Gentlemen Farmers

BY Jon Barrett

May 12 2010 4:00 AM ET

If it seems like you’ve seen Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell before, you probably have. Ridge, known to Martha Stewart devotees as Dr. Brent, was a frequent guest on Stewart’s TV show as her company’s vice president of healthy living. And Kilmer-Purcell is an advertising executive, an Out magazine columnist, a contributor to this magazine, and the ­author of The New York Times best seller I Am Not Myself These Days, a 2006 memoir about his years as a New York City drag queen named Aqua.

Both were incredibly busy guys, with schedules as hectic as the streets outside their Manhattan apartment, when in fall 2007 they rented a car to get out of the city and, by chance, found themselves in front of the Beekman estate, a 205-year-old Georgian/Federal–style mansion and 60-acre farm in Sharon Springs, N.Y.

“We thought it was a museum at first because it was so beautiful and it had one of those historic signs in front of it,” Kilmer-Purcell says. “But then we drove a little farther and saw a for sale sign.”

A what-if fantasy—the kind you toy with when you buy a lottery ticket—turned into phone calls to a real estate agent and then schmoozing with the home’s widowed owner. And before they knew it, these busy city boys were gentlemen farmers and the stars of their own reality TV series, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, which premieres June 16 on the Discovery network’s Planet Green channel.

“The Beekman, for us, started out as a weekend place, with the ultimate goal of making it a bio-dynamic farm, meaning that everything we used at the farm was to be derived from the farm,” Ridge explains. But within a year of the purchase, he and Kilmer-Purcell were, like almost everyone in the world, hit with the new economic realities of the recession. “So what started out as a weekend place and a sort of play farm had to turn into a business,” Kilmer-Purcell says. “We realized we had to make a go of this as a business or we risked losing the farm.”

Making a go of it means being apart from each other. Kilmer-Purcell stays in the city during the week to earn a paycheck while Ridge, who quit his job with Martha Stewart, has become a full-time farmer and Sharon Springs resident. “We call it our year of sacrifice,” Ridge says of the arrangement, which has now stretched into its 16th month.

When asked the ultimate goal of their year of sacrifice, Kilmer-Purcell says, “What I realized at the end of the first year is that you can set as many goals for yourself as you want. But you’re never going to reach the goals you set out ­because those goals keep changing. So as long as you’re in a better place than you were when you started, then you should keep going.”

From all outward appearances, the sacrifices have been paying off. The Beekman Mansion has spawned Beekman 1802, a lifestyle company that sells products taken solely from the farm. Its biggest seller—and the product that ­essentially launched the brand—is goat-milk soap, the demand for which took off after it was introduced on Martha Stewart’s TV show (there’s no sense in getting rid of your big-city friends just because you’ve moved to the country). Business is so brisk, Kilmer-Purcell says, that the U.S. Postal Service has suspended plans to close the Sharon Springs post office. “Our mail orders made them busy again,” he says.














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