The Cooking Channel's The Fabulous Beekman Boys share how they turned one upstate New York farm into a business selling seasonally available goat dairy products, gourmet heirloom tomato sauces, jams and jellies, and much more,
To say that Beekman 1802 Farm in Sharon Springs, New York, is a success would be a severe understatement. Not only is it a profitable operation and a shining example of sustainability, it is the subject of Cooking Channel’s reality seriesThe Fabulous Beekman Boys, has spawned a best-selling cookbook as well as a memoir, and is a tourism destination besides. The amazing fact is that Brent Ridge and his partner, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, never had any intention of becoming farmers—until the economic downturn of 2008 forced their hand. Now they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We bought the farm in 2007 as a weekend getaway,” Josh told Organic Connections. “At the time we both had great jobs in New York City. Brent was working for Martha Stewart, and I was an advertising executive. In 2008 we both lost our jobs within a month of each other. All of a sudden we had this big mortgage on our weekend getaway as well as the mortgage on our city apartment. We decided that if we were going to save this farm it was going to have to become a working farm.”
Help begets help
In a strange kind of parallel to the old TV series Green Acres, suddenly these city boys were transplanted to the farm, with no clue as to how to operate one. But unlike the bumbling approach taken by Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor, these two had a keen power of observation and a considerable wealth of business acumen. They soon discovered that any help they could offer their local community would be well repaid in kind.
The first instance was with a local farmer down on his luck. “We started when a neighboring farmer was losing his farm and he moved in with his eighty goats,” Josh said. “He began producing milk.” Suddenly Josh and Brent were goat farmers.
“We learned a lot, not only from the farmer who came to the farm with his goats, but also from asking our neighbors,” said Brent. “When you have to rely on your farm for your source of income as well as for most of what you’re eating, the learning curve gets steep really fast. So when we were starting to plant our garden, or when we began to raise pigs or a cow, we just went and knocked on the doors of our neighbors and said, ‘Hey, how do we do this?’”
That exchange of help soon spread throughout the community. “We found a soap maker and apprenticed with her to make our soap,” Josh related. “We reinvested that money back into getting our Grade A dairy license, so the next year we were able to start making cheese. During the course of that we began meeting other neighbors—artisans and craftspeople, blacksmiths and weavers and other food producers. What we found was they were teaching us how to farm and we were teaching them how to market. So we started working with all of our neighbors to create products for them as well.”
Show business comes calling
Josh and Brent may have been novice farmers—but marketing and publicity were second nature to them. It quickly paid off. “After we bought the farm, we were just keeping a blog about how we were becoming farmers, what we were learning, and what we were growing and producing,” Brent said. “The president of what was then Planet Green Channel, part of Discovery Network, e-mailed us through our website and asked if we would come in and talk to them. When we did, they said they wanted to make a TV show about our experience.” The Fabulous Beekman Boys ran for two seasons on Planet Green and was picked up for a third season by the Cooking Channel, where it is now airing.
The television show led to another adventure that neither of them saw coming. “We had written our first cookbook, which came out two years ago,” Brent continued. “We were doing a book signing in Santa Monica and someone came up who was a fan of The Fabulous Beekman Boys. She was talking about how her neighbor came over every week to watch the show with her and how much they enjoyed it. She said her neighbor was the head of CBS reality TV.
“I really didn’t believe her and jokingly said, ‘Well, why aren’t we on The Amazing Race?’ She said, ‘I’m going to tell her.’ Literally two days later we got a call from The Amazing Race asking if we wanted to be on it.”
But in typical Josh and Brent style, they weren’t just participants—they ended up winning. “We never expected we’d win,” laughed Brent. “Here we were, two middle-aged guys competing against college football players and Chippendale dancers and whatnot. I certainly think the determination came from farming and from what had happened in our recent past in terms of losing our jobs and having to start over. That gave us a sense of resilience that maybe we wouldn’t have had, had the opportunity presented itself before. Maybe that’s what gave us the leg-up.”
Meanwhile back at the farm
But despite all the glitz and glamour, Josh and Brent are primarily focused on their farm and on spreading their message of possibilities to others. Locally, through their mercantile and online, they continue to sell their seasonally available goat dairy products, gourmet heirloom tomato sauces, jams and jellies, and much more, while their historic farm property plays host to weddings, parties and food events.
And despite the financial disaster that brought them there, they are sublimely happy to be where they are today. “I think more than anything what this experience has done is it has gotten us away from that very peculiar American trait of the need for instant gratification,” Brent concluded. “We often say that back in 2007 and 2008, everyone had gotten into this pattern where they had to have everything that they wanted exactly when they wanted it, with no sense that they had to work for anything or had to delay something in order to achieve it. People were getting zero-interest mortgages, buying cars and buying houses with what seemed like impunity. That led to a situation that was unsustainable, and then the crash.
“I think what living on the farm has taught us to do is to really appreciate things when we get them[/pullquote], when we have them—but also how important it is to not have something. For instance, we raise or grow about 80 percent of all the food that we personally consume. When the tomato season is over, and then in the middle of the winter after we’ve eaten all of the tomatoes that we put up, we don’t have another tomato until almost the beginning of September when our crop comes in. When we taste that first tomato in September, it tastes like the very best thing we’ve ever had because it’s been absent from our lives for so long.
“When you always have everything that you could ever want right at your fingertips, you can never truly appreciate it. I think the whole idea about seasonal living is precisely that: how you can really appreciate what you’ve been given.”
For much more information on Beekman Farm, to check out blogs by Josh and Brent, and to shop for products, please visit www.beekman1802.com.