A green wedding: From cakes to clothes, couples opt to go organic

03/26/03

Roxanne Washington
Plain Dealer Reporter

Mention organic weddings, and the image is of a barefoot couple saying their vows in an open field, the bride with a flower in her hair, the groom dressed in anything but a tuxedo and a guitar in the background playing a wistful song with the lyrics "There is love."

In other words, a simple hippie wedding. Today, however, call it organic, and it's anything but simple.

That's because a growing number of couples want eco-friendly weddings (using earth-friendly products free of toxins), but they still want traditional ceremonies with all the usual trappings (dramatic white gown, fancy invitations, towering cakes).

The demand is spurring local and nationwide businesses to offer a variety of products and services. Michelle Kozin, a Boston-based consultant for organic weddings, launched a Web site (www.organicweddings.com) two years ago as a resource guide for couples who want to find eco-friendly businesses and products for everything from organic wedding dresses and accessories to creating a wedding gift registry with nothing but earth-friendly products.

Couples might want recycled and/or tree-free invitations, Kozin says. If meat is served at the reception, they might want it hormone-free. The bride might want a gown of fibers grown free of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Some might go all out, while others might choose just a product or two.

Increasingly, the words "organic" and "natural" are used to describe such products, and there can be some confusion for consumers. However, there is a legal standard organic producers must follow if their products are to bear the USDA organic seal, namely no pesticides or herbicides used in the growing process, and no antibiotics or hormones in meat.

These types of products, however, come with a slightly higher cost.

"The bridal business does $70 billion annually," Kozin says. "It's an industry of excessive consumption. The couples I deal with feel strongly about conscientious commerce. They feel that the money they spend on a wedding can have an impact on the environmental and social responsibility. They want to support businesses that support their values."

Kozin designs hemp-silk wedding gowns, priced from about $800 to $1,000, that are made by seamstresses. Once a bride gets her gown, she can have alterations done by a seamstress in the city where she lives.

Kozin has been an environmentalist for a long time, she says. When she got pregnant a few years ago, she wanted to be an at-home mom, so she quit her corporate job to be a private consultant for organic weddings, tapping sources from across the country. Along with her Web site, Kozin is writing a book, "Organic Weddings - Balancing Ecology, Style and Tradition," due out in November.

Kozin's Web site includes only a few Ohio and area businesses. But a number of local businesses specialize in organic options for those getting married. Here are a few:

Esperanza Threads in Bedford provides apparel and accessories made from pesticide- and insecticide-free cotton.

"What we can offer is the flower girls' dresses in pink, yellow, natural, blue and violet embroidered chambray," says Sister Mary Eileen Boyle, who runs the local cooperative (the telephone number is 440-786-9009). "If a bride wanted her bridesmaids dresses made from any of these materials, we could do that also."

Sweet Artistry in South Euclid (www.weddingcakes-cleveland.com, 216-382-3585) is one of the food sources on Kozin's Web site. Jennifer Simmons, who runs Sweet Artistry out of her home and makes everything from scratch, is called on to make vegan cakes and cakes using only organic ingredients, although she also does regular wedding cakes.

"Organic cakes and vegan cakes cost a little more because the ingredients are more expensive," Simmons says. "A regular wedding cake runs around $4.50 per slice, but an organic cake is about $6 a slice."

Simmons, who has a bachelor's degree in sculpture, decorates her cakes with intricate flowers and other effects sculpted from a special sugar. So we're not talking about giant granola bars for a wedding dessert.

"These cakes can be as ornate as regular wedding cakes," says Simmons, who is already booked for weddings through the fall. "To look at them, you can't tell the difference."

Nina Berr of Cleveland Heights is a lifelong vegan, meaning she eats no meat, fish, dairy products or eggs. When Berr got married last year, she had Simmons bake her cake.

"This was my wedding, and although some of the guests weren't vegetarians, I wanted the main cake to be vegan and still have everybody like it," she says. "We didn't let it be known that our wedding cake was vegan, and guests were surprised to find out because it tasted so good."

Nature's Bin health food stores cater affairs, including weddings, says Ernie Logsdon, executive chef for the two locations - in Lakewood (216-521-4600) and Cleveland Heights (216-932-2462).

"I have loads of vegetarian and vegan items to work with," he says.

The Mustard Seed Market and Cafe, with stores in Solon (440-519-3600) and Akron (330-666-7333), caters organic and/or vegetarian receptions, including providing organic cakes, says Phillip Nabors, president of the company.

"We do a lot of catering here, and we can get just about anything anybody wants, from Southern fried food to Chinese to sushi, all organic," he says, noting that cakes require about a month lead time.

Paper products are a major concern among couples opting for an organic wedding. Along with standard paper products, Pulsar Paper Co. in downtown Cleveland makes tree-free paper and paper made from tree bark, which grows back. Pulsar's environment-friendly paper isn't sold to the public, but you can get it at Pat Catan's and JoAnn Fabrics locations and High Tide-Rock Bottom, 1814 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights.

"These papers are slightly more expensive, but they have a much more interesting texture," says Pulsar president Eric Ludwig, as he holds up sheets decorated with real leaves in their original shape that were embedded into the paper during production. "With everybody communicating by e-mail, digitally and the like, when you get an invitation or something on paper that comes from the earth, it feels special."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

rwashington@plaind.com, 216-999-4427


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