Rural experience and small town living for those of us in the LGBTQ community is something different for each individual.
For many in the community who grow up on farms or in small towns, they’ve historically hit the ground feet first running at lightning pace and generally headed for the nearest big city.
But that’s not the case with everyone. Some people in our community enjoy life in small towns and living in a rural environment.
Josh Slade and Jason Southers fit that bill perfectly. After living in medium-sized Carolina cities like Columbia, South Carolina and Fayetteville, North Carolina, the two decided to make the move to a farm in a small town called Elgin, about a half hour outside of Columbia.
What prompted the move? Both partners in the married couple share a lifelong love of animals. They knew in order to share their lives together in the way they wanted to and make their dreams come true, they needed to live on a farm.
“We originally met at a gay bar in Columbia,” Slade recalls. “We’ve been together for 13 years and we were married on December 23, 2019.
Eventually the two men bought their first home together in a planned community called Lake Carolina on the outskirts of Columbia.
“It was a gated community with a homeowners association,” Slade says with a chuckle. “At first we just had dogs and birds. But then we got a potbelly pig we named Petunia. We got her when she was only a few weeks old, but a year later she was a full-size, grown pig, and we knew it wasn’t long before people would start to notice.”
Not unexpectedly, the time came for the pig to move on to live with another family on a property that was more conducive to a larger pig. Southers and Slade realized it would soon be their time to move on from Lake Carolina, so they began scouting for their farm.
It wasn’t long before they found what they were looking for: a farmhouse in the tiny little town of Elgin, South Carolina.
Previously known as Jeffers, Elgin has roots that date back to the 1890s when it had a population of around 130. Today, over a century later, the population has grown to 1,300 and is home to such events as the Catfish Stomp, an annual Christmas holiday season festival and parade.
Slade confirms the decision to move to the farmhouse and 66-acre piece of property, which they opened to the public in 2015, has been a continuously positive experience. And that’s despite the fact South Carolina is well-known as an extremely conservative state.
“When we first started to meet people that lived in the surrounding area, they would ask who Jason was. They’d say things like, ‘Is he your brother?’ I just replied, ‘no that’s my husband.’
“I got responses like ‘hmmmm’ and ‘oh.’ Sometimes they just wouldn’t say anything, but no one ever said anything that was rude or offensive.”
In the years that have followed, Slade and Southers have gotten to know all of their neighbors that surround them in every direction.
“I guess I believe that all people can inherently be good people,” says Slade. “You get to know them, they see who you are and what you do and you can develop a good relationship – even friendships – based on that.
“We’re open about who we are. We would never hide that. But it’s just a part of who we are. Another big part of us is this farm and the animals that we’re caring for, and I think that’s why we’ve developed such strong bonds with the community.
“Through getting to know us, for a lot of people here I think, it’s seeing things through a different lens, and in a way they might not have thought of before or would have otherwise experienced.
“We have neighbors that I wouldn’t hesitate to call on to keep an eye on things or check on our property if we were away and we would do the same for them. For us, it’s about being a decent human being. Our experience here has been great.”
And what an experience it has turned out to be. Slade estimates they now care for more than 150 animals on the farm.
Before they settled into their new farm in 2014 they actually ordered 50 baby chicks, put down deposits on goats and were able to retrieve their pig friend Petunia along with a male pig from the family who had initially taken Petunia. They insisted he come along as part of the package deal.
“And we still have them today,” says Slade. “Pigs can be such friendly creatures and they are extremely intelligent.”
In addition to the pigs, goats (Nubian and Nigerian dwarf goats, to be more specific) and chicks, the two men have a veritable zoo of animals under their care that visitors to the farm can see and often interact with.
Among their brood are such fascinating creatures as a dromedary camel (named Abu), a llama, alpacas, tortoises (African Sulcattas called Keenan and Tyrian), a red poll cow (goes by the name of Norris), lizards (one is a bearded dragon named Puff), kinkajous (nocturnal cousins to the raccoon and this pair are named Zaboo and Cleo), snakes (boa constrictors named Khan, Walker and Bojangles), horse, rabbits, prairie dogs, emus, donkeys and more.
If you’re thinking the sheer number of animals and requirements for their care is more than just two men can handle, you’d be right. In addition to themselves, they have two regular staffers on board, college interns and occasional volunteers.
Fortunately, Goat Daddy’s Farm has been recognized by the government as a non-profit entity and is also considered an animal sanctuary (visit their website listed below if you’d like to see how you can help out).
Slade is happy to confirm Goat Daddy’s Farm often has visitors from LGBTQ communities throughout the Carolina region and beyond.
“It’s a welcoming place,” he explains. “Everyone is welcome to come here and be themselves. Be who they are and enjoy what we have worked so hard to create.”
During the summer months the farm offers immersive programs for children to experience the goings on of the farm first hand and the opportunity to get to know a variety of wildlife and domesticated animals.
For adults, Saturdays provide a goat yoga and bottomless mimosa program. Information for registration on both programs is available at the website (the address is included at the end of the story).
“Lots of people enjoy that,” explains Slade. “Some visitors will participate in yoga, while others will lay around on the ground and enjoy goats romping around them.”
It’s clear there’s always something going on at Goat Daddy’s Farm, and that includes plans for the future. Among their upcoming hopes and desires are an on-site residence for their two staff employees, and a guest house.
“This has been a passion for us for the past 10 years,” Slade offers without hesitation. “If you had asked me 15 years ago if this is what I thought I would be doing, I wouldn’t have believed it, but now I can’t envision it any other way. It definitely takes a village, and we’ve been fortunate to work with some good people.”
If you’d like to have fun with some fascinating and unique animals, Goat Daddy’s Farm is worth the trip. It’s about a 90-minute drive from Charlotte, located at 144 Tomahawk trail in elgin. It’s open every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
For more details on program registration, links to YouTube videos, Facebook Instagram and their goat milk and cheese products, visit their website at goatdaddys.com.