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Farm for the Holidays

Farmer John turned a U-pick farm into his dream job.

By Amy Bickers | Photos By Will McIntyre

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John Hill is part of a rare breed in the working world. He has never once had a case of the Mondays. “I’ve never hated to get up and go to work the next day,” says the man known as Farmer John. “I am a guy who got to live his dreams.”

Farmer John, 74, spends his days on Hill Ridge Farms in Youngsville, N.C., just outside Raleigh. Forty-five years ago, he left behind a career in banking and sales to move back home. He started a wholesale fish bait company, followed by a U-pick operation on the side, which eventually grew to 100 acres.

Soon thereafter, Farmer John started welcoming groups of schoolchildren on field trips to the farm to learn how plants are grown. Like the produce on his farm, the operation steadily grew until Hill Ridge Farms became one of the largest agritourism farms in North Carolina, with about 75,000 visitors each year.

While fall is the farm’s busiest season, full of hayrides and pumpkins, the pace remains steady through the holiday season. From late November through late December, Hill Ridge Farms is open from 5 to 10 p.m., seven nights a week, for its Festival of Lights. Ten covered wagons (all pulled by Massey Ferguson® tractors) take visitors on a tour of a brilliantly lit winter wonderland, as the songs of the season are played.

“People are so happy when they leave here,” Farmer John says.

The farming portion now consists of only 4 acres of corn, while the focus is on education and entertainment. Farmer John’s dream job includes his two daughters, Jennifer and Lisa. “I want the business to go on and for them to run it after I’m gone. I hope it will go on for my four grandchildren. I hope it will go on a long, long time.”

Learn more about Hill Ridge Farms at hillridgefarms.com.

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