The Farmers Who Weren't
Most people who go apple picking this time of year go home with a basket or two of apples. Six years ago, Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell went apple picking and came home with a farm.
"We were driving to Sharon Springs, NY," says Ridge, "and we drove by this beautiful farmhouse that had a for sale sign in the yard." By the end of the weekend, he and Kilmer-Purcell had cashed in their savings and bought the farm, a 200-year-old mansion meant to be a weekend getaway from their busy Manhattan lives.
Then the Great Recession of 2008 came and they both lost their jobs. "It was kind of like an 'Oh, crap' moment," Ridge says. Faced with foreclosure on the house, they either had to sell it or make it profitable. And that's how this pair of urbanites became accidental farmers, settled in an organic farm that now supplies nearly all their food and houses the 130 goats that help stock their mercantile, Beekman 1802, with goat's milk soaps and cheeses.
Six years and many life lessons later, the pair has a reality show, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, that airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. ET on the Cooking Channel, they're competing in CBS's The Amazing Race for the fall 2012 season, and they have a few books under their belts, with more coming out next fall. Oh, and a llama named Polkaspot, "the farm diva," says Ridge.
We sat down with Ridge and talked about what two city boys—and anyone, really—can learn about life from goats, radishes, and saving (tomatoes) for a rainy day.
Sometimes a little delayed gratification is a good thing
"More than anything," Ridge says, "what farming has taught us is patience and delayed gratification." Urbanites and suburbanites get lulled into the safety of having all foods, and all things, accessible at any time of day. "But when you have the absence of things, you appreciate them more." Like tomatoes: Their supply of canned tomatoes runs out in March or April, he says, and they can't wait till August when another crop comes. "It changes the way we think and the way we approach life." Not only that, but there's also evidence that Delayed Gratification Can Improve Your Health.
"When we first moved to Beekman Farm, we knew essentially nothing about running a farm, and most of what we now know came from asking our neighbors, other local farmers," says Ridge. Thankfully, there was a lot of intellectual capital in the area they could feed off, he says, and it's led to a successful farm, which itself has spurred partnerships Williams-Sonoma (they helped launch the chain's new Agrarian line of homesteading gear) and a thriving business, Beekman 1802.
It takes a lot of effort to live off your harvest
Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell grow 80 percent of what they eat—and that can give you a whole new perspective on farming, he says. "We try to encourage people to grow their own food by telling them that it's as easy as putting some seeds into the ground. And for many types of herbs of vegetables this is true," he says. "But growing crops that your livelihood depends upon is something altogether different. When you grow something yourself, you appreciate the efforts of farmers and what it takes to bring good food to your table." Plus, it's great exercise, he says. "It's amazing how muscles develop more naturally when they are working together to accomplish a real task." Inspired? Here are 5 Crops You Can Plant Now and Enjoy This Winter.
Meat is worth more than a 99-cent value meal
They don't just raise their vegetables. Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell also raise chickens, rabbits, and pigs, and every two years, they'll raise a cow. And in fact, those animals are the only animals they eat. "We name our animals and treat them very lovingly," Ridge says (that's Porky and Bess in the picture), and it's not easy when it comes time to slaughter them. "But doing so helps us appreciate the sacrifice of life that animals make to be a part of the human food chain." Even if you can't raise your own animals, you can still shop humanely and Stock Your Freezer with the Healthiest Local Meat.
Save for a rainy day
And we're not talking money. "Probably one of the most important new skills we learned on the farm was how to preserve foods for later use," he says. It helps them make it through long, snowy upstate-New York winters. They pickle, smoke, dehydrate, and preserve all the excess from their garden. And, advises Ridge, don't be afraid to experiment with pickling (if you feel intimidated, try these instructions for Easy, Refrigerator Pickles). His favorite experiment so far has been pickled radish seedpods. "Whenever you get a full bed of radishes, you can never eat that many," he says. But the seedpods are a little bigger than capers and have a faint radish flavor—a great reminder of spring when blizzards have blanketed their front yard.
Check out The Beekman Boys' online blog and store at Beekman1802.com. (In case you were wondering, that's Polkaspot, their "farm diva," pictured left.)
If you want to try your hand at gardening, farming, or preserving, check out:
• 5 Ways to Farm If You're Not a Farmer
• Plant These Now, Enjoy Them This Winter
• How to Can Those Extra Garden Tomatoes
• Guide to Buying Grass-Fed Beef