The answer to creating a wedding celebration that walks lightly upon the earth may be right in your backyard - literally.An Earth-friendly wedding with a harvest theme: The Middlebrooks handed out 120 home-grown saplings, above, as favors for their guests. "We thought trees would be something good for the environment," Sara says. Personal and pennywise: The couple sent out hand-painted invitations, upper right, and used wheat purchased from a neighbor to decorate. Made with love: For the groom's cake, right, Sara coated real maple leaves with colored chocolate, then peeled off the chocolate leaves to use as decoration.
Because she was marrying an environmental engineer, Sara A. Middlebrook was attuned to positive ecological values. "We try to incorporate reduce, recycle into our lives," Middlebrook says. But as she and Scot started planning their recent wedding, the arrangements fell into place even more naturally than they might have anticipated.
As naturally as the fallen birch tree that decorated the tables during the reception. The couple cut the tree branches into four- to five-inch chunks; drilled holes in each and inserted votive candles.
"My father was a forester so we thought [having] trees would be great," says Middlebrook, who lives in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Creating a wedding that isn't wasteful or polluting is appealing to more couples. The number of earth-friendly products and services is growing, giving the bride and groom a range of options from recycled paper invitations to "green" honeymoon hotels, according to the Organic Trade Association.
In addition, couples are developing their own strategies for simplifying and personalizing their celebrations, and maybe saving some money along the way.
When Valerie Edmunds planned her daughter's wedding, it was tough finding the vendors who could satisfy her objectives for an environmentally friendly wedding.
Her personal quest led her to start a business, says Edmunds, who runs Green Elegance Weddings, (www.greeneleganceweddings.com), an online resource for like-minded wedding planners.
Edmunds promotes green weddings, which she defines as celebrations that bring in socially and ecologically responsible services to every part of the planning and ceremony.
For instance, couples might look for fair-trade food products grown by adequately compensated farmers, pesticide-free flowers and musicians who don't play electronic music.
Couples who haven't considered environmental and social objectives for their weddings might be concerned that a green wedding is dowdy.
Not so, say wedding planners - not in the food and not in the fashion.
Almost any caterer can provide a meal using organically grown ingredients. And even the gown can be green and gorgeous.
"There are lots of options that are elegant and stylish," Edmunds says. "In the wedding industry there are beautiful gowns from hemp and silk blends. The silk may not be organic, but it's a natural fiber, as opposed to man-made fibers."
Nor do weddings have to be purely green.
"Greenish" is how Angelica Weighs describes the events she plans. "It's a beautiful occasion, the paper is handmade, the beautiful favors are wild flower seeds or natural chocolates from companies that give part of their profits to environmental causes. That's what most of my clients want," says Weighs, a wedding planning and head of Green Weddings, Los Angeles.
"A lot of the thinking is to maximize what you're doing to do 'good' for someone else while doing 'good' with the wedding," says Edmunds, who is in the Seattle area.
One way to achieve this is to use local suppliers for weddings, says Weighs. "If you spend money on local business, local caterers or local organic farmers you'll feel better. It's not so much the amount of money you spend, but where you spend it. People feel better spending their money with like-minded [green] businesses," Weighs says.
The do-it-yourself urge also is a common theme among couples who plan green weddings. "We didn't originally intend our wedding to be so eco-friendly, but once we got into it, we got more involved," Middlebrook says.
For example, the couple created an inexpensive and charming harvest decor using a few bushels of wheat from a nearby farmer.
"We decorated the [reception] room for five dollars in wheat bundles that we arranged around the room," Middlebrook says.
As remembrances from the wedding, the Middlebrook couple gave guests saplings. They bought 150 saplings in the spring when the greens were plentiful. Since the wedding wasn't until the fall, Sara and Scot planted the trees over the summer. Although a few died, the twosome had 120 foot-tall trees they wrapped in pieces of burlap, salvaged from their grandparents' farms.
"We thought trees would be good for the environment. We put a little tag on each tree, something lovey-dovey like 'watch the tree grow.'"
It was a great alternative to the usual favor, according to Middlebrook. "What are people going to do with a tin of Jordan almonds?"
In fact, the only criticism about the wedding was that the couple didn't have enough trees to go around.