The Castle, Eckert’s-Boyd Orchard host farm tour
The 53rd annual Woodford County Farm Tour made stops at The Kentucky Castle and Eckert’s-Boyd Orchard Monday to showcase some of the diversity in agriculture happening on local farms.
Both stops are destinations where people – from here and elsewhere – can get a taste of life on the farm in Woodford County.
“We are really in the business of creating memories for young families, who want to bring kids out to the farm and have a day in the country,” said Chris Eckert, president of the family-owned Eckert’s-Boyd Orchard on Pinckard Pike. “See where their food comes from.”
During his welcome on the tour’s first stop, Matt Dawson, an emergency room physician, shared a brief history of The Kentucky Castle, which he now co-owns. Most already knew about Rex Martin, The Castle’s original owner.
Martin purchased 55 acres at the corner of Pisgah Pike and Lexington Road in 1969, but he and his wife never finished their dream home – inspired by the architecture they saw on a European honeymoon, Dawson said.
During the 30 years when the castle was mostly empty, he said Lee Majors (best known as the Six Million Dollar Man) did not get married on the property as rumored, but did try to buy the castle.
Eventually, Tom Post, a Miami tax attorney originally from Kentucky, purchased The Castle property for $1.8 million in 2003 and began renovations. Post spent twice the purchase price to rebuild The Castle after a devastating fire in May 2004, Dawson said.
While the cause of the fire remains unclear, Dawson told his farm tour guests, “Very few people know this, but it was a fire-breathing dragon,” eliciting laughter, “and that’s why we don’t have them on the farm any more ”
Dawson and his business partners started doing additional renovations after purchasing The Castle last July, and he said they wanted to make this well-known landmark into a destination, where people can come to see the beauty of Woodford County’s landscape, horse farms, distilleries and other unique places.
“Our goal now,” said Dawson, “is just to become the world’s greatest farm-to-table restaurant… hotel and event space, and we’re working real hard” to make that a reality, with the farmland being a key component to their business plan.
“We’re getting a lot of people that are coming from out of town and they’re attracted by The Castle itself, but while they’re here we really want to teach them a lot about farming, where their food comes from. It doesn’t come from the grocery store. It comes from our farms,” said Dawson. “So we’re really trying to get the farm up and going, and I’m going to show you… what we have going…”
Later, Dawson and his visitors walked up to The Kentucky Castle’s roof to get a bird’s eye view of the farm’s beehives, a vegetable garden (for ingredients on its restaurant menu), a chicken coop and mushrooms, which could be ready for the table as early as this fall. Future plans include converting low-lying land into an aquaculture pond and adjacent land into pastureland for sheep, cattle and goats, he said.
Because last Friday’s storm caused The Castle to lose power and its fire alarms were still being tested Monday, visitors were not permitted within its walls. But with no significant damage to either tour stop, organizers went ahead with this year’s event to provide a sense of normalcy for people in the county, said UK Extension agent for agriculture Adam Probst.
Eckert, whose family purchased what was then known as Boyd Orchards from Terry and Susie Boyd, told his guests that he’s a seventh generation farmer. They were traditional Midwestern farmers before moving into fruit production in the late-1800s, he said.
By the mid-1920s, Eckert said his great-grandfather, who saw an opportunity to get a better price from his crops by selling directly to consumers, opened a country market and diversified his farming operation.
Fruit production became more of a focus during the years of the Great Depression and World War II as more family got involved in a farming business that expanded into southern Illinois, Eckert said.
With more competition in its wholesale apple business by the 1960s, Eckert said pick-your-own apples became a more profitable endeavor. “Just like my great-grandfather did – you can sell your product directly to the consumer and get a more profitable return,” he said.
His family’s apple business started to focus more on agri-entertainment by the 1980s, and now, with limited growth opportunity in the St. Louis market, views Woodford County as fertile ground for the future.
Recent additions to Eckert’s-Boyd Orchard include five acres of peach trees and innovative ways to produce blackberries and strawberries.
Over the next decade, Eckert said, “We’re planning to replant the entire apple orchard.” Work has also begun on adding a new petting zoo and other playground equipment with pig races in the back of the property and haunted hayrides this fall, he added.