Eric Slatt shows off one of his turkeys. Photo by Errol Tisdale
Surveying the rough-hewn hand-built pallet pens for the hogs, turkeys, and chickens amid the garden plots dotting the landscape of this small farm, it’s hard to imagine being able to have even a slice of this do-it-yourself splendor in the daily grind of urban and suburban life. It’s even harder to imagine feeding a family of seven from the land, but that’s exactly what Wendy and Eric Slatt are working to accomplish on their three acres of land in Kershaw County. They were recently named Homesteaders of the Year by Grit magazine for their efforts in raising crops and animals for sustenance.
Growing up in Amish country, Eric was always interested in the simple lifestyle the Amish lead. His wife, Wendy, a former banker, is from suburban Kansas City, but has relatives that live on a farm in rural Tennessee. “I glimpsed into the lifestyle, but I had never really had a garden,” she says.
After purchasing their home and land in April 2009, they immediately set to work digging up the lawn and putting in a small fruit orchard and seedlings, since they got a late start that first spring. Shortly after, they built a chicken coop and began amassing their flock.
But acreage outside the city limits isn’t at all a requirement to enjoy at least some fruits of your own labor. The Slatts encourage people in all walks of life to try their hand at homesteading — even if it’s just a little bit.
“There are lots of ways to do it — you don’t have to be limited by where you live or the size of the space you have,” says Wendy. “Apartment dwellers can container-garden on their apartment balconies, or find an empty vacant lot for a community garden where you can come together with your neighbors and grow a garden that everyone benefits from. Or if you have space, find out if backyard chickens are allowed.”
For some, trying to keep something alive may sound like the worst idea ever, but hands-on experience is the best teacher. “You have to go into it with the greatest of intentions, but the odds are it isn’t going to look how you planned,” Eric says. “The only way you’re really going to learn is [to] get out there and make mistakes.”
The Slatts have faced numerous challenges throughout their homesteading experience, including droughts, damaging amounts of rainfall, and pests and predators. “That first year it was months before we tasted anything we grew,” Wendy recalls. How much they eat of what they grow and raise that each year varies, but they estimate that they are able to provide anywhere from 30 to 80 percent of their own food from right beyond their back door.
Though Eric puts hours a day into sustaining the Slatts’ lifestyle, he says that he often has to be reminded that, “It’s still going to be there tomorrow,” he says with a laugh. He rises with the sun each day to feed the animals, and on days that he doesn’t have part-time work lined up, he spends hours at a time working on the farm, since he does depend on it to feed his family. “You have to know that you have to put into it and feed it so that it takes care of you. It’s a wonderful relationship,” he says.
It may be mid-September, but not all hope is lost for claiming your own piece of self-sufficiency this autumn.
“There’s still time for people to get their hands dirty, and get some experience,” Wendy says. “Try growing what you already know you like to eat and one thing you’re not sure about, you might find you like it.” They recommend seeking out like-minded folks and the county extension office to learn more about best practices and the growing conditions of the area. Wendy adds, “It doesn’t have to be a big huge thing; just start small with what you’ve got. You just have to tilt your head and look at it a different way.”
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