By Holly South
Going all the way back to the Founding Fathers, there's a long tradition of farmers who serve as legislators.
Now meet a staffer who balances a full-time job with a full-time farm.
In her time away from the Georgia House and Budget Research Office, Cortney George raises 50 cows and 47,000 chickens.
A fiscal and policy analyst focused on public safety budget and education policy, she has worked in the legislature since graduating from college. She also attended law school at night and batted around the idea of buying a farm with her new husband, Levi. It wasn’t so far-fetched; Cortney grew up with horses and barrel raced and Levi grew up on a cattle and poultry farm. Both have grandparents who farmed as well.
And it was cattle that brought them together. Both grew up in Heard County, Georgia and met at a cattlemen’s association meeting when they were in elementary school. They remained friends all through school and reconnected at a Fourth of July party. Once they realized both were working in Atlanta, they arranged a date—and the rest is history.
Ever since settling on 102 acres of pastureland (which she calls a “baby farm”) in 2017, Cortney has had her hands full. Particularly with calf No. 29, an escape artist who consumed a significant portion of the farm’s pears, apples, muscadines and assorted vegetables. He was known to the entire neighborhood; Cortney frequently fielded calls from neighbors and the nearby gas station reporting “No. 29 is on the loose!”
The business of “working cows” involves not only catching calves, but also administering vaccines and worming them. The farm maintains its herd of about 50 by keeping the mothers and selling off the calves.
Despite the antics of No. 29, working cows has proven to be less challenging than chicken growing. The farm raises chickens for a poultry company, which delivers them six times a year. The Georges keep them for 35 days before the company returns to collect the chickens and sell them.
Unlike the cows, which take care of themselves during summer, spring and fall, the chickens require feeding and tending several times per day. Their feed and water systems are automatic but not foolproof; Cortney took time off work last week to fix a feed line. Each chicken house, which shelters 23,500 chickens, must be kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer. If the power goes down, she could lose an entire house. So the couple must always be nearby—which means vacations are limited.
This schedule would be challenging at any time, but especially in the midst of Georgia’s legislative session, when Cortney leaves the house by 6 a.m. Levi also has a second career as the owner of a land surveying company. Rather than relaxing or enjoying hobbies in their spare time, they are working their farm. “There’s no downtime,” Cortney says.
But having grown up on a horse farm, Cortney says she's used to working hard and juggling numerous responsibilities. And she enjoys it, particularly the cattle side of the business and the peaceful surroundings. The lessons she’s learned along the way—that “you don’t get to be good without the time and effort” and “you have to work harder to be an expert in your field”—apply equally to her work in the legislature.
She’s in it for the long term and eventually hopes to buy more land to grow crops and expand the farm’s cattle operation. She won’t give up her other full-time job either, where she enjoys her colleagues and the intellectual challenges of legislative policy. “I love my job,” Cortney says. “I’m learning something new every day.”
Holly South is a policy specialist and the NCSL liaison to the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries (ASLCS). ASLCS is one of nine professional staff associations at NCSL.