What could be more fun or wholesome than gathering the family together for an afternoon outdoors to pick fruits and vegetables? For St. Louisans, a perennially popular spot to experience this is Eckert’s in Belleville. Open year-round, the farm offers a variety of produce and fun seasonal activities. “Our mission is to help people create family memories,” says Angie Eckert, vice president of retail operations for the farm’s Country Store and Garden Center.
Farming runs deep in the Eckert family: The current owners are the seventh generation operating the show. The first fruit trees were planted on the Belleville property by Henry Eckert more than a century ago. His son Alvin expanded the family farm into retail, opening a roadside stand in 1910. Over the decades, Eckert’s continued to grow. While the Belleville property is the business’ main hub, it also owns farms in Millstadt and Grafton that offer a unique array of activities and pick-your-own experiences.
During the warmer months, visitors to the Belleville farm can pick peaches, strawberries and blackberries. In the fall, there are apples, pumpkins and Christmas trees. While apples always bring a crowd, Eckert says the goal is to continually have something available to pick, except during winter. “We’ve worked hard in the past few years to plant different varieties of crops to help us achieve this, such as earlier ripening peaches and apples that will produce later in the year,” she notes. The first crop available to pick is strawberries, typically starting in May.
The past few years also have seen the addition of vegetables, including corn, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and kale. “We added a pick-your-own vegetable garden in 2012 when we had a light peach season, and the response was so positive, we kept it up,” Eckert says.
Beyond picking fruits and veggies, visitors can stop in at the Country Store, stocked with produce, baked goods, meats, cheeses, wine and gift items. There also is a restaurant on site, open since the 1980s and offering country favorites like chicken pot pie, country fried steak and fried chicken. A variety of seasonal events also take place, including live music on summer weekend nights, apple and pumpkin festivals in the fall, Breakfast with Santa and Easter egg hunts.
Throughout the year, a variety of adult and kid cooking classes are offered as well. “Our goal is to show people how to eat the crops we grow,” Eckert says. “We’ve found that if kids are involved in the process of making food, they’re more likely to try it. We use all fresh ingredients, nothing processed, so it’s a real field-to-table experience.”
The Eckert farm isn’t just a business to the family—it’s also home, Eckert says. “We live on the farm, and we eat produce grown on the land,” she says. “It’s incredible that our kids get to experience farm life and see crops grow. Everyone in our family has their own responsibilities, but we work together as a team. We’re always planting and working to improve the soil—we’re thinking about sustainability for future generations.”
when » Open year-round
where » 951 S. Green Mt. Road, Belleville, Illinois
why » To pick your own produce, shop in the country store or dine in the farm’s restaurants
Photo Courtesy of Eckert’s