Lake Brantley alumni combine love, family, and farming
Lake Brantley High School sweethearts David and Lisa Hill have raised a beautiful family... and a whole lot more. Today, the Hills all work together to manage a successful, growing blueberry farm.
The Seeds of Love
Lisa and David’s love story starts back in 1976 when the two first met as freshmen at Lake Brantley High School. David played baseball, and Lisa was, conveniently, never far away.
“She was my assigned bat girl all four years of high school,” smiles David.
The two dated throughout their time at LBHS, and after graduation, David received a baseball scholarship to Western Carolina University. Lisa’s parents didn’t want her to run off to college with David, and she obliged, sort of. Lisa chose Catawba College, instead, which was about two hours away. Because David was often tied up with his baseball schedule, Lisa made frequent road trips to visit him.
“My mom and dad were very apprehensive and upset about me driving this distance,” recalls Lisa, “There were no cell phones, and all I had was a CB radio.”
What’s more, the $100 phone bills from Lisa and David’s conversations were starting to pile up, so Lisa eventually made the decision to transfer as a sophomore to Western Carolina.
David proposed to Lisa during their junior year, and the two set a wedding date in July of 1983, after graduation. But David’s baseball career threw a few curve balls into their wedding plans. David was recruited to play baseball with the Wausau Timbers, a minor-league team in the Seattle Mariners system, based out of Wausau, Wisconsin. The league’s all-star game was scheduled squarely in the middle of the wedding weekend. Without bringing his baseball career to a halt, David figured out a way to participate in both.
“I flew down Friday afternoon,” David recalls. “We got married on Saturday at 11:00 a.m., and then we made the drive back just in time to play the Monday night game.”
After college and a year in the minors, David chose to join his new family’s farming business with Lisa’s dad, Billy Long. David tended to 1,000 acres of vegetables on a farm near Lake Apopka until the land was reclaimed by the state in the late 1990s. You can now enjoy and admire much of that land as part of the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.
David and Lisa eventually opened the 120-acre Southern Hill Farms in Clermont in 2000. While they were starting the new farm and raising their three children – Rachael, Michael, and Kyle – David also agreed to be the assistant coach of Lake Brantley High’s junior varsity and varsity baseball teams and the head coach for Lake Brantley’s Pop Warner football team. He held those posts for about 10 years.
Over time, all three of the Hill children graduated from LBHS, earned degrees from three different colleges, and eventually made the decision to put their skills to use on the family farm.
Rachael, the oldest child, worked as a kindergarten teacher for seven years before joining the farm, where she now manages the Southern Hill Farms Market. Her husband Danny, also a Lake Brantley grad, is a paramedic and firefighter for the City of Apopka, and he helps on the farm part-time.
Southern Hill began as a tree farm. Blueberries weren’t added until 2009. And they came, thanks to the help of David and Lisa’s middle child Michael, who studied agriculture in college and used his knowledge to help David start the 40-acre blueberry farm.
“Michael and I planted every stick of irrigation, built every building, installed all the piping, and planted the blueberries,” says David.
Michael’s wife, Brooke, who was his high-school sweetheart, worked on the farm’s bookkeeping and later began to manage the U-Pick operation.
And, finally, David and Lisa’s youngest son, Kyle, earned a business degree from the University of North Florida and now manages the blueberry farm.
Packing and Picking
In 2014, the Hills’ blueberry packing business began and quickly grew. Michael transitioned from blueberry farming to being general manager of the packing house. Currently, the Hills pack and distribute blueberries across the country, and their packing-house operation has become the biggest blueberry packing house in the state of Florida.
The family’s U-Pick Blueberry Farm also began in 2014. David built a barn to provide extra shade for visitors, and Lisa sold blueberry muffins and her special blueberry lemonade right out of the back of her SUV.
As the farm became a popular destination for customers, the Hills expanded their parking lot from one acre to eight and they added an upper lookout deck, a kids’ playground barn, and a store which offers everything from drinks and homemade goods to blueberry-themed candles, lotions, and scrubs. On the weekends, the farm features live music and offers hayride tours on the Blueberry Express (a converted cotton picker) for the kids. Visitors can pick and choose from nine different varieties of blueberries, each bearing a specific sweet or tart flavor.
“Some customers want to spend the day out here, and some come strictly for the blueberries,” says Lisa.
“We are so blessed that we have grown like this and that the community has embraced us,” adds David. “We want to continue to make our customers happy.”
When blueberries go off-season, the Hill family hosts a fall festival with pumpkins, food trucks, and live entertainment.
The most recent addition to the farm is six acres of peach trees, and in the future, the Hills plan to add a strawberry farm and several acres of flowers for picking during the fall.
The Roots Run Deep
Although Southern Hill Farms is located in Clermont, the Hills choose to stay put in Seminole County in the Bear Lake area.
“At first, we didn’t want to uproot our kids,” says David, “and now, we don’t want to move away from our kids.”
“We love to live in the area where we grew up,” adds Lisa. “There’s something special about it.”
The third generation of Hills are currently moving through the same three schools David, Lisa, and their children attended, and the family continues to remain an integral part of the community. Last November, David was inducted into Lake Brantley High School’s inaugural 2018 Athletic Hall of Fame.
Farming may take this local family far, but it will never lead them far from home.
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