“My father instilled the value of not bruising a single peach.”

Cooley has been active in an Extension advisory committee, Spartanburg Soup Kitchen and Mobile Meals of Spartanburg, and supporting Chesnee High School athletic programs.

He serves on the advisory board for the Southern Regional Small Fruits Consortium and is a board member of the S.C. Peach Council. He’s a member of S.C. Farm Bureau. In 1995, he was named Conservation Farmer of the Year. He is also a member of the North Carolina Strawberry Growers Association that named him Grower of the Year in 2009. He was named South Carolina Young Farmer of the Year and has hosted International Fruit Tree Association tours. He also served on an advisory board for the Fifth District Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

He freely shares land with Clemson University researchers whose projects include a peach variety trial, a strawberry pest management test and a blackberry virus experiment.

Since 2000, his wife Kathi has managed the Café. “Kathi has been a vital part of our success,” says Cooley. Kathi has been a volunteer youth sports coach, a supporter of the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen and Mobile Meals, and was active in the Cooley Springs Elementary School Parent Teacher Association.

James and Kathi have four daughters, Brandi, Brooke, Brittani and Bethani. Brandi is now vice president of the farm and in charge of marketing and tours. James says,

“Brandi came up with the ideas for the corn maze, pumpkin patch and the school tours.” Bethani graduated from Clemson in 2012 and is working on the farm to install the high tunnels. Brooke is a cosmetologist who owns her own hair salon, and Brittani is a special education teacher.

“By the grace of God, we have been able to grow a small family farm into a large family farm,” says Cooley. “We may be one of the larger strawberry and blackberry farms in the state, but our success is due to the many people who believed in our ideas and dreams.”

One of his customers, Harry McMillan of Campobello, S.C., first suggested Cooley as a candidate for Farmer of the Year. Brian Callahan, assistant director of field operations with Clemson Extension, is state coordinator of the Farmer of the Year awards. Philip “Andy” Rollins, a Clemson Extension agent who works with fruit and vegetable growers in the South Carolina Upstate, nominated Cooley for the award.

Rollins admires Cooley for his attention to detail in planting, growing, harvesting and marketing his crops.