Like so many others, Paul Bays didn't know what career to pursue after serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Bays, a Citrus County native, joined the Army right after high school and served his country until he got out in May 2016. It took him just five months to realize he wanted to run a tree farm.
His parents, Mike and Rebecca Bays owned 80 acres along Pleasant Grove Road — the old Flying W Farm orange grove. The family decided it would turn the property into a commercial tree farm.
And so, Freedom Hill Farms was born and five years later, Bays, 34, has turned the property into a brisk commercial and residential enterprise.
It all started, he said, when he planted his first tree — a Southern Live Oak. It was so much fun, he said, he wanted to grow more and get more involved in tree farming.
“Now, we’re sitting on about 10,000 trees,” Bays said.
His goal is to expand to 15,000.
But it took a lot of time and sweat to get to this point. Back in 2016, he started planting trees but they needed time to grow and mature before he could sell them. Bays diligently tended his Ligustrums, magnolias, cedars, and — what would turn out to be his biggest seller — live oaks.
“The first few years, I’m not making any money,” he said. “I’m just watching the trees grow.”
As the trees grew, so did his customers.
Bays hired two full-time employees to help out, but he is there bright and early making the rounds.
“I'm on the farm every day — running it and doing the majority of the work,” he said.
His mom and dad even help out with such chores as mowing, he said.
Freedom Hill Farms is not a traditional nursery. Everything is field-grown and not from containers. His is one of 1,200 other tree farms in Florida.
Bays’ trees take an average four years to grow and are on a rigorous tending schedule. The farm’s proprietary growing process includes a strict watering cycle, fertilization, a specific herborization process, and root pruning.
His is a mostly wholesale operation and he primarily ships to commercial landscapers in Florida. But word is getting out about the product and he’s even shipped trees to Texas and North Carolina.
Bays said he also has a few residential customers in Citrus County and does some tree or shrub installations.
Bays admits he’s not a sit-at-a-desk guy. He likes the freedom of the outdoors and tree farming is not just a career.
“It’s fun, it’s hard work,” he said.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Freedom Hill Farms is at 9239 Pleasant Grove Road. For more information, visit https://www.freedomhill-trees.com/