Julia “Sissy” Everett, with tongue firmly in cheek, says “I was raised with dairying knowing full well it wasn’t my calling.” Now, 13 years later, she says she thinks from time to time, “Wait a minute, there has to be a time when I grow out of this!”
Sissy co-manages Horizon’s Maryland dairy with Dudley McHenry. “I manage everything inside the office, and he takes care of the outside,” she says. But she gets her cow time in too: “I go with the vet once a week, which lets me see the cows. And at harvest time, I help out.” She half jokingly says, “I like that I can still interact with the cows but I don’t have to get up at 4:30 in the morning and milk!”
Sissy applied for a job at the farm in 1998, the year the farm was certified as organic. “The farm manager hired me on the spot, and I’ve been here ever since,” she laughs, and credits her mother and father with being where she is today. “My background in dairy and my work ethic: that all comes from my parents.”
Sissy’s parents were dairy farmers and the three daughters all helped out on the farm. Dairying goes “way back” in Sissy’s family, at least to her great-grandparents on both sides. Sissy’s father milked for other families when Sissy and her two sisters were young, and then bought his own farm. Her parents are in their 70s now, and retired from farming. “Dairying was just in my father’s blood. My mother probably would have gone a different route if she’d had a choice,” Sissy laughed. “To this day my father still has a team of horses that he hooks up to work the garden.”
Horizon’s Maryland farm is near Chestertown, in Kent County, Maryland, part of the picturesque Eastern Shore region. Named for its geographical location on the eastern side of the ecologically sensitive Chesapeake Bay area, the Eastern Shore is close to the Washington, DC, and Baltimore metropolitan areas. Sissy left the Eastern Shore for a time after she got married, but moved back after her daughter started to go to school. “I moved back home to where my roots are,” Sissy says. “Kent County is just home. The best thing I like about living here is the land.”
One of the first things a visitor to the farm notices is the sense of family and teamwork. “We’re very tight-knit; there’s nothing we can’t talk about with each other as far as the dairy goes. The fact that we communicate so well with each other I believe is partly why we do so well here,” Sissy says. “Whenever things need to be done the team steps up to help each other.” Even Lily, the office cat, is a member of the team. She appeared one day a few years ago, and has stayed at the farm ever since.
Sissy’s seen a lot of changes on the farm during her time with Horizon. “When I started, there was no National Organic Program, and there were a number of certification agencies with differing definitions of what ‘organic’ meant. I’ve seen some great changes happen since the regulations went into effect in 2002: for one thing, ‘organic’ now means the same thing from coast to coast, so consumers can trust the label. And I’m proud to say that we’ve always complied with not only the letter of the law, but the spirit, too.”
Sissy is particularly proud of how the staff at the dairy cares for the cows. “I know that these cows are treated humanely, and there hasn’t been another farm that I’ve visited that treats them better than we do here,” Sissy states. “Our farm team cares about these girls, and the way we treat them here is the same way my father cared for his own cows. If we didn’t take good care of them, they wouldn’t be here. And we wouldn’t be here if we weren’t caring for them well,” she finishes.