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Eckert's Grafton Farm

Article and photos by Kathleen Walls

 Country store at Eckert's Orchard at Grafton, Illinois
Eckert's Orchard at Grafton, Illinois

Johann Peter Eckert farmed all his life in Dietzenbach, Hesse Darmestadt, Germany. When he emigrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1837 with his wife and four sons he saw no reason to change. He  went on to buy each of his sons a farm. The family had followed the tradition down to the present  day.

A tractor and wagon bring guests into the orchard
Johann's son Michael, continued his love affair with  the land at a farm called Drum Hill, near Fayetteville, Illinois. It was here that the seeds were sown for the present day Eckerts Orchards. It all began when he planted the first fruit trees in 1862 . Michael's son, Henry, continued the tradition and today, the sixth and seventh generations are justly proud of what had developed. They have several orchards in Illinois but  the Grafton Orchard was where the real agri tourism began when they opened the orchard for apple pick-your-own in 1963.

A toddler brings mom a peach at Eckert's orchard in Grafton, Illinois
A toddler bring mom a peach
When I visited the orchard it was a beautiful August day. The peaches were luscious. They hung oin the trees huge and juicy just tempting little fingers–and big ones too.  Children romped and picked as seriously as adults and parents reverted to their childhood. This is what tourism is all about, having fun and bringing our your inner child. What better way to enjoy yourself than harvesting the bounty of nature.

Aside from those tasty peaches, blackberry picking was in full swing. I sampled a few of the big black berries and fell in love all over again.

My earlier memories of blackberry picking involved paying the price of cuts and scratches to get the tasty little morsels. Here that was replaced with the brush of green leaves against my hands. Nary a scratch and the berries were about twicethe size of the wild ones that are protected by tons of thorns. This must be what heaven is like.

The apples just becoming ready for picking
The apple orchard was just coming into its own. There is something about seeing those green apples and knowing they are rapidly turning red almost before your eyes.

For earlier and later season fun, there are strawberries in May and June and pumpkins in October. In addition to the excitement of just picking and eating great fruit, Eckerts has an outdoor petting farm where the kids can get acquainted with goats, horse  and other farm animals.   There is even miniature golf or a tire swing if you want to play instead of picking.

Eckert"s store is chock ful of fresh peaches
They have many events such as Jumpin' Pumpkin Jamboree and Apple Fest with wagon rides, live entertainment, great festival foods, children's activities, pony and camel rides and much more.

When you finish picking you bring your produce into the big red barn where there are so many interesting items to enhance you pickings that you will want to plan time to browse there a bit.

Eckerts has several other locations and a farm store and restaurant. Be sure to visit the website and click on the different fruit for great recipes.

For more Info: http://www.eckerts.com/grafton.htm

 You can also order a Fresh Fruit Gift Every Month! from  Hale's Orchard

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