tuned and learn how to escape the stresses of life by diving into agriculture!
Choosing the location for your special day can be a daunting task, but at Carlee Farms in Oxford, the decision becomes easy! Not only is it a working farm and agritourism destination for a variety of events throughout the year, but it showcases a beautiful barn on scenic farmland that makes a truly romantic wedding venue.
Growing up on a farm, Gena Stephens never believed she would spend a career in agriculture. “I spent many summers working with my grandparents and other family members on the farm,” she said. “We grew a variety of crops, including tobacco, and I vowed that I would never farm in my adult years because it was such tough work. However, the memories grew sweeter as I got older and I began to miss the life that had shaped my childhood, so I started looking at purchasing land to start Carlee Farm.” Her husband, John, also grew up in the arming world so he gave no objection when the opportunity became available. “We wanted to live simple again and create a place where our family could have a positive experience growing up like we did,” Gena said. Since the farms inception in 2011, it has grown to be a staple in the community for fellowship, fun and ag education. They grow several crops, including hay, and house a variety of farm animals, like donkeys, goats, and chickens.
In 2015, Gena started venturing into the world of agritourism after the farm’s popularity grew from her daughter’s wedding photos. “When my daughter posed her wedding photos from our venue online the requests to get married here skyrocketed,” she said. “So, we not only started offering weddings in 2015, but also individualized class field trips for kids. I spent the first half of my career as a kindergarten teacher, so it has always been my passion to educate.” Gena continues to offer field trips for individual classes on the farm so that she can get to know the children and give them a personal, hands-on experience. They also offer two week-long summer camps each year for kids to come and get their hands dirty in a variety of farm activities as well as play games, make crafts and more! “I wanted kids to come and play on the farm,” she said. “Not only so that I could educate them about agriculture, but also so that they would read, do arts and crafts and simply have a positive experience on the farm.” From Mother’s Day brunches and pot painting, to candle and soap making classes, Gena and John have truly dived deep into the world of agritourism. Perhaps their most popular events each year, in addition to weddings of course, are their Spring Marketplace and Christmas Marketplace.
Twice a year, Carlee Farms hosts a market on-site where members of the community can come and shop for local, hand-made products. “We typically host about 25-30 vendors for each market,” Gena said. “I wanted to showcase the talent here in the community and I found that people were less overwhelmed and more apt to get to know the vendors when there weren’t an outrageous number of them.” The markets sell out fast each year and often host anywhere from 800 to 1,000 people. Admission to the markets is free. Customers simply pay for the items that they buy while at the market and/or what they choose to donate to the cause at hand. “Each year we sponsor a worthy cause in the community during the market,” Gena said. “For example, we sponsored the local fire department for many years and helped them to get new equipment such as oxygen masks to better prepare for events and incidents in the community.”
Gena and John are currently in the process of building a general store to sell products from their farm on-site as well. Not only do they have farm merchandise available to show your local pride, but also candles, goat milk soap, donkey milk soap, honey and other items. “We have a soap to clean any ass in your life,” Gena joked. They also host candle and soap making classes throughout the year to teach you and your loved ones how to make your own.
Carlee Farms prides themselves in the way that they treat any couple who chooses to be married on their property. “We tell people that they come to our farm as clients and leave as family,” Gena said. “I’ve kept a relationship with many of my brides on the farm and watch them come year after year with their husbands and children to various events. We work hard to make their special day everything that they want it to be.” Gena acts as the day of coordinator for all weddings held at Carlee Farms for no additional charge and allows couples access to anything in her wedding vault. “We have a pay it forward system here with all of our brides, so they can leave any wedding decorations on the property for future brides to use,” Gena said. “Therefore, I have a huge variety of items, including lanterns, votives and archways, that brides can choose to incorporate into their day for no additional charge.” All tables and chairs are included with wedding packages. Gena and John offer a weekend package, weekday package, Saturday only package and Sunday only package. Pricing for all wedding packages can be found on their website.
If you want to add a unique twist to your wedding photos, Carlee Farms also allows couples to take wedding photos with the farm animals. “We have a fence close to the venue that we can move the animals too,” Gena said. “They make for great photos!” Hosting about 40 weddings a year, both Gena and John are well-experienced in the industry and will work hard to make your special day everything that you want it to be. “It is so much more than a business transaction to us,” she said. “We want our clients to feel special, valued and respected on their day.”
Whether you are booking a wedding date or visiting for a market day or class, the experience at Carlee Farms is unlike any other. Not only will you leave feeling like family, but also with new knowledge of the agriculture industry and its importance to our state. Start planning your trip today and enjoy all the agricultural beauty, peace and community that can be found at Carlee Farms!