My name is Angie Eckert, born in Belleville IL, I married in to the Eckert Family.
I learned about Eckert’s just as most members of the community do. I got one of my first jobs at Eckert’s in the bakery. I learnedmy work ethicfrom Judy Eckert, who was my boss at that time. I also worked with my (now)husband’s sisters, Jill. Hard work was required because it’s a seasonal business and when the crops are in season everyone works hard to create a great guest experience. Eckert’s is frequented by families, oftentimes by multiple generations within the family. Grandma comes with mom, dad, and the kids for example.
The crazy thing about life is you never know how things are going to circle back around. If someone had told me I was going to marry Chris Eckert, I would have laughed out loud. But I fell in love with him, and the mission of Eckert’s. I was influenced by my academic interest in horticulture and education. I taught horticulture at Missouri Botanical Garden and SWIC (Southwestern Illinois College). There was nothing like the feeling of entertaining families and being a part of memories and legacies of people who come back year after year. It’s what gets me, and the whole Eckert Family, out of bed in the morning. We feel that we’re fostering family relationships.
The Eckert family gives back to the community in many ways. When the crops are in season, the farm is very, very busy. We hire a lot of seasonal workers that tend to be young people from the community. First-time jobs often become long relationships as many stay with us from high school through college. The Eckert Family has always been very involved in the community via activities such as Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, churches and by volunteering at schools. Several have served on school boards. It’s pretty neat, I walked into Belleville East last year for the first time with my daughter and saw the name of an Eckert Family member, Vernon Eckert, on the wall. He served on the school board back when East was just becoming a high school. It’s pretty cool to see that kind of legacy throughout the community, not only as a business, but also with activities we’re involved in. Multiple generations of family members have served on peach councils, horticulture boards and chamber board. I have personally served on boards for the Missouri Botanical Garden and several boards for the University of Illinois. I come from a pretty engaged group of folks, starting with my upbringing, and now with the Eckert family!
There are some very tough years, too. Last year was a bummer. Terrible weather sometimes gets you down. But if you step back from the hard stuff, and say “even with the financially hard year, Eckert’s provided jobs, donations, and special experiences for people of the community. That’s what keeps you going. Farming can drive us nuts, but the mission is what keeps us totally energized!
WHAT FAMILY MEANS TO ME
Our kids really don’t know work in the traditional way, because Chris and I both work in the family business. We work in retail, non-traditional hours which means working Monday-Friday, 9 to 5, is out the window. We try to be veryhonest with the kids, sharing many of the challenges encountered at work. They know what we deal with because they see the hardships and celebrations. The other day I had a conversation with my daughter Ella (15). She said “it sounds so frustrating. Don’t you want a regular job, so you don’t have to be so stressed about that stuff?” I said to her “you know what, every job has pros and cons, right?” It opens the door for those types of conversations and sharing that being an entrepreneur offers so many choices you get to make for yourself, versus listening to somebody else telling you what to do. That’s what motivates me. I can express my creative and leadership traits through my work every day. I’m part of an incredible team, and I love of how we all work together to support each other. In terms of shared learning experiences, we started our daughter off early. She was 10 when she started face painting for Easter events. She was a pretty-good artist, but super shy. Both of our children are adopted, from Asia. Ella was shy and still is pretty quiet. We nudged her a little bit, because we felt it would give her a little boost, and that has helped. She wanted to be a cashier. I said “well, if you’re going to be a cashier, you really have to look at people in the eye to thank them for their business”. She said “I can do that” and she did, which surprised me! It really did help us both grow. There are some cool opportunities like that.
Our son Theo is 11. He is a little more easily distracted. He tends to ride with Chris and look at the crops, usually on Sundays. Chris will go crop scouting and drive around to various farms. Theo learns from the experience, and by spending time with Chris. If Chris needs to check a temperature or irrigation line, Theo goes along and helps with that. We bought an old golf cart to scoot around on the farm. A lot of times in the summer I’ll say go down and pick three tomatoes, six leaves of Kale and a cucumber. They go down on the cart and bring it back for dinner. The kids definitely “get” that they live on the farm and really are immersed in everything we’re doing. We’re not formally sitting down talking about how cucumbers grow but they experience everything though the seasons and see it grow.
My advice to female entrepreneurs? I say this to my kids all the time, “Just follow your passion, because no matter where you work, it’s going to be difficult. Good days and bad days. You’re going to have good financial years and bad financial years, but if you follow your passion, if your heart is in it, everything is much easier!” As I mentioned earlier,while it’s been tough, my passion for what we’re doing helps me get through. That’s the key.
Look for resources, there are so many awesome resources out there, especially for women in business, there are a lot of clubs, and online groups too, that you can join. We all learn different things and have so much to share with one another. The network, thanks to social media, has become so powerful the last few years. I really enjoy it, belonging to a couple of women’s groups that post motivational business mantras. These are from other women that have family responsibilities and are under same pressure. It’s tough to be a working mom. If you surround yourself with people who are experiencing what you are, it makes it so much more powerful to get through the day and feel energized to run your business.
The negatives include, you are going to give up time with your kids. That gets hard for me, I don’t want to regret what I’ve done, but I do sometimes feel badly about it. However, I also feel that it helps my kids see that they can still follow their dreams and have a family. We just make sure the right care is there when needed. When our daughter needed one-on-one care, we had home care come in for her and help from my mom and cousin. We loved the people dearly that took care of her. If they weren’t family, they felt like family. That care made us feel less guilty about working. But I will say, you are always going to have time away from your kids so you must find a way to make the best of the time you do have. For me, another drawback is the seasonality of the business. We’re running hardcore on the farm from May to October and I hardly have time to talk to a friend or have a social dinner. Once November comes, I see friends and have a social life again. Winter becomes a time to re-group, re-evaluate and re-center. This is what I’m doing now, before getting ready for another busy season. Now’s the time to check in on other important things, making sure we make time on the calendar for family.
Vice President of Retail Operations
951 S. Green Mount Road
Belleville, IL 62220