Thursday, June 05, 2014
Strawberry Hill USA, a great place to buy strawberries and peaches and enjoy family fun, sits on over 1,000 acres of rolling farmland in Chesnee, SC, in the northwestern part of Spartanburg County.
The farm is only an hour from Charlotte: take Exit 92 off Highway 85 and then proceed west along the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway (Highway 11), till you see the meticulous fields, the American flags and the red roofs of Cooley Farms. If you are traveling from Greenville, the trip takes about 45 minutes; from downtown Spartanburg, about 25 minutes.
The travel time is well worth it. The Cooley Family Farm is the real deal—a real family, a real farm and the sort of fun, wholesome experience you wouldn’t want your family to miss.
The last week in April, I sat down with Bethani Cooley, the youngest of proprietor James Cooley’s four daughters, to learn about Strawberry Hill.
Bethani told me that family patriarch Perry Cooley purchased the land in the early 1900s to farm cotton. In 1946 Perry Cooley made a deal with his son, Gene, who had just returned from World War II and wanted to plant peaches. “If my Papa Gene would dig the holes,” Bethani said, “his Daddy would buy him the trees.” Papa Gene dug 2,000 holes. Today, James Cooley, Gene’s son, has over a thousand acres in peach trees, most of them in the Cooley Springs area, in northern Spartanburg County. They grow 42 varieties of peaches that come in from mid-June to mid- September.
In 1995 the family started planting strawberries, and now has 110 acres of strawberries surrounding their shed on Highway 11. The American flags you see dotting the strawberry fields are to commemorate Papa Gene’s service during WWII.
James Cooley runs Cooley Family Farms with the help of his wife, Kathi, and two of his daughters, Brandi and Bethani. Every peach and every strawberry for sale at Strawberry Hill is grown by the Cooley family. The strawberries and peaches are fantastic. I bought a gallon of strawberries, all large, perfect and sweet and the Cooleys were nice enough to give me another gallon after my visit with Bethani. I shared my windfall with friends, all of whom called me up to say how delicious the berries were. Strawberries are perennial, but far from maintenance free. The Cooley berries nap all winter under special translucent strawberry blankets.
The Cooley Family farm offers tours to groups of school children whose teachers bring them to the farm to learn about food production. First graders can learn about the plant cycle, the preparation of the land, the irrigation methods and the conservation of water. They can pick strawberries. The fee is modest, and each child also gets a scoop of homemade ice cream and a terrific ride in a farm wagon.
While Strawberry Hill’s main business is peaches and strawberries they also cultivate 34 acres of blackberries, 20 acres of pumpkins and 10 acres of corn for their fall “corn maze.”
“We’re planning it now,” said Bethani with a wicked gleam in her eye.
The café specializes in hamburgers, hot dogs, and diner specialties. Last fall, when my sister and her friend visited from southern California, we met up with more family members and their children at The Café at Strawberry Hill for a well- priced lunch with friendly service. Then we wandered over to the Shed to buy pumpkins and condiments before a visit to the nearby Cowpens Battlefield.
Strawberry Hill isn’t just a market or a diner or a gas station or a place to educate children about farming, it’s a destination.
Cooley family members have placed rockers at the front of their Shed so that customers can sit down and enjoy the place for a while, watch the farm operate for a bit. “The mission is to share the farm, let visitors enjoy the farm the way our family does,” says Bethani.
Strawberry Hill USA is located at 3097 Highway 11 West Chesnee, SC 29323.
Strawberry Hill website: http://www.strawberryhillusa.com/home
Claudia Geagan, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
Claudia Geagan lives and writes on a leafy hillside near Landrum. She was formerly the Retirement Plans Manager for Kmart Corporation.