Cayce, SC (Paul Kirby) – Jessica Johnston has been successful woman working in the business world before. She worked in executive leadership positions responsible at times for over 100 people. She was fairly compensated, making the money you do when you’re in that world. Her work was corporate wellness and she found after 25 years on the job the stress she felt at work wasn’t healthy for her. She was sick and tired literally and came to the realization that she needed to make a change. One day, after much thought and prayer, Jessica decided to walk away from her career!
After making this decision, Jessica realized she would still need to work. She also knew that she wanted something completely different that would contribute to her health and not take away from it. Before she could do anything, she had to focus on getting herself physically and emotionally well. In order to help herself, she decided she would enlist the help of horses in her healing process. A friend and counselor recommended this approach and she began her “horse therapy” by taking lessons and learning about the care of horses at Carolina Ridge Equestrian Center in Gilbert, SC. Little did she realize that her healing would eventually become a part of her new life and provide a business to secure her future at the same time.
Jessica says that as a child, she always wanted to farm. She liked the lifestyle, and was unafraid of the hard work associated with running a farm. As she participated in her “therapy,” and helped around the stable in Gilbert, those desires and feelings of farm life came rushing back. She had been around horses as a child, but had a bad experience long ago. That made her timid around these majestic animals. Going to her lessons not only provided her healing, it also gave her the confidence required to once again be around horses. “It was empowering to me,” Jessica said.
Jessica says that Sheli Rose at Carolina Ridge wasn’t stingy with her knowledge or her horses. “She was able and willing to teach me, and I soaked up everything she gave,” Jessica said. “I owe a great deal to Sheli for all she’s done for me.” As Jessica worked with Sheli, she learned skills that would become invaluable in the work she does now.
Wanting even more knowledge, Jessica enrolled in a program run by Clemson University. Now she is a graduate of the South Carolina New and Beginner Farmer program. She’s also earned a certificate in Equine Management. “The Clemson program gave me the skills and confidence I needed to turn my own “therapy” into a job,” she said recently.
Clemson had Jessica complete an internship at Carolina Bay Farms and Greenleaf Farms. “I couldn’t get enough education. James Helms, Sharon Ray and Greg Brown became my mentors in the industry, taught me about the land, growing organically and caring for livestock. I was suddenly excited about working again!” Jessica said. After completing the Clemson course, Jessica decided to utilize her newfound knowledge to start a business of her own. She’s now the owner and only employee of Shiloh Sanctuary and Farm, a farm and pet sitting service.
Pet sitters are people that visit, feed, and exercise pets while their owners are away. A farm sitter tends a farm giving its owner and family a break from their daily work. “Life on a farm doesn’t stop when you go on vacation,” Jessica said. “I’ve done work for farm families that haven’t been on vacation in 6 years.”
When you contact Jessica about sitting for your animals or farm, she first determines what you expect. She schedules a meet and greet with clients, introduces herself, and lets the farm’s owner and animals get to know her. “To some people, their pets are their children. They really need to be comfortable with me before they’re willing to leave their babies.” During this meeting, Jessica takes detailed notes, asks questions, and gets important contact information from the owners. “Once they leave, I stay in touch, giving regular updates about what’s going on back home. I also take pictures of their pets to send while they’re away so they’re comfortable while separated.”
All those years in the corporate world made Jessica a real natural at running a business. She is insured, bonded, and works from a contract. Once on the job, she’ll feed animals, muck the stalls, deal with any mishaps or emergencies, and keeps animals company. “The main thing is safety,” Jessica said. “My safety and the safety of the animals. For example, I can recognize symptoms of a colicky horse, partly by observing their behavior, listening for gut sounds and checking the horse’s gums. I can help with many emergency situations but will call the vet when I can’t.” When an owner returns, Jessica gives them a report summarizing how things went while they were gone.
“When sitting a farm, I usually stop by in the morning and then visit again in the evening. For the most part I am in and out while the property owners are gone.” With pets, Jessica says she may need to visit three times a day or more. “Morning, noon, and night, whatever the owner wants is what I do,” Jessica said.
So far, Jessica’s little business is doing well and growing fast. As more people learn of her services, they are calling her so they can take some time off too. She’s bought herself an old pickup truck and is looking for just the right piece of land to start her own farm someday. She’s also joined the National Association of Pet Sitters and has their resources at her disposal. Meanwhile, she’s still learning new skills every day. “I can now milk goats either electronically, thanks to Shelly Hammond of Trail Ridge Farms, or by hand, thanks to Sharon Ray of Carolina Bay Farms,” Jessica said. “That’s certainly not a skill everyone possesses.”
Jessica says that she may at some point take on some help, but that’s for another time. “ I am adding services like goat’s hoof trimming, milking goats, and gathering, cleaning and candling eggs,” all skills she possesses. She’d also like to study the veterinarian technician courses on-line so she’ll be even more skilled someday. Right now, she’s just enjoying herself and her new business. “I guess you might say that Shiloh Sanctuary and Farm is wherever I am,” Jessica said with a smile. “This is the path I’m on now and I am enjoying it,” she concluded.
If you’d like to learn more about Shiloh Sanctuary and Farm, check out the webpage at www.shilohsanctuaryandfarm.com. You can reach Jessica by telephone at (803) 603-4476.