ST. LOUIS — Many of you have made memories with your family at Eckert’s Farms.
But do you know the history behind the seven-generation family farm?
Descended from German immigrants, the first Eckerts arrived in the St. Louis area in 1862.
In 1910, the Eckerts family made their first attempt at brick and mortar retail with a roadside stand near Belleville, Illinois.
“We’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit about us, that’s kind of in our DNA,” said Chris Eckert, a seventh-generation member of the Eckerts family and president of Eckert’s Inc.
Chris said the pick-your-own crops concept started in the 1960s.
The family now has farms in Belleville, Millstadt, Grafton and Versailles, Kentucky.
But, nearly 200 years of farming has come with its fair share of struggles. Chris said the most difficult time was just a few years ago.
“The toughest year in our history was 2012, financially. 2012 was a drought year,” he said.
Chris said Eckert’s had to lay people off and sell farmland. A downturn he admits the business is still recovering from.
“Weather consistently is the toughest thing for us to deal with as a business,” he said.
And while it’s a family business, family members aren’t an automatic hire.
“That’s written into our governing documents, that family members are not guaranteed a job. You have to go out and prove yourself and get educated and experience,” Chris said.
Chris started proving himself in eighth grade. His parents made him and his two sisters start a small business at the Millstadt location.
“We made funnel cakes at our Millstadt farm in the Fall. We had to buy the batter, buy the fryers, hire our friends, pay them and pay rent to Eckert’s,” he remembers.
The profits were how Chris paid for college and he’s instilling that same work ethic into his two children who are the eighth generation of Eckerts.
He said, “My son was stamping hands this weekend and my daughter was running a cash register at Belleville this weekend.”
Right now, two generations of Eckerts are running the different aspects of the business and Chris said their secret to success is mutual respect.
“At the end of the day, that level of respect lets us come to consensus on major decision and sometimes we say no to things that make profit sense because they don’t make family sense.”