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Strawberry Hill Farm: A Story of Unwavering Optimism and Resilience

Welcome to Strawberry Hill USA: A Multigenerational Family Farm Operation. 

Our new farming documentary, An American Farm Family: The Cooleystells the inspiring story of the Cooley family. The Cooley family owns and operates a strawberry farm called Strawberry Hill located within the stunning green landscape of South Carolina.  

As the largest strawberry farm in South Carolina, Strawberry Hill is composed of 800 acres of peaches and 105 acres of strawberries. The backbone of this operation is the people who work there every day. James E. Cooley and his two daughters, Bethani Cooley-McLellan and Brandi Cooley-Easler, work side by side with more than 100 workers to collectively ensure the continued success and longevity of their cherished farm. 

An Iconic American Farm Experience with a Cherished History 

The Cooley’s strawberry farm operation is a multifaceted agritourism destination that transports guests to an authentic American family farm. In addition to the farm operation, Strawberry Hill includes a restaurant, ice cream parlor, and an open-air retail market. At Strawberry Hill, guests can experience the many different aspects of farming. From growing the crops to eating the final products, guests who visit come to have an appreciation for the essential contributions of American farmers. 

Not only does Strawberry Hill boast a variety of options for guests to explore, but it also tells a story of the American family farm. The farm started in the early 1900s with Bethani and Brandi’s great-grandfather. Years later, their father, James E. Cooley, continued the family legacy by joining the operation. In the documentary, Mr. Cooley expresses how important his family is to the operation. He cherishes working beside them every day and values the continuation of the family legacy. 

Continuing the Legacy of Female Leadership in Agriculture 

Bethani Cooley-McLellan and Brandi Cooley-Easler are two strong female leaders in agriculture. They are continuing a legacy of hard work and dedication that other women have trailblazed in the agricultural community. In her interview, Bethani proudly remarks, “My daddy did not have any sons, but he raised some pretty hardworking daughters.” Their empowering attitude and strong will to succeed provides encouragement and inspiration for other women to pursue a career in agriculture.  

While women have always been involved in farming operations, they are gaining more recognition and media coverage. According to the USDA’s 2017 Census of Agriculture, 36 percent of U.S. farmers are women, and over one million farms have female producers involved in daily operations. This powerful statistic attests to the important role that women continue to play in agriculture. Bethani and Brandi proudly represent the many other female leaders in this dynamic industry. 

Farmworkers: An Integral Part of Strawberry Hill 

In addition to the Cooley family members, a loyal group of migrant farmworkers supports the farm operation’s success. The Cooleys utilize the H-2A program, a government program unique to agricultural workers that allows foreign nationals to work temporarily on U.S. farms. Roughly, 73 percent of the total U.S. agricultural workforce is composed of immigrants. In fact, the H-2A visa program has grown from 16K visas in 1997 to an astounding 97K today. Jerry Blackwell, the farm manager, explained that because farm labor is so challenging, finding people to pursue this work is also difficult. This is where the H-2A program comes in. It allows the Cooleys to find workers for planting, harvesting, and general tasks that are needed to run their farm.

“We are fully aware that we could not operate without them. These guys, I don’t have any brothers, but if I were to have brothers, I got 140 of them. They treat this farm like it is theirs.” 

– Bethani Cooley-McLellan 

“The workers on our farm are more than workers, they’re like family to us. They’ve been here for a long time, and they just have such a sense of pride and loyalty.” 

– Brandi Cooley-Easler 

Not only does the farm operation depend on them, but between 150 and 200 of their families depend on it. This attests to the tightly entwined interdependence of the workers, the Cooley family, and the farm operation.  

A Story of Struggle and Perseverance 

This past year, the story of the farmworkers has been a difficult one. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one third of the farmworkers had to go home, which has never occurred before. Additionally, the Cooley family faced the difficult decision to plow up crops because they lacked the necessary help to harvest them within the season. Through it all, the Cooleys remained optimistic of the future and pushed forward with resilience.  

“I don’t really feel like it’s ever been an option to give up, and we have to make a choice to be resilient through every situation that is thrown at us. If we decide to hang our hat up, and the next farm decides to hang their hat up. If we decide to stop, where’s the food going to come from?” 

– Bethani Cooley-McLellan 

AgAmerica Stands as a Proud Supporter of the Multigenerational Family Farm 

The Cooley family’s story of unwavering optimism and resilience leaves us with takeaways that inspire others to persevere and pioneer new horizons. With our agricultural roots and deep understanding of the needs of the American farmer, we go beyond the scope of traditional lenders to champion the future of agriculture. AgAmerica is strategically positioned to support the longevity and success of family farms across the U.S. We take pride in visiting farmers like the Cooleys across the country and sharing their stories with the world.  

Watch An American Farm Family: The Cooleys

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