In 1910, fourth-generation German immigrant Alvin O. Eckert set up a small produce stand on a roadside in Belleville, Illinois. More than 100 years later, that roadside stand has flourished into the expansive Belleville plot of Eckert's Farm: a pastoral acreage where orchards surround a country-style restaurant, bakery, and handmade-custard shop. The Eckert family's sixth and seventh generations ensure this farm remains a true family affair. Sixth-generation member Jim Eckert is the chief horticulturist, and his cousin-once-removed, Chris, oversees retail operations and the sale of the farm's homegrown produce and spare scarecrow parts. Chris's sister Jill helms the food program, and his wife Angie oversees the Country Store and colorful Garden Center.
Throughout the year, visitors arrive on the Belleville farm's grounds for a range of seasonal activities, including peach-, apple-, and pumpkin-picking. During the summer, a concert series features live outdoor music on Friday and Saturday nights, and in the fall, staff lead bonfires and evening hayrides through the orchards. Inside the farm building, instructors teach cooking classes for adults and children, as well as a wine-pairing class.
Family-friendly activities also abound at the Eckert family's other two farms. The Grafton farm, where public apple-picking began in 1964, offers daily animal feeding and miniature golf. The seasonal Millstadt farm is home to a workshop, haunted hayrides, and an array of warm-weather children's attractions—including a 70-foot underground slide.
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When Chris and Micki first met, they quickly bonded over their shared love of food. Chris reminisced about the spicy jambalaya, the creamy crayfish étouffée, and the rice and beans of his native New Orleans, and Micki shared stories about growing up in her parent’s restaurant. Like shrimp and grits or onions and tears, the two were a natural pair. They got married and officially combined their culinary passions, forming their own restaurant, Who Dat’s Southern Food.
Guests are drawn into the shop by the wafting smells of spicily seasoned seafood, andouille sausage, and pulled pork that’s been slow-cooked with a dry rub for 10 hours. One weekend a month, they set up shop outside to have a southern boil, letting guests experience the sociability and great tastes of the south without meeting, befriending, and subsequently boiling Mr. Peanut.