True Love In A Family Field of Dreams

Nicole and David Magbee stand on the deck of Better Farm, located in Redwood, NY. 

BY: Norah Machia
Like any couple planning a wedding, one of the major decisions Nicole Caldwell and David Magbee had to make was choosing their venue. But for them, their own backyard quickly became the perfect choice.

    The couple married last September at Better Farm, a 65-acre farm in Redwood that has been in Nicole’s family since 1970, and a location that is impossible to describe in one word. The property is a “sustainability campus, artist colony, animal sanctuary and organic farm,” which some locals still jokingly refer to as “the old hippie farm,” said Nicole. 

     Better Farm was purchased by Nicole’s uncle, who had been using a wheelchair at the time, and was seeking to start a type of “commune” back in the 1970s. His idea was to allow people to live at the farm for free, and in return, help him with chores such as gardening and preparing meals. 

    Nicole, who was raised in New Jersey, had fond memories of visiting her uncle’s farm as a child, and later as a young adult. But after graduating with a journalism degree from Columbia University, she established a writing career and settled in New York City. The last thing Nicole envisioned was uprooting from her West Village apartment and moving to the Northern New York farm. 

    But that was before her uncle passed away several years ago, leaving the Redwood property to her. 

    At first, she decided to sublet her NYC apartment and “give the farm a try,” Nicole said. It wasn’t long before she developed a strong passion for revitalizing the farm and using it to promote the importance of sustainability. In a matter of months, Nicole realized that Better Farm would become her permanent home. 

    She has since taken her uncle’s “initial vision” and expanded it into different directions, creating a place where writers, artists and musicians are able to rent space to temporarily escape the city and focus on their creative work. 

    Many people have also come to the farm to learn more about the importance of sustainability, which has helped Better Farm earn its reputation as a popular eco-tourist destination in the Thousand Islands region. Visitors have stayed and worked on the farm, learning about the importance of preserving the earth’s natural resources and maintaining an ecological balance in the environment. 

    “I initially set it up as a farm to study sustainability, then it expanded into artist residence” to draw people who didn’t want to pay high rents in the city for studio space, she said. 

    “We’ve had dancers, writers, painters, musicians,” Nicole said. “It’s served as an insanely creative space, and it’s been really inspiring for many people.” 

    Better Farm has also been rented for yoga retreats, pottery classes, writer’s workshops, concerts, educational programs, and there is a recording studio and radio station on site. It also is listed as an Airbnb option. 

    “We’ve always had an interesting mix of people at the breakfast table,” she said. 

    Developing her vision for Better Farm has allowed her to “give people the opportunity to live closer to nature, learn about sustainability, share ideas, and go back to pay it forward in their own communities,” Nicole said. 

    She was joined on the farm by her future husband in 2017. She and David had met on the night of the 2016 Presidential Election, when both were watching the results that evening with friends at a restaurant in Pennsylvania. 

    “The night we met, he said he was going to marry me,” Nicole joked. “But I told him that I lived on a farm, I had all these different people staying with me, and it was also an animal sanctuary. So, he decided to come up and see the place for himself.” 

    After one visit, David fell in love, not only with Nicole, but also with her lifestyle on the Redwood farm. Because both Nicole and David have freelance work that is often done remotely, he was able to move into the farm, and help with running the business. 

    It wasn’t long after David had joined her at the farm that their wedding preparations began. 

    For this couple, it was important that the event be unique to themselves, reflecting their personalities, values and strong passion for the environment, along with their love for friends and family, and most importantly, for each other. 

    The challenge was to mix traditional, modern, chic, farm and sustainability elements to create a memorable wedding. But the first major task was making sure there would be enough space for the more than 200 family and friends who had been planning to share their special day on Sept. 2, 2018. 

    While there was already an existing barn, the couple hired nearby Amish neighbors to build a second barn for the big wedding day, allowing them to accommodate a larger number of guests. 

    “We had no formal space before our wedding,” although a few smaller weddings ceremonies of friends had taken place earlier in the main house, said Nicole. 

    The addition of the second barn has since allowed for the couple to host larger events at the farm. (In fact, an upcoming wedding is scheduled at Better Farm on Aug. 24, 2019, during the annual “Better Festival” featuring live music, camping and farm-to-table food). 

    For their wedding, Nicole and David had requested “Farmhouse Formal” dress, and for those unfamiliar with the term, here’s how it was described: “Skip the denim, diamonds, flip-flops and shorts – we’d love to see you in your hippest, most fun barn-party looks.” 

    “Dressed-down suits, bolo ties, long flowery dresses, fun cock-tail party attire and all things boho are welcome. If you would like to wear a jacket or tie or evening gown, that’s fine too! (Although they mentioned that bare feet and cowgirl boots were also welcome). 

    “Definitely dress your festive best, but please be sure you’re comfortable enough to stroll around on the grounds – heels are a definite NO! Real farms have real bumps, real dips and very real hills,” they advised their guests. “Most importantly, “dress like you’re ready to have some fun” (and bring bug spray as well). 

    The couple worked toward creating a “farm chic vibe,” so they brought in professional chefs who focused on a vegan menu, with food sources not only from their farm, buy nearby ones as well. At the reception, the dishes were laid out at food stations set up in the barns, so guests could pick and choose according to their tastes, and more importantly, they could sit on the outdoor patio and mingle with anyone and everyone. 

    “We had no assigned seats,” said Nicole. “We wanted to encourage people to interact with each other, and this gave everyone the opportunity to spend more time with family and friends.” 

    But there were some traditional elements mixed into the event as well, including a white wedding dress worn by Nicole (although she did slip on a pair of cowgirl boots underneath). The archway where the couple exchanged their vows was decorated with a special lace cover that had belonged to her great-grandmother. 

    Other “luxury” items from her mother were included into the décor, an assortment of linens and sophisticated centerpieces. 

    In an emotional moment, Nicole was given a locket by her mother that held a photo of her father, who had passed away when she was just 17. Her mother had placed the locket in Nicole’s bouquet on the morning of the wedding. 

    On a more practical note, her mother had suggested the couple rent some “high-end” large portable restroom trailers to set up on the property for the comfort of the guests. That turned out to be a very wise decision, Nicole said. 

    Nicole and David had spent months prior to their wedding searching at auctions and flea markets for numerous items, including a collection of mismatched chairs, vases and place settings. Old antique bottles given to her by a friend were used for centerpieces, and to no surprise, Nicole filled them with the wildflowers grown on her farm, which were also used to make up the bouquets. As another personal touch, the couple left stacks of their favorite books on the tables. 

    “Many elements of our wedding day were focused on sustainability,” said Nicole. “We even borrowed a kiln to fire up and glaze our own plates, and now when we use one of those plates in our kitchen, or sit in one of those chairs, it reminds us of that special day.” 

    Although she joked “we even composted at our own wedding,” Nicole said it was their family and friends that made the day truly memorable. 

    “We could feel the tremendous amount of energy and the outpouring of love for us,” she said. “It just felt like home.” 

    For more information about Better Farm, check out this website: