Gentlemen Farmers

BY Jon Barrett

May 12 2010 5:00 AM ET

BRENT RIDGE JOSH KILMER-PURCELL 01 XLRG (PLANET GREEN) | ADVOCATE.COMThe Fabulous Beekman Boys coincides with the release of Kilmer-Purcell’s third book (and second memoir), The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers (Harper). Both TV show and book are as much about the men’s relationship as they are about their burgeoning business. Kilmer-Purcell, who is from Oconomowoc, Wis., met Ridge, who is from Randleman, N.C., in 2000, soon after Ridge moved to Manhattan for his medical internship. “We met on Gay.com,” Ridge says, adding that at the time he’d never been on a date or even kissed another man.

“Brent didn’t have a profile picture and was afraid to meet me in person,” Kilmer-Purcell says. “But I was just finishing up my club days, and I thought, A doctor and new to New York. Sounds pretty good. So I told him, ‘Tomorrow night I’m going to be at this subway stop at 8 o’clock, and you’re either going to be there or not.’ ” Ridge was there.

Ten years later the two men have ­encountered none of the hassles one might expect an openly gay couple might face in rural upstate New York. “We were lucky because our friends Doug and Garth moved here about 13 years ago, when Sharon Springs was well into an economic decline. We call them the ‘gay pioneers,’ ” Ridge says. “They opened a café, bought and restored the American Hotel, and helped bring tourists back into town. They’re pillars of the community. So when we got here people probably thought, Oh, good! Here come the gays. They’re going to fix something else up!

Because the Beekman is so well-known in town, Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell nevertheless attracted some attention when they moved in—and they were immediately labeled the Beekman Boys. Soon after arriving in Sharon Springs, they received a note in their mailbox from John Hall, known as Farmer John on the show. “It basically read, ‘My name is John. I’m a goat farmer, and I need a place for goats. And I’m gay.’ ” ­Before long, Hall and goats (80 of them) moved onto the farm (Hall into the caretaker’s home and the goats into the red barn), and Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell began helping Hall make a viable business out of his herd.

The experience—and the resulting success of the goat-milk products—has helped turn the Beekman into something of a test case for family-owned farms in the 21st century. “After John moved in we met other farmers who were going out of business and we thought, Maybe we can apply what we know—branding and media, and really that’s all we know—to find a new way of farming that other farms can learn from,” Kilmer-Purcell says. “So if having a TV show, a book, and luxury soap and artisanal items is the new way to farm that’s sustainable, then maybe we’re on to something.

Only time—and The Fabulous Beekman Boys, which Planet Green has already picked up for a second season—will tell.









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