It’s difficult to imagine total silence in a room of 500 persons, but that’s usually what happens just before the announcement of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year. This year, master of ceremonies Jimmy Hill broke the silence with the news that James Cooley, a peach and strawberry grower from South Carolina, was the 2013 winner. Cooley talked about what the award meant to him in a short speech and short interview following the announcement.
Cooley said he was thankful to many people for helping him through the years, including his convalescence from a motorcycle accident that nearly took his life 11 years ago. He gave special tribute to his wife Kathi and four daughters, Brandi, Brooke, Brittani and Bethani. Two of the daughters now work in the farming operation.
He also thanked the nearly 200 employees who work at Strawberry Hill U.S.A., his farming operation near Chesnee, S.C., performing a variety of functions from planting strawberries to staffing the restaurant his wife, Kathi, manages. Cooley grows peaches on 815 acres and strawberries on another 110 acres along with blackberries and Asian pears.
Much of the produce is sold through two retail stands, one in northern Spartanburg County and the other off I-85 near Gaffney, S.C. “We also sell to wholesale customers and use refrigerated trucks to deliver the fruit,” says Cooley.
See additional information on the awards ceremony by clicking here . And for an in-depth look at Cooley’s South Carolina farm operation, see James Cooley: Sunbelt Farmer of the Year for South Carolina .