The Beekman Boys
Want to step back in time? Drive west on Route 20 through bucolic farmland to Sharon Springs, population 530. And yes, everyone knows each other. That neighborliness was part of what attracted Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell to buy a 60-acre farm in 2007 as their getaway from Manhattan. Visions of weekend gardening unexpectedly morphed into something far greater. For everyone.
Edible Capital District: Manhattan to Sharon Springs—that’s quite a transition. How did you make in-roads in this rural community?
Josh Kilmer-Purcell: In a small town, word gets around quickly. Farmer John reached out to us that first year. He had lost his own farm, and we had a barn and needed someone to run the place. Who could turn away 80 homeless goats??
Brent Ridge: When we started here, we weren’t farmers and didn’t know how to do anything. We knocked on people’s doors and asked for advice on raising pigs and chickens. That helped us integrate into the neighborhood because we didn’t come in and tell people how to do things; we were the ones who needed guidance. I think people enjoyed being able to share their expertise.
JKP: And just be helpful.
ECD: Then you found yourselves not as weekenders but as full-time residents.
JKP: That’s right. We lost our city jobs a year later, in the recession of 2008. We literally Googled, what can we make with goat’s milk. If we were going to keep the farm, it had to pay for itself.
BR: Soap came first because we weren’t a Grade A dairy. We figured we couldn’t kill anyone with soap. Soap Maker Deb [McGillicuddy] down the road taught us how to make it.
JKP: We started selling the soaps online. Then Deb introduced us to another neighbor, Karen, who’s a weaver. She began making towels to sell along with our soaps. That led to Blacksmith Michael, a few potters, a wood turner and so on. Now we get submissions from all over.
BR: So we started a collective of artisans called Beekman 1802. Our neighbors had products, and we had the marketing. We were packing and shipping everything from our kitchen and dining room, and by the second year, we had outgrown that setup. So in 2010, we rented a space in the old Roseboro Hotel in the village. We had planned to be only e-commerce, but that’s how Beekman 1802 Mercantile began in town.
ECD: How did the reality TV show come about?
JKP: When we first started the company, we were doing a little PR for ourselves. A New York Times reporter came and did a piece on us, the two gay guys from the city learning how to farm. That caught the eye of the Discovery Network. The president of Planet Green called us up and said she loved our story and thought we should do a reality show. “The Fabulous Beekman Boys”—their name, not ours—followed us as we learned how to farm and worked with our neighbors to help rebuild the village. The show became less about us and more about the community of Sharon Springs. It ran for two seasons.
BR: Looking back, it now feels like a time capsule. We were so naive!
ECD: And then came The Amazing Race in 2012?
BR: So much of our lives has been about fate rather than planning! When our first cookbook came out, we were in California doing a book signing, and to make a long story short, we ended up making a connection with the president of CBS Reality TV who invited us to participate.
JKP: The race starts with 12 teams, and the last team to cross the line after each leg of the race gets eliminated. Each pair has to follow clues and tackle different challenges, with no money and no phone, to get to the next destination. The race covers 45,000 miles through nine countries and 12 cities. The final leg was in New York and was down to three teams, and somehow, we won.
BR: I always say that had we not had the experience of losing our jobs, moving to the farm and rethinking our work and life ethic, we would have never won. When you’re living in the city, you’re very privileged. But we had this desperate drive to win the race and pay off the mortgage and renovate our current building.
ECD: And the village has evolved since you’ve been here?
JKP: Sharon Springs is pretty special. Most little towns and hamlets that have fallen on hard times often complain and grumble about what used to be, but we are a lot of optimists here who look to the future instead of dwelling on the past. If someone wants to hold a festival or do something special, they’ll get behind it and help them out.
BR: There’s not a retail spot available on our Main Street now. Every storefront is full, in less than seven years. The American Hotel opened in 2001 followed by some gift shops, the Black Cat Café and 204 Main Bistro. Spring House Spa came along, and now the Roseboro is being rejuvenated.
ECD: How do you divide responsibilities in the business and at home?
BR: Between us and Farmer John, we take care of the entire place ourselves, no outside help. I do all the landscaping and flower gardens. In the business, I handle the skin care and design.
JKP: I tend the veggies and do most of the cooking. For retail, I oversee the gardening and food products.
ECD: Any holiday traditions at Beekman 1802?
JKP: Our busiest time is from right after Thanksgiving until the last day of shipping, December 19. The days of trimming trees and making cookies are long gone.
BR: But we do have the YouTube marathon. In the final week of shipping, we set up a camera and livestream to YouTube as we do our packing and shipping around the clock. We invite our artisans to talk on the camera; our friend Rose Marie Trapani brings us food and shares her recipes; the mayor makes a guest appearance; we’ll call up Martha Stewart. Just fun stuff and people love it!
JKP: On Christmas morning, we go to the nursing home in town. One of us will dress up as Santa and we’ll bring little gifts—lotions, soaps, candy. Christmas here is all about celebrating with your neighbors.
BR: But honestly, by December 20, we just want to collapse. Then we start planning the year and thinking of new products come January.
ECD: Beekman 1802 has also published several books?
JKP: I’ve written two memoirs and together we’ve written three cookbooks and one style book. A Seat at The Table is our fourth cookbook and came out in September. We collaborated with our neighbor Rose Marie Trapani.
BR: You should follow her on Instagram—Our Sicilian Table. You won’t believe how much she cooks! She always has leftovers and feeds the community, so everyone in town has a piece of her Tupperware. Rose Marie had been writing down recipes from Sicily for about 10 years and always wanted to put together a cookbook. She was going to self-publish for the sake of family history. And just like all of our other artisans, we thought, oh, we can bring that to market! And that’s how A Seat at The Table got started.
BR: For two and a half weeks, from 7 am to 4 pm, we cooked every recipe in a friend’s commercial kitchen, and our photographer Christian Watson shot them in natural light. That was 15 different dishes a day. And at the end of each afternoon, we had all this food left over, which we put out on the porch and posted a message on Facebook, Come on by at 5:30 and eat free food!
JKP: We had shot our other three cookbooks in New York City, and it was always so wasteful to get rid of that food at the end of each day.
ECD: What’s up next?
JKP: We just expanded the store and put in a studio with cameras and lights and full kitchen so artisans and chefs can give a demonstration and stream it live to our Facebook page.
ECD: How has life here in Sharon Springs changed you two?
BR: We’ve become less tapped into that need for instant gratification. When you live in the city, you have access to almost everything. Living out here where the closest grocery store is 20 miles away and we’re growing most of our own food, we can get out of that cycle. Delayed gratification really makes you appreciate what you do have.
JKP: I don’t need “things” anymore. As long as I can come home and pick my dinner from my garden, freezer or pantry, I’ve got what I need. Just good food and good neighbors.
ECD 5 RAPID FIRE
ECD: Breakfast today?
JKP: Beekman granola, homemade goat yogurt, blueberries.
ECD: Cake, pie, or cookies?
JKP: Pie—any type!
BR: German chocolate or carrot cake.
ECD: Favorite childhood meal?
JKP: Spaghetti and meatballs
BR: Tomato sandwich on white bread with Duke’s mayo.
ECD: Guilty pleasure?
JKP: Dark chocolate—one piece, every night.
BR: Diet Dr. Pepper.
ECD: Late night snack?
JKP: Hot goat’s milk, almond extract and honey.
BR: Something salty, like a grilled cheese sandwich.