A family-owned company based in Belleville, Ill., with multiple pick-your-own farm locations around the St. Louis market area, finalized a deal to purchase Boyd Orchards last Friday. "We've expanded pretty rapidly here in the St. Louis area and feel like our best opportunity for (further) expansion was to go into a new market," said Chris Eckert during a telephone interview on Monday. The president of Eckert's Inc. said he and his family will continue to operate Boyd Orchards as an agri-tourism enterprise where families can experience an array of farm-related activities. "Boyd Orchards has been a successful part of the Versailles community and we want to continue that tradition," Eckert said. "Our mission at Eckert's is creating family memories and I think Boyd's fits right into that mission statement. We want to continue on that path. And I would not expect any major changes in the short-term. Terry (Boyd) has run a successful business and we just want to continue that on and bring any expertise that we can offer to the table." Boyd, who will soon celebrate his 69th birthday, said he wasn't actively searching for a buyer, but "if I went and crisscrossed the United States 10 times and met everybody that's in our industry, I would never run into any people that are as great, salt of the earth, honest, the highest of integrity people than these guys are." That's why "it gives me complete peace that I'm handing my (family's) business that we've grown ... to that family," he added. "...My customer base will love these people." No decisions have been finalized, but Eckert said both family names - Boyd and Eckert - will somehow be incorporated into a new name for the Woodford County orchard at 1396 Pinckard Pike. Megan Fields has been hired as the general manager of the orchard, where she has been working for about four years as assistant manager, Eckert said. "I can't say enough good words about Megan. We're really excited about having her as a part of our team," he added. Eckert said discussions with Boyd about acquiring Boyd Orchards began in November 2015. Those conversations were initiated by a mutual friend, he said. "My family has known the Boyd family for a long time," said Eckert, the seventh generation in his family to manage their farming businesses in Illinois. "...We raised apples and (operated orchard) farms adjacent to each other 40 years ago." And his father, Lary, sold a 250-acre apple orchard to Boyd in the early-1980s. A fifth-generation apple grower in southern Illinois, Boyd, his wife of 26 years, Susie, and their children, Hunter and Ali, moved to Woodford County after purchasing Kaenzig Orchard, which they renamed Boyd Orchards, in October 2003. "The best thing (about starting this agri-tourism business) was getting the place looking really good, and seeing and feeling ... an excitement," said Boyd. He always enjoyed hearing positive comments from his customers, but also grew tired of working 100-plus-hour weeks during the peak fall seasons. "We didn't get rich at it," said Boyd, "but it was a good business." He said Susie was instrumental in turning their family's orchard business into an agri-tourism venture. "I grew into the business," he said, "but I grew into it because Susie put the lasso around me and started pulling." Boyd credited Citizens Commerce National Bank for ensuring the sale of Boyd Orchards happened, while also pointing out that his family's business employed around 100 workers and welcomed over 180,000 visitors last year alone. "We love this place," said Boyd, who has retained ownership of his home and 10 acres. "It's dear to my heart." Eckert said when he and his family first visited Boyd Orchards, "We just kind of fell in love with the area. Because Woodford County is such a beautiful place, it's hard not to get excited about what it looks like and feels like there." The family agreed, "This'll be a really neat place to do what we do," he said. "We love the fact that we can connect directly with families and show them where food is made and where it comes from ... We can let them experience the farm and picking fruit right off of the tree. That's something that we're very passionate about," said Eckert. He said Boyd Orchards will open for business on Tuesday, May 2, with very little change in scheduling from previous seasons. In retirement, Boyd said he plans to spend a lot of time in Florida doing more scuba diving - his lifelong passion - with his grown daughter and son.
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