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Family memories still being made at orchard

The people of Woodford County have been more welcoming than Chris Eckert and his family could have ever imagined when they were looking to expand their agri-business into this market, he said. General Manager Megan Fields has told Eckert that "people are just really glad that the farm is going to continue," he said. Eckert was making one of his regular visits to Eckert's Boyd Orchard (formerly Boyd Orchards) at 1396 Pinckard Pike last Friday morning when he and Fields talked about a new era for the agri-tourism business formerly owned by Terry and Susie Boyd. "This is what we do back in Illinois," said Eckert. So visitors to the Woodford County orchard should anticipate having similar experiences as they've enjoyed in the past, he said. "You fall in love with what we do," said Eckert. "...We're in the business of providing an experience for families that is really cool." He said a natural progression of change will be driven with help from the orchard's visitors. "Our guests have come in and enjoyed seeing the changes in the market," said Fields. "...They're excited about pick-your-own peaches ... something new that we're doing now." Other changes will happen or have already happened. "People come to the farm for the experience," Eckert said, "and the playground is a big part of that. So we want to expand that over the years." Also, the corn maze has been moved closer to the playground and additional bonfire sites are now available for "Creating Family Memories," Eckert's mission statement. "There's nostalgia to going to a farm," said Eckert. "We're in the business of creating those special memories for families on our farms." His family feels "a responsibility to show people where their food comes from - especially kids," he said. Visitors can still purchase apples in the orchard's store, but families will also have the option of taking a wagon ride out to the farm and picking their own apples. One of the biggest challenges that Eckert and his family faced when they purchased the orchard earlier this year and took over its management was connecting their team in Belleville, Ill., with a team in Versailles. "Megan has been critical in that transition," he said. Fields traveled to Illinois last summer so she could learn about the culture of the family-owned Eckert's Inc. while visiting their farm. "So she's gotten to know our culture and our team over the course of a year. That has really helped bring those two teams together as quickly and as seamlessly as possible," Eckert explained. In addition to being exposed to Eckert's five pick-your-own locations in the St. Louis market area, Fields also learned about a different way of growing blackberries. Eckert said weather conditions are very similar in Woodford County to what his family has faced in Illinois so farm manager Lyle Allen, who came here from Belleville, Ill., will oversee apple, peach and other crops in similar growing conditions. Like all farmers, Eckert said, he always has a complaint about the weather no matter what happens. There's never a perfect weather season, and this spring was no different. A huge peach crop was unexpected after a March frost, but rainy conditions in May led to a "light strawberry crop ... so the season was short due as a result of that," said Eckert. "Weather," he added, "is our nemesis and our saving grace."

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