It started with a Tobacco Barn – The Southern Maryland Chronicle
Barn wedding venues have grown in popularity over the past several years, and when Cindy Bliss found herself back on the family farm, as well as the owner of a spacious, authentic tobacco barn, she made it a source of income as the only permitted tobacco barn for events and weddings in Charles County. Her business, Bliss in the Barn, is a labor of love and a way to keep her family’s farm alive while sharing it with other families wanting to make long-lasting memories.
CARRYING ON A RURAL LEGACY
Zekiah Ridge Farm, located on Charles Street in La Plata, has been in the Thomas family since 1953. Originally, Zekiah Ridge was a 120-acre tobacco farm, with a barn that was built in the 1930s, with doors on all four sides and ventilation panels to allow the tobacco to cure before sending to market. Bliss’s father’s wish for the property was to keep it as a farm, and in order to do that, the farm was placed in a Rural Legacy so the property cannot be subdivided and built upon. Currently, Bliss and a nephew live on the farm.
In 2014, Bliss’s dad called her asking about using the barn for her niece’s wedding, but the barn needed a lot of work. Bliss recalled, “I said, Dad, we can’t do that unless we’re willing to put some money into it.” So, as a wedding gift, her dad helped with some of the cost to renovate the barn, and Bliss covered the rest, with the agreement that she would open up a wedding venue.
In 2015, they went before the Special Exception Board to open an event venue in a farm building. The permit process took 6 years, as Charles County didn’t have a definition for agritourism at the time. The event venue was submitted under “clubs”. Bliss said, “Today, I believe we’re the first legally licensed, permitted tobacco barn in Charles County.” The event venue was fully licensed in 2021.
BLISS IN THE BARN
Bliss in the Barn is a rustic, quiet, and welcoming choice for a wedding and reception, family gathering, or corporate event. The barn is over 1,700 square feet in space with an additional 1,000 square feet of a covered portico. The tables and benches are handmade from barn beams and reclaimed wood fencing. There is a true sense of open space and natural elements, yet the soaring ceilings provide protection from the elements. The Barn can be decorated in any way one’s imagination allows.
The adjacent field can accommodate any size tent and is perfect for a reception or after-party. There are acres of land available for lawn games, parking, and watching the sunset.
They have a micro wedding package, where they pretty much do everything—the catering, flowers, decorations, and set up and clean up. Bliss said, “You just show up with your officiant and photographer. We handle everything else.”
HAND-PICKED CUT FLOWERS
In 2020, Bliss and her niece and nephew decided to see what they could grow on the farm. They added cut flowers to their crops, which brings the entire family together to till, plant, maintain, cut, and package the cut flowers, which include peonies, dahlias, ranunculus, coneflowers, lavender, sunflowers, phlox, lisianthus, delphinium, asters, zinnias. and more.
Bliss sells bouquets at the La Plata Farmers Market, Hancock Family Farms in La Plata, and Nicks Of Clinton and Nicks Of Calvert, and she takes orders online at email@example.com. She will also have a selection of dried flowers in the fall for arrangements and wreaths. New for 2022 is the Bouquet Club subscription, where you can subscribe and receive five bouquets in the spring, summer, or fall.
DIVERSIFYING INCOME AND REACHING OUT
Bliss said, “I said I’d never sell my dad’s farm, so you have to come up with different ways to create income when you don’t want to buy a combine or a hay bailer or those kinds of things. The Hancock and Weber families have farmed row crops for us for years. I think we have a very unique situation here with our farm because it provides income for more than just our family.”
In addition, they’re going to open a nonprofit to help veterans with rehabilitation. “They can have their own flower patch, or we can invite people in to make their own bouquets, things like that,” said Bliss. They also host a Bottles and Blooms event with a local winery and have two rental houses on the farm. “So, we’re creating multiple sources of income as well as taking care of the public,” she added.
This September, Bliss in the Barn will host a Dining at Zekiah Ridge Farm to Table event, with the goal of supporting farmers and what they contribute locally. “It’s a true farm-to-table event where all the farms are contributing,” said Bliss. “The reason I want to do that is, I think a lot of people think they don’t need to worry about vegetables–they come from Safeway. Or, they can always get meat. But, no, you can’t always get meat. Farms are declining, but we really need farms. With the situation with the gas prices and transporting goods, it makes more sense to go to the farmers market and buy your vegetables for the week than go to the grocery store where they’ve been trucked in from Florida. You need to support where you live.”
COMING BACK TO THE FARM
Coming back to the farm and making a life on it wasn’t exactly what Bliss always had in mind as a successful career woman. Trained as a pipefitter, she worked in commercial construction until she was 42 and her business was bought out. She and her husband thought they’d move close to the water, but at 54, he was diagnosed with dementia and lived 5 years. “That really was life-changing,” said Bliss. “All of our plans changed. I really had to reinvent myself.”
“Honestly, if my husband hadn’t passed away, I wouldn’t be here,” she said. “Sometimes God just gives you a different direction, and you have to get on board. Our farm will benefit people through our work, the flowers, and even opening up our farm so that people can make experiences with their families. Because we have a lot of memories here. People should have memories.”