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Farmer, Seeking New Ways To Survive, Will Open Conference Center

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YOUNGSVILLE — Some people say meetings are where nothing gets done, and many companies find that they are more productive away from the workplace. Big city conference centers are competing for that business, but a Youngsville farmer with new conference center in the middle of the country thinks he has a lot to offer.

John Hill approaches business the same way he feeds catfish. Throw enough of the right stuff in the right places and customers will come.

"And I think farmers are going to have to start looking at different type ideas to keep their farm alive," he says.

For the last 17 years the right stuff has not been so much about crops or produce. It is hay rides, a petting zoo, potted plants, a gift shop, panning for gem stones and soon, a conference center.

The center has high speed Internet connections, a caterer's kitchen, and the best attraction of all: solitude.

"And this is what we hear from clients, that their employees are at a very high stress level all the time. And to come out here where people can stop and smell the roses a little bit."

The 180-year-old farm house has seen a lot of changes since its first tobacco days. Hill says a creative business vision is what has kept this farm a farm.

"If you want to keep the land, you're going to have to become very creative in order to keep it long term," Hill says.

If customers paid enough for tomatoes or strawberries he would grow them again. But he believes customers will pay for a quiet place to meet, have a wedding or reunite with family, so that is the seed he is sowing now.

"Trying to keep Hill Ridge Farms alive," Hill says, simply.

Hill plans to open his conference center July 1.