The Fabulous Beekman Boys' Barn-Raising Potluck
Beekman Mansion. © Fredrika Stjarne.
We call ourselves "accidental farmers." We didn't plan to buy the Beekman Farm in Sharon Springs, New York. We were on a weekend apple-picking trip when we got lost and stumbled on the place. One of us (Brent Ridge) was the vice president of healthy living at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. The other (Josh Kilmer-Purcell) was an advertising executive and the author of I Am Not Myself These Days, a memoir about his life as a drag queen. We'd always considered ourselves city dwellers. But when we drove by the Beekman mansion, built in 1802, we knew we had to have it.
By the next spring, it was ours. And within a few months, we got a letter from a farmer named John who needed to find a new home for himself and his 88 goats. It's hard to say no to homeless goats, so we took them in. To use up all the goat milk, we created a company, Beekman 1802. We sell our goat-milk soap and cheese on the Beekman 1802 website, as well as housewares from local craftspeople. Anyone who has read The Bucolic Plague, Josh's chronicling of our first few years at the farm, or seen our reality-TV show on Planet Green, called The Fabulous Beekman Boys, knows that our dream has had its share of nightmares—"zombie flies" that show up when the weather is warm, a ghost named Mary—but we've never stopped. As long as there's a golden carrot planted somewhere in the garden, we'll keep digging.
Mitchell Owens. © Fredrika Stjarne
Life on the farm has taught us many things, including how to grow more than 110 varieties of heirloom vegetables. But more than anything, we've learned what it's like to step back in time a bit, to an era when people really knew their neighbors and depended on them. Last summer, when we needed to make some upgrades on our property, we asked our Sharon Springs friends to join us for a barn raising. Entire villages used to come together to help a farmer erect his barn, knowing that at some point they would need the favor returned.
Our barn was already built—it just needed a fresh coat of paint—but we still wanted to raise something, so one group helped us put up a new Windspire wind turbine while another group of "synchronized painters" did their work (though more than a few kept sneaking off to skinny-dip in the pool during the heat of the day). Our friend Kat Kinsman, the managing editor of the Eatocracy blog on cnn.com, kept the troops well hydrated with her surprisingly refreshing yellow tomato lemonade. The goats watched in awe as their barn was transformed into a sparkling new, eco-conscious home.
Dinner party. © Fredrika Stjarne.
Afterward, we set up long hand-hewn tables in our flower garden. Friends brought food, and we passed it around family-style. Using vegetables from our garden, we made some of our signature recipes from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook, due out in October 2011. We like to reinvent classic dishes, so instead of serving a cold cucumber-dill salad, we braised the cucumbers in butter until they were silky but still crisp. Our corn chowder salad—a tumble of caramelized potatoes, crisp bacon and the sweet corn we grow—is lighter than its namesake soup.
Doug Plummer, one of our first friends in Sharon Springs, seemed to be allergic to the paintbrush that day, perhaps because he's put years of hard work into restoring The American Hotel, a historic local institution. As one of the chief skinny-dipping instigators, he also managed to dodge his cooking duties and farm them out to the hotel's chef, Lee Woolver. We're glad he did: Lee grilled swordfish steaks and served them with a lovely herb butter that he mixed with lima beans from our garden.
Doug was the only one all day to point out the obvious: We had invited people over with the promise of a feast, but really we just needed a supply of cheap labor. But if there's one thing we've learned in moving from the city to the farm, it's that fun and hard work are not necessarily mutually exclusive.