The Fabulous Beekman Boys


Josh Kilmer Purcell and Brent Ridge were ready to make a run for it, break out of Manhattan and get back to the land, so they literally bought the farm. Tricky part is, they knew nothing about raising crops, tending pigs, or staying afloat as biodynamic agrarians. Planet Green's new series, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, is their story. Josh, a former drag queen turned ad exec, and Brent, a doctor and MBA, find themselves struggling to thrive on Beekman Farm.

Listen to the podcast of this interview via iTunes, or just click here to listen, right-click to download.

Full text after the jump.TreeHugger: So you guys don't exactly fit the farmer profileSo let's try to get a little background. Josh, what's your story?

Josh: Well I was born in rural Wisconsin. Then as an adult, I became an advertising executive and moved to New York City. For a while I was a drag queen at night; I wrote about that in my first memoir. Then I became a writer in addition to advertising. Now I'm a goat farmer.

TreeHugger: Brent, how about you?

Brent: My background was a little bit less scandalous than Josh's, but I grew up in rural North Carolina. I went to medical school and became a physician. Then I went back to business school. From business school, I went to work at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. After that, I became a goat farmer. So we took two different paths and wound up in the same place.

TreeHugger: So how does one learn to be a goat farmer?

Brent: Well, we ask a lot of questions. We do a lot of Googling, and we rely on the people in our community who are just invaluable at helping us. We have a farmer who works with us, farmer John, whom everyone will see in the TV show dressed up all in his loveliness. It's all a learning process. There are very few things in life that you know everything about right from the beginning. We're still on that learning curve.

Josh: One of the other things about learning how to farm is that we have to take a new approach. We look around America and small farms are going out of business left and right. So by not knowing how to farm, we may have actually been doing ourselves a favor. We've been trying to discover entirely new ways of farming that might be more profitable.

TreeHugger: I imagine this has been a big eye opener in terms of ecologically balanced living.

Brent: Well I think the most shocking thing is the inconveniences that you have to put up with if you're going to try to have an organic farm. There are lots and lots of bugs, and there are lots and lots of weeds, and yes it would be so much more comfortable and more convenient to take care of those in a chemical way.

I think that's probably been one of the biggest challenges. The second challenge is the expense of trying to do something in an organic or green way. You really have to make your commitment with your wallet. We certainly could do a lot of the things to produce our product more cheaply, but we choose not to do that.

Josh: People who watch the television show realize Brent's a perfectionist, so he doesn't have the best relationship with weeds and bugs. Whereas for me, there's actually a lot of times when I think it's much easier to be organic and green. As far as I'm concerned it's easier to not have to spray things on the garden, and it's easier to reuse something rather than drive 25 minutes to the nearest store to get a new one.

TreeHugger: Beekman Manor, this is not just your typical farmhouse. This is quite a spread you guys have taken on.

Josh: We were very fortunate to find the Beekman mansion. We were literally driving around upstate on vacation and stumbled on it. The house itself had already been lovingly restored by a couple who had grown up in the area. They did a fantastic job. We were really the fortunate ones to come along right after them. The house itself was built in 1802. At the time, it was built for $10,000, which was a princely sum. It's a beautiful Georgian palladium home.

TreeHugger: Are you doing things around the farm to make it a more ecologically sensitive, low carbon environment?

Josh: You'd actually be surprised at the engineering talents of builders 200 years ago. The house has huge central hallways that open front to back, and when the doors are open there's never a need for any sort of air conditioning or fans. They built it with a brick liner behind the wood so it's incredibly well insulated. They were heating with fireplaces, so they had to make sure their house was sealed pretty tight.

So I think a well built home of any period takes into consideration the environment, the climate, and the cheapest way to stay warm and cool.

TreeHugger: This farm has become headquarters for Beekman 1802, a green lifestyle brand you guys have created. Tell us a little bit about this brand and how it has grown out of your new life as farmers.

Josh: It really all started with a blog that we started keeping right when we bought the farm, writing about our adventures buying and setting up a farm. The property was not a working farm when we bought it, and we've turned it into one. So people had started following along that path with us. The website just kept growing and growing and growing. Our ultimate goal with the farm is to make it biodynamic, meaning that everything that we're using on the farm is somehow derived from the farm. That's how we really got started making the soaps and the cheese.

We just wanted something for our own use. Then there was so much interest in the things that we were making for our own use, we thought, "Well, maybe there's a business opportunity here. We can actually create a self-sustaining farm and company around it."

Evidently, that message really resonates with people. We've expanded quite quickly in just a couple of years.

Brent: That's what we mean when we say we're trying to create a new way of farming. We believe that a farm should be bigger than its fences. And why not start farming on the Internet?

TreeHugger: Brent, you're an MBA, and Josh, you work in advertising. So you're well positioned to make this a very big brand. How do you feel about the size of the business and growth? What if the demand for your product starts to outpace what the farm can provide?

Josh: Well, that's always a critical question and one that we confront every week, really, as we think about mapping out the future of the company. As people will see when they visit our website, not only do we develop products from our farm, but we also develop products using local craftsmen in our area.

We design products and have them apply traditional crafting methods whether it's handweaving on a loom, blacksmithing, letter press. So we've always been firmly committed from the very beginning that as we became successful, we wanted to elevate everyone else in our community as well. As a lot of people may know, upstate New York is a fairly impoverished area of the country, and we really want to help expose these craftspeople to a larger market and generate income for them as well.

Brent: It's something we face every day. How big do we grow, and how much can we produce responsibly? We run out of soap every once in awhile. We milk our goats the responsible amount of the year and then they go dry for a few months. Then we don't have soap and we don't have cheese. One of the things that we learned moving from the city to the country is that there are times of the year when you don't have things.

But that's great because when you do have them, you appreciate them so much more. If our friends and neighbors and customers, as they grow our business, if one day we can't provide for them, we hope that they learn the same lesson: that it might not be here today, but man, it's going to be great when it comes back tomorrow.

Tags: Organic Agriculture | Planet Green | Television | TreeHugger Radio

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