“Life gives you goats you make goat milk soap,
goat milk cheese and goat milk,
whatever you can make.”
If you’ve been on my Facebook page, you may have noticed some of the fun challenges we’ve been doing with people like Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily, Justin and Amy of The Chubby Vegetarians, Georgia Pellegrini, and the Beekman Boys. It’s a way for us to all work together on projects which have been really fun.
Most recently, the Beekman Boys stopped by the farm. If you don’t know their story Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge were two Manhattanites who moved from the big city to a farm in upstate New York. While at the farm we did some filming, cooking, a little turkey wrangling, and then threw a summer bash out under the Big Sister oak. It was a blast!
After dinner we held a panel discussion about local food, heirloom vegetables and heritage livestock breeds. The evening ended with a Q&A session.
Here are a few of the questions Josh and Brent answered.
How long have you guys had your farm?
Josh: Well we bought our farm in 2007. And we call ourselves accidental farmers because we were Manhattanites, obnoxious Manhattanites, who would drive up to upstate New York and bother all the locals and buy their apples on the weekends. And we found this farm and we fell in love with it and purchased it thinking it would be a nice weekend place. And then we got a letter in our mailbox from a man named Farmer John who was losing his farm and he said, “I’ve got 80 goats and can I come put them on your farm?” And we thought, still obnoxious Manhattanites at that time, we thought “Oh great! We’ve got a petting zoo.” So he came in with his goats. So that was 2007. In 2008 us obnoxious Manhattanites lost our fancy-pants Manhattan jobs; both within 30 days of each other. And when life hands you lemons you make lemonade. Life gives you goats you make goat milk soap, goat milk cheese and goat milk whatever you can make. That’s how we became accidental farmers.
You guys are doing a great job getting the message out about local farming and buying local. What’s that like? Do you ever feel pressure about the message you have to deliver?
Josh: One of the things we realized in moving to a small community was everyone has their own unique gift to offer. They really do. And when we first moved there we were like, we’re going to have a goat farm and we’re going to make the soap, and then we’re going to make jam and we’re going to sell all this stuff and then we realized we weren’t really good farmers at heart. When the goats would shy away from us every time we’d try to go milk we’d be, “You know, that’s Farmer John’s strength.” And so we had this community of all these great people who were doing great things and it took us a long time to realize that the reason we were there was we had come from a marketing background. Brent worked for Martha Stewart. I worked in advertising. The thing that we could give to them was we knew how to take their talents and bring them out to the world. That was the only thing we could do.
Tell us about the new cookbook.
Josh: So the cookbook that just came out is the Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook. We’ve done three cookbooks – the original Heirloom Cookbook, the Heirloom Dessert Cookbook and the Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook. And we’re like you with the heritage breeds… there is so much history in farming and gardening that’s been lost in the last 50 years. And to bring back not just the heirloom varieties of plants but heritage breeds. And it’s not just a quaint fad. It’s not just a trend. It’s something that’s really vital for us to continue our food supply. Having more than three commercial tomato varieties available is vital. Because just like human beings, animals and plants, they need to have genetic diversity.
Allen: That’s the whole reason that we have the heirloom vegetables that we are growing in our vegetable garden here. We save the seeds, the Heritage Poultry Conservancy is all about preserving genetics of these brave old breeds. They are out of work! And the way to put them back to work is to put them on your plate.
Josh: If you look at a garden catalogue from the turn of the century there used to be over 100 different varieties of garden peas that you could choose from. There are now only eight commercial varieties of peas. So if there was a disease that came along and wiped out those peas, we’d have no more peas on the planet. So in order to save these different old heirloom varieties, it’s just genetic diversity. It’s just nature.
Allen: And everyone can participate in this movement just by supporting local producers. I think it’s so important to connect the producer to the consumer and the more that we can do that the more this movement will grow.
I’d like to hear about your experience on The Amazing Race.
Brent: The Amazing Race experience. It is was the worst three weeks of our lives. Except for that very last moment when we won. That was the best. For those of you don’t know, in addition to our life on the farm, two years ago we were on this TV show called The Amazing Race. The premise of The Amazing Race is that teams of two people race around the world and the team that is last one standing wins a million dollars. And so we won. And we always talk about our life and opening yourself up to the universe and taking opportunities when they are in front of you. So many times there are opportunities in front of you and they are knocking but you aren’t answering the door. For us we always are opening the door. People often ask, “Why did you decide to run The Amazing Race?” We, that was not a life goal, we had certainly seen the show.
When our first cookbook came out we were in Santa Monica, at the Santa Monica library doing a book signing. And this little old lady came up. She was like 80 years old. She had her oxygen tank that she was carrying with her. We were signing her book and she was like, “Oh I just love your TV show The Fabulous Beekman Boys and every week my next door neighbor comes over and we watch your show together. And that’s our bonding time.” We were like “Well that’s so nice.” And she’s like, “And she’s the president of CBS reality TV.” And honestly I did not believe her. So really flippantly I asked, “If she’s such a big fan, why aren’t we on The Amazing Race?” And she’s like, “I’m going to tell her.” And honestly we didn’t think another thing of it. Two days later we were at home and the phone rang. I picked it up and someone said, “Hi, we’re calling from The Amazing Race. We heard you want to run. And that’s how we got on the show. And for those who have watched our story unfold on The Fabulous Beekman Boys; that show really chronicled our attempts to start the farm and start a business that was successful enough that Josh could be there full time. And you know, I’m sure there are entrepreneurs in this group, any time you’re starting your own business you are overly optimistic. You think I’ll be successful in a few months. So we said. Josh ended up getting another job in the city which was helping cover the mortgage and we said, “Oh it will just be a year of sacrifice. We’ll live apart for a year.” Well, that turned into five years of sacrifice because if you are trying to grow a business there are always things that you don’t anticipate that you are going to have to do. It wasn’t until we ran The Amazing Race and won it that we could pay off our mortgage on the farm and he could move to the farm full time. And so as of last February he’s been at the farm full time.
You got us started on the Marshall Strawberry Project and it’s going very strongly on our farm in Fayetteville. I want you to tell everyone because it’s the most amazing thing ever. So would you explain?
Josh: Sure, actually Allen you should be doing this too. The Marshall Strawberry Project. There’s a strawberry called the Marshall strawberry that James Beard declared the best tasting strawberry in the world. This was probably in the 1950s when he would have said this. And it fell out of production completely. It was not a commercially viable strawberry. So you know those terrible strawberries you get at the supermarket today? When those took over the world the Marshall disappeared except for one plant that was at the University of Oregon as a saved specimen. This woman got the university to loan it to her so she could grow out a runner and start another Marshall and now she is sending Marshalls all over the country to have different farms grow them out. I tell you, we planted them last year. This was the first year we had fruit and they are the best strawberries I’ve ever had. So look it up If anybody loves to good strawberry, the Marshall Strawberry Project.
Tell us the story about how the three of you met.
Allen: I had been invited to participate in an event at Sotheby’s called the Art of Farming that Brent was very involved in and I guess you were too Josh. It was really exciting. It was a black tie event at Sotheby’s to raise awareness about local food and to benefit the schools in the inner city to teach children where food comes from. I only participated in that I provided some art and we sold some fowl. We actually shipped the birds to the winner bidders. And all I have to tell you is that I wish I could sell chickens every day for the price we sold them at Sotheby’s!
Brent: That project, it was the first time that Sotheby’s had ever auctioned off vegetables and probably live chickens. It was actually a really amazing evening and we ended up raising about half a million dollars. Allen gave one of his paintings. It was really amazing.
I’m just wondering if there will be another Beekman television program.
Brent: Yes, so the question is whether we are going to do another show and we are always working on new ideas. So you never know. Maybe we’ll do a show with Allen? You never know. Maybe we’ll take over his farm and he’ll come up and take over our farm. You never know.
What an enchanting night with the Beekman Boys. It was a beautiful blissfully cool evening.
Our next farm to table dinner will be on October 15, 2014. That’s a Wednesday night. It will be with Regina Charboneau from Natchez Mississippi. She’ll be cooking up some recipes from her latest book Mississippi Current. And our special guest will be Rebecca Darwin from Garden and Gun magazine. So I hope you can join us. Find out more about the event and purchase tickets.