They were living the good life in New York. With both a medical degree and an MBA, Dr. Brent Ridge worked at Mount Sinai Hospital and was the vice president of healthy living at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. His partner, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, worked in advertising and is a best-selling author. But they were willing to throw most of that life aside when, on a trip through upstate New York, they drove past the Beekman Mansion and noticed its for-sale sign. It was love at first sight.
The frequently hilarious reality series The Fabulous Beekman Boys, airing Wednesdays beginning June 16 on Planet Green (HD), covers a year at the Beekman, spotlighting the pair’s learning curve, their relationship, and the community of Sharon Springs, without which, both men assert, they never would have survived. The pair took some time from a very busy schedule to talk about the Beekman, their series and what life is like for two Manhattanites turned farmers.
When you first saw the Beekman, was it love at first sight?
Dr. Brent Ridge: When we were first driving by the place, it’s on the historic registry, so there is a plaque out front. And we thought it was a museum because it looks so perfect. And we were driving down the road, we saw the for-sale sign in the yard. And we thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to see the inside of that place?” And when we got back to the little hotel where we were staying in the village, the owner asked what we had done that day. And we said, “We drove by this beautiful house.” And he said, “Oh, the Beekman. Everybody knows that house and, in fact, the real estate agent showing the house is the hostess for our brunch on Sundays and she’ll be happy to show you the house.” So she let us see the inside and we fell in love immediately, but we didn’t let that love show in our faces — poker face.
Kilmer-Purcell: We had no actual dream of being able to afford it or even deserve it.
Ridge: But on the way home, a three-and-a-half-hour drive back to the city, we said to ourselves, “This is the place we have been looking for.” And after many months of bargaining, we made it our own.
Talk a bit about that gorgeous house, please.
Ridge: It looks a lot bigger than it actually is. It’s about 5,000 square feet, and there are five bedrooms and the architectural style is Georgian Palladium. It was built between 1802 and 1804. At the time it was built, it cost $10,000 — quite princely at the time. It was actually a brick house with clapboard put on it. When William Beekman built it, he had his general store built right off the side of the house. The store was the source of his wealth. The entire area was once called Beekman Corners.
Where did you find Farmer John?
Kilmer-Purcell: We had just moved in and hadn’t expected to turn it into a working farm. But we found a letter in our mailbox from Farmer John. It was a heartfelt and impassioned letter about how he was losing the place where he farmed and had 30 days to find a new home for his goats or he would have to send them to auction or to slaughter. We could tell he loved his goats so much. So we invited him over. He was a farmer without a farm and we were a farm without a farmer, so it worked out pretty well.
You now have a lot of goats?
Ridge: We launched the company in April 2008 so we are almost two years old. When John came he had 60 goats. We are up to 76 now and sometimes we are over 100 with the babies. Some of the male goats he sends to auction, but John has done such a good job with his herd and his goats are such milkers that his male goats are in demand for stud service.
I just saw the first episode and that llama steals every scene she is in. How is that diva Polka-Spot doing?
Kilmer-Purcell: She truly is a diva. All those funny scenes you see with her aren’t edited to be funny; she really is like that. Anytime she sees a camera, she is in front of it, much to the detriment of filming. It doesn’t matter what kind of camera it is, she is in front of it.
Ridge: As a physician, I am always wondering what the underlying behavior is that’s causing something. And I think that when someone is holding a camera up, it’s the general shape of her mother’s snout. That may be why she is so attracted to the camera.
Kilmer-Purcell: I think she is just a diva.
What purpose do llamas serve on the farm?
Ridge: Llamas are great goat herders. Goats are pack animals and will follow whatever leader leads them. Polka-Spot will lead them out every morning and back into the barn every evening, and they will follow her.
Kilmer-Purcell: Llamas are also great protectors. Their eyesight is very good so they can see things coming from a distance and will shepherd the goats back into the barn. And they are very defensive. They can issue a very quick kick, as I think you will see in one of the episodes.
What has been each of your most unexpected moments? The thing you just never counted on? Which were the best and which were the worst?
Kilmer-Purcell: I think the most unexpected moment was seeing the goats give birth for the first time. We are so trained as humans to think that labor needs a doctor and hospitals and planning and breathing classes, and when the goats were pregnant we asked Farmer John, “Will you be there?” He said, “Well, they just come when they come.” And sure enough, we were standing there watching one day and one just came out with no help at all. So it was the naturalness of nature just happening. People forget that, living in the city.
Ridge: I think for me there were a couple of things. Even though we are considered foodies and are always trying to pay attention to what types of food we buy, until you are absolutely committed to growing everything yourself, from the vegetables to raising the livestock for meat and the goats for the milk and whatnot, you don’t have an appreciation for all the effort that goes into producing a plate of food, and the value of a plate of food. By and large in America, food is dirt-cheap and we really learned an appreciation for how undervalued this is in our country.
The second thing I learned was the importance of community. In the city, we don’t really know our neighbors and are not that invested in what is going on in our own community. Here, we got in this situation where we didn’t know anything about farming or country life, and we had to rely on the farmers surrounding us and the help of the people in the village to help us survive. You see a lot of that in the first season of the show, and how important the cast of characters in the community really is to help us survive.
Kilmer-Purcell: And in return, we hope we’ve taught them a few tricks, as well.
Josh, you are the one with some farming experience, but you are also the one in New York City. How did you decide this, because, logically, it almost seems it should have gone the other way?
Kilmer-Purcell: We call this “the year of our sacrifice.” We knew that if we were going to make a go of this business, someone would have to pay attention to it. Brent is the one with the MBA and we thought he was better qualified to get this off the ground. So it was by default that I ended up staying in the city and writing. I still work in advertising, as well.
The show is a lot of reality, and your relationship certainly takes center stage in the first episode, but what will be the “green” tie-in? Will there be ideas people can use at home?
Ridge: It is not necessarily a “green” show. We talk about how we are raising our own food, that sort of thing. But what people will see in the show are their own relationships, or relationships with the community or with business partners. So many people now are in a transition period in their lives thanks to the economy, so they will see a lot of that. We’re going through that same struggle, launching a new business. It’s very timely.
We want to entertain people and make people laugh — at us and with us, because we are, to some degree, fish out of water. But we are learning so people don’t have to. There is one episode in midseason where we actually harvest a pig and it is a vey emotional episode. Again, it really makes you value your food in a different way. I think a lot of people will look at things differently after they see that episode.
Kilmer-Purcell: People in general have a misunderstanding of what it means to live green. They think it is more work, but as we show, it’s less work. You have a choice between going out and buying something new or raising something next to you. To me it’s actually easier being green.
How has the Sharon Springs community taken to the film crew?
Ridge: They are obviously very invested and almost all of the people in the village appear in at least one of the episodes. In this first season, it comes across how dilapidated and rundown the village has become over the years, even though there is a real core of people trying to revive it. I think the people are really hoping that something really good will come out of the show and get more people interested in helping preserve not only the village of Sharon Springs but similar villages across the country.
Kilmer-Purcell: We might even be indoctrinating the film crew into country life. I think some of them are looking for farms.
How has filming the show affected you so far? Are the crew on site all the time?
Kilmer-Purcell: The camera crew doesn’t live with us at the Beekman. They film during the day. It’s an interesting experience. Most people aren’t used to having cameras following them around all the time. They have captured things we wanted them to — and some things we didn’t want them to — but they haven’t captured anything unreal.
How do you envision the Beekman farm in five or ten years? What are your future plans for it?
Ridge: From the beginning our ultimate desire was that everything we use on the farm is somehow derived from the farm. That’s how we started making our own yogurt and cheese and soap. We were trying to utilize what we made on the farm and those were all good uses for the milk.
But in terms of the farm itself we want to be as self-sufficient as possible. As far as the company goes, our mission is not only to make really great products, but to also work with other members of our community, the local craftsmen, to develop products that can also support them and help preserve some of these traditional American crafts and handiwork.
Kilmer-Purcell: And we want to use our experience to educate people on the importance of farms and where our food comes from and the importance of your community and the power that comes from it.
What is winter like up there?
Ridge: This was my first full winter there. Josh still commutes from the city. During the week I am up there myself and I was snowed in. And I was thinking this has just been the most terrible winter ever. We’ve had so much snow. It’s been so cold and these old houses are hard to keep warm. And I was in the post office and talking to the postmaster, and I said, “I’m so glad winter is nearly over. This has been a terrible winter.” And he looked at me and said, “This has been a mild winter.” I said, “Oh, my goodness.” I don’t know how I will take it if it gets any worse than this but I guess it is all relative.
Anything to add about the series?
Kilmer-Purcell: I hope people find it enticing and entertaining and hopefully a little bit educational, and that we can convey the importance of small farms in America.