Metro-East News

Eckert’s expands to Kentucky with purchase of family farm

Eckert’s Orchards is expanding to Kentucky, where it recently bought a 60-acre family farm, Boyd Orchards.
Eckert’s Orchards is expanding to Kentucky, where it recently bought a 60-acre family farm, Boyd Orchards. Angie Eckert

Eckert’s Orchards is expanding with the purchase of a family farm near Lexington, Kentucky.

Boyd Orchards is an established pick-your-own fruit farm that also offers a petting zoo, large slides, a pirate ship climbing attraction and mine sleuthing, where people can pan for treasure, said Angie Eckert, the vice president of retail operations.

“It’s all new and exciting,” she said.

Eckert said the purchase had been in the works for a while, and that the owners of the 60-acre Boyd Orchards, Terry and Susie, approached the Eckerts about the deal. The two families have known each other since the 1970s, Eckert said, when her family was more focused on the wholesale apple business.

“It’s very rare that this happens,” Terry Boyd said about the purchase. Car dealerships may change hands, he said, but fruit farms rarely do, even more so when they have an entertainment component.

Still, “there aren’t any better people I could have handed it off to,” he said, adding that he has confidence in the Eckerts’ technical expertise and personal character.

Boyd, 68, said he has 53 years in the fruit farm business. His family was originally set up in Southern Illinois near Anna, but there weren’t enough customers. Eventually, commercial troubles forced him to sell off the farm into parcels and move to Kentucky, where he established a new fruit farm in 2003.

Agro-tourism was rewarding, but not easy, Boyd said.

Boyd, a fifth-generation farmer, said his family had more success after the move, but the agro-tourism industry was tough, and they had to continually try to grow the business to attract customers. It wore on him, he said, both physically and mentally, and with health problems in his family, it was time to sell.

Still, he said he’s enjoyed his career, and he loves growing apples and entertaining people.

“I think (the most fulfilling thing was) just watching it grow from nothing to a place where we’ve had 10,000 visitors a weekend,” he said.

In addition to its attractions for children and families, Boyd Orchards has a retail building and a kitchen, but not a formal dining area, Eckert said. Her family doesn’t plan to make large changes to the Kentucky location at first while they get to know its business and customers. Boyd said he planned to introduce the new owners to the community to make them as successful as possible.

The Boyd Orchards retail manager has agreed to stay on in her current position, and a farm manager who previously worked at the Belleville farm will be relocating to the new one, in Versailles, Kentucky, Eckert said.

The purchase is the first cross-state expansion for Eckert’s Orchards, Eckert said. The business farms about 1,000 acres, sells goods at a farmers market in St. Louis, and operates a store, restaurant and garden center in Belleville.

Eckert said her family is excited to invest the new opportunity, and it will visit the area to begin cleaning and work in the barns in a week.

“We’re excited to in there and learn,” she said.

Casey Bischel: 618-239-2655, @CaseyBischel