Always seeking adventure, couple plans wedding in four weeks
On a perfect late October afternoon — the summer heat having slowly begun to surrender to autumn — Casey McAuliffe, 31, married her college sweetheart on the front porch of their colonial-style home in La Marque.
The almost chilly weather suited the groom, Alex McPhail, 32. Sporting a shorter beard than usual, McPhail wore a dark blue suit for the occasion, which had only just been purchased.
They decided to get married with four weeks to spare, in what for them was proving to be one of the busiest years on record.
On top of leading an impassioned charge to expand programming as market manager for Galveston’s Own Farmers Market, McAuliffe made a run for La Marque’s city council, and won.
This meant McPhail was putting in longer days at MoonDog Farms, their organic startup, which was flourishing in its fourth year until Hurricane Harvey swept through in late August, stealing every crop and flower.
Back on their 20-acre homestead, he summoned the energy to festoon the grove of oak trees — under which they planned to marry — with strands of lights that were now glimmering faintly as the dusk ceremony approached.
There were enough tables and chairs, soul food and doughnuts for 75 guests who had flown in or driven in — some with potluck dishes to contribute. An eclectic collection of vases and jars cobbled together from thrift stores and kitchen cabinets now held flower arrangements foraged from the surrounding landscape.
It had all come together in a gale-force whirlwind — almost antithetically fast for the couple, who had been engaged for two years and together for 11 before deciding on a wedding date.
“We thought for a long time we would never get married,” McAuliffe said. “But, as we got older, we started to see the relevance in having a party to celebrate everything. We had already planned a road trip and the logic was that, if we go ahead and get married, it could be our honeymoon.”
After all, they found a mutual love for road trips not long after they met, 200 miles away on the outskirts of Austin. They were both students at Southwestern University in Georgetown — McPhail was a sophomore film major; McAuliffe was in the first year of a performing arts scholarship.
One of his roommates invited her to cook chili at their house, where she was immediately drawn to McPhail’s sense of humor.
“He was so funny,” McAuliffe said. “That was kind of it for me. I spent the next few months trying to chase him down.”
The rest is history.
After graduation, McPhail landed a job with the Austin Film Society, where McAuliffe later followed, finding a job as a preschool teacher.
“After a couple years, we both really wanted an adventure,” McAuliffe said.
They decided to pack up their truck and head for an organic farm in upstate New York, leaving desk jobs in the rearview mirror for the foreseeable future.
“While we were there, we figured out that this was a lifestyle that worked for us,” McAuliffe said. “We loved working together and that farm work combined using your body and being in the fresh air with the challenge of making a business thrive.”
They dreamed of eventually setting up shop in or around Austin. But, after they left New York for North Carolina, where McPhail was accepted to a graduate program in Sustainable Agriculture, fate knocked on the door of their apartment. McPhail’s aunt and uncle, who had come to visit, offered them an acreage somewhat farther southeast than they had imagined — in Santa Fe, Texas.
“After we picked our jaws up off the floor, we started making plans,” McAuliffe said. “There were already barns and an orchard in place. It had just been sitting there, waiting for something magical to happen.”
After McPhail graduated in 2013, they moved back to their native soil, christening the Santa Fe parcel, MoonDog Farms.
As they sowed seeds and tended crops in those initial years, it wasn’t all sunshine and grapefruit trees.
“The first few years were trying,” McAuliffe said. “We were defining our own individual roles on the farm. But now, as with many things in life, I look back and I’m so glad we had that time.”
They’ve grown into adults together — figuring out, over time, which roles allow them to function as their best selves. She’s learned to back off and trust; he’s learned to clean up his tools.
“The experience of running a farm together has made both of us better adults,” she said. “We’ve found out what makes us happy, what makes us unhappy, and how to better support each other.”
Besides managing MoonDog’s social media and communication, McAuliffe manages Galveston’s Own Farmers Market and was elected to the La Marque city council in 2017.
“Initially, I would beat myself up about having to step away from the farm more often, but Alex is much calmer than I am,” she said.
McPhail’s response: “Go for it! I got this.”
How did he propose?
Well, we really made the decision together, but it was more like, yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ll do it someday. Then, we went on a trip to Iceland a couple of years ago and Alex pulled out this heirloom ring — one that’s been in my family for a long time. We were under the Northern Lights, eating Beanee Weenees by a campfire. It was really romantic. He totally surprised me.
Where did you find your dress?
We buy the majority of our clothes at thrift stores, because farm clothes don’t need to be fancy. I tried looking at thrift stores for something. I had to be able to wear it again, because I don’t have any place in my closet for a dress I’ll only wear once. I didn’t find anything that made me feel queenly enough. We ended up going to H&M to buy Alex a suit and I found something, too: a very autumnal orange-red lace dress with a high collar.
Any hiccups during the day?
My only regret was that we couldn’t use our own flowers — that’s because of Harvey. When it came through, we lost every crop we had. We normally have eggplants, peppers, okra, squash and lots of flowers until late November. But, we just went around and foraged things that were in the woods around our house. So, there were lots of twigs and yaupon and beautyberry and herbs and things.
What was one of your favorite aspects of the wedding?
The food was fantastic. We’re pretty frugal, but we decided to spend some money on the food, which we got from Soul2Soul in Galveston. And, then, the rest of it was potluck. I consider it a mark of our good taste that all of our friends and family brought delicious, amazing, homemade foods.
What piece of advice would you give to people planning their own wedding?
We got married on a Sunday, which also happened to be a farmers market day where we were having our big Halloween bash and also the market’s five-year anniversary. It was a crazy day. We went to the market in the morning, and our families took care of everything. They made signs, they set up, our friends brought decorations. So, that’s one thing I would say: If you have people who are willing to help, let them help. Obviously you shouldn’t ask too much of any one person. Delegation is key.