When Cindy Flaherty told her farmer father that she wanted to get married in their old cow barn, he “thought I was crazy.”

But as the family fixed up the barn and readied it for Cindy’s big day, four betrothed couples passing by saw the preparations from the road and stopped to ask if the barn were available for rent.

A little more than half of the 200-acre Flaherty’s Family Farm in Scarborough is planted in field crops, and there’s a horse barn and eight greenhouses, as well. The barn where Cindy Flaherty got married sits on a 16-acre parcel that doesn’t make a lot of money because it contains wetlands, but it has its own parking area. The family had considered opening an ice cream shack there.

Now, after a year of renovations, and multiple meetings with the town planning board and state fire marshal, barn weddings are officially becoming part of the family business. The extra money from the weddings – they’ve already booked a few – will help diversify the farm’s sources of income.

“It’s hard to make a living as a farmer,” Cindy Flaherty said.

Already popular in other parts of the country, barn weddings are taking off in Maine. Portland-based wedding planner Diane York, of Diane York Weddings & Events Inc., says she now gets more requests for barns than for coastal wedding venues. On the inside, some of the sites may look more like restaurants than barns – many brides don’t want to walk through sawdust or smell cows on their wedding day – but they still provide the casual, rustic charm many couples are looking for.

“Barns are all the rage,” said Michele Stapleton, a Brunswick photographer who knows of at least four new barn venues that have opened recently.

Nationally, about 5 percent of couples planned to marry on farms in 2013, according to a survey at theknot.com, a popular wedding website, while 6 percent said they planned to host a farm reception. The most popular states for farm weddings are California, Vermont, Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky, according to Simone Hill, assistant editor of theknot.com.

There’s no official, comprehensive list of wedding barns in Maine, but the staff at the Maine Farmland Trust has an informal list of a dozen that includes four working farms with barns and eight barns that have been renovated to provide a more elegant experience. Click on rusticbride.com, and you’ll find a list of at least 30 Maine barns available for rent.

What’s the attraction? Hill said couples are looking for non-traditional spaces they can personalize, and that differ from the venues their parents chose. The Internet has made it easier to search out such places, including barns.

“A barn is a perfect setting,” she said. “They usually have high ceilings. You can bring color in, bring flowers, and really put your own stamp on it.”

But in Maine, the desire to say “I do” in front of friends and family sitting on bales of hay goes deeper, according to owners of the barns. Stacy Brenner of Broadturn Farm in Scarborough says she hears a lot from marriageable 20- and 30-somethings that they are “spiritual but not religious” – no church wedding for them. In a barn, couples get a “real authentic sense” that they are connected to something bigger in nature, and to the community, Brenner says. They often offer her a “classic line” expressing their wish for a simple, low-key ceremony that will not cost a fortune but will bring their friends together to share a great meal and great music.

At a Broadturn Farm wedding, the farm’s produce is sold to the caterer to use in the wedding dinner. The flowers in the bride’s bouquet were probably grown on the farm, as well. After the ceremony, children of wedding guests hang out with the livestock, and follow the goats as they are herded into their pens.

“People like to walk over with their cocktails in the evening and watch us milk the cow,” Brenner said.

She said the farm balances weddings with farm chores by tackling large projects in the spring or fall to avoid wedding season. Any jobs that will “require something that smells intensely” are scheduled around – not during – wedding weekends. “If anything, it keeps us tidier than we might be ordinarily,” Brenner said.

Randy and Beth Williams, photographers from Saco who see themselves as “very untraditional and non-religious,” married at Broadturn Farm in 2011. The fact that it is a working farm, not “the wedding factory,” Randy Williams said, helped sell them on the venue. “We love old barns, and something about the rustic appeal of a barn really grabbed us,” he said.

Randy wore sneakers with his suit, and a friend of the couple’s brewed the beer. After the ceremony and reception, they gathered around a bonfire.

“We wanted a big party where we happened to get married,” Beth Williams said.

The Williams still visit Broadturn Farm regularly, now with their 1-year-old son in tow.

Brenner said the weddings help build community. “When people have a special engagement here at the farm,” she said, “they really hold onto the farm as a special place and a memorable part of their life.”

The wedding business has also helped the farm build a flower design business, and build relationships with local caterers.

Instead of walking down the aisle, couples who marry at 626-acre Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport may arrive on a hay wagon. Cows graze in the pasture surrounding the historic Mallet barn, and guests sit on rented hay bales (who knew you could rent hay bales?). After the reception they gather around a fire pit and make s’mores.

“They’re looking for a farm experience,” said Jeannie Madsen, the farm’s wedding coordinator. As for the farm, it appreciates the rental fees, which help maintain and repair the barn.

Often, the bride and groom are among the growing number of Americans more interested in local food and sustainable agriculture than in picking out a china pattern, Madsen said. Many ask about buying the chicken or lamb raised at the farm for their wedding dinners, so in 2016 the farm will begin hosting “farm-to-table” weddings that require caterers to purchase a portion of their food from the farm.

Couples who book a wedding at Caswell Farm in Gray usually have a connection to Maine – they went to school here, or attended summer camp here, according to Catherine Caswell, owner of the 48-acre property. For Caswell, the weddings have been a godsend.

She had been growing organic vegetables for Portland restaurants on two acres of her family farm when, six years ago, she had a baby. She couldn’t get back in the fields when her son was young, and if not for the income from weddings, she would have been forced to sell off some of the farm for development. Her grandfather established the farm in the mid-1930s. “I see myself as a steward,” she said. “This is my time to take care of this piece of property.”

Caswell is now growing produce again. She’d like to continue hosting weddings too, but for the first time, bookings have decreased slightly.

“This year the competition has exploded,” she said.

Caswell’s barn skews rustic. (Or as she put it, “You can still see petrified cow poop.”) Farm implements hang inside, and the walls are uninsulated. She stores hay there every spring. That’s exactly the ambience Skye Waterson and Matt Garand of Portland sought for their wedding last fall. The couple met at the Maine Maritime Academy and are both now working in the Gulf of Mexico as mariners servicing oil platforms. In a phone interview from his ship, Garand explained that both he and his then-fiancee wanted a wedding that was as bona fide rustic and “green” as possible.

“It seemed a little contradictory to us to have this big celebration that just created waste,” he said.

Getting married at Caswell Farm also appealed to them because “the whole farming lifestyle is something we are interested in pursuing later in life.”

The couple printed their invitations on recycled paper in soy ink. They held their ceremony outside, under a birch arbor decorated by Garand’s father with cornstalks, sunflowers and other farm greenery. They hired a bluegrass band and played lawn games. Their reception was in the barn; guests ate off compostable plates with compostable flatware, and sat on hay bales. The curbside composting company Garbage to Garden handled the waste.

Their wedding cake was topped with a cow and a pig, and a mobile wood-fired pizza oven catered. The guests drank from Mason jars and ended the day with – you guessed it – a bonfire.

There was just one casualty: the bride’s white wedding dress – “so muddy” by day’s end. “But that was fine,” Garand said. “We chose (the farm) because it was so authentic.”

At the other end of the spectrum are wedding barns that are scarcely working barns; instead, these “rustic chic” spots are outfitted with full kitchens for the caterers, refurbished floors and chandeliers hanging from the rafters.

The Barn on Walnut Hill in North Yarmouth is a barn and farmhouse that date to 1887; it started hosting weddings in 2009. (Its sister property, the Barn at Flanagan Farm in Buxton, does the same, also gourmet dinners prepared by some of Maine’s best chefs.)

The Walnut Hill barn has wrought-iron chandeliers, dragonfly-etched sconces, a stage and an attached bar with vintage tractor-seat bar stools. It is heated and air-conditioned. As many as a dozen out-of-town guests can stay in the farmhouse, which has a professional kitchen, fully stocked butler’s pantry and even its own chef.

In 2013, Brides magazine nominated Walnut Hill as one of the 50 best wedding venues in the United States. Rental rates run from $10,500 to $15,000, compared with a base rate of $3,200 for Caswell Farm.

Proprietor Gail Landry said the brides who book Walnut Hill “want the rusticity of the barn, but they want refinement that reflects their upbringing and their education and who they are.”

Walnut Hill couples incorporate many of the same country-chic trends as others who marry in barns. They drink local brews from Mason jars, use burlap runners, make homemade signs directing their guests to the ceremony and give Maine blueberry-themed favors to their guests.

“They do that corn toss game a lot,” Landry said. “And horseshoes.”

Still, no matter the size of the barn or of the wedding budget, farms in the wedding business say they get more out of it than money. They like interacting with the bride and groom. “They’re doe-eyed and ready and excited,” Caswell said.

Brenner feels honored that her farm is hosting someone’s wedding. Early in the day, she often sees “misplaced anxiety” among the couple and their families – worries about money or whether exes will sit next to each other. But then the ceremony starts, and “an overwhelming sense of love fills them, and they have a blast.”

“Watching that whole thing unfold over and over again has been really beautiful,” she said.