When Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge took time from their bustling New York City life to go apple picking, they had no idea they were embarking on a trip that would be the start of their own business, reality TV fame and change their lives.
In a set-up that sounds like something out of a sitcom, Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge ended up getting lost on their apple picking adventure and wound up in Sharon Springs, N.Y., a rural town teeming with quirk and charm. They found the American Hotel, owned by local gay couple Doug Plummer and Garth Roberts, and decided to spend the night. The next day on the way home, the pair stumbled across Beekman Farm, a local farm that happened to be for sale.
Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge fell in love with the property, cashed in everything they had, took out a mortgage and became the proud owners. They had no idea the farm would end up being their saving grace.
The recession of 2008 brought misfortune to many, including Kilmer-Purcell who lost his job in advertising and Ridge who lost his position as vice president of healthy living at Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Without big city earnings to keep them afloat, the couple knew they had to figure out a way to profit off their farm. The farm’s neighbor John Hale, affectionally nicknamed by the town Farmer John and also a gay man, was also down on his luck and lost his farm. He left a letter in Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge’s mailbox asking if he could store his goats at their farm. The couple couldn’t say no.
Farmer John and his 80 goats moved into Beekman Farm and the couple realized they had been given an opportunity to profit.
“We actually started Googling ‘What can we do with goat milk?’ and the first thing that came up was goat milk soap,” Kilmer-Purcell says. “It just so happened one of our neighbors was a soap maker and she taught us how to make the soap with goat milk. Then she introduced us to another neighbor who was a weaver and another neighbor who was a blacksmith. We realized there was all these great craftspeople that were making amazing products, but didn’t know how to market them. That’s when we fell back on our skills in advertising and with Martha Stewart.”
From there, the brand Beekman 1802 was born. The company expanded from goat milk and now sells everything from artisanal cheeses, skin care, clothing, kitchenware, bedding, rugs, cookbooks and much more.
Their brand’s tagline is “Cultivate a better life” and it’s something that goes beyond marketing for the two.
”We chose that because there are so many lifestyle brands out there from Kardashian, even Martha Stewart, that want you to think there are all these magic ways your life will become better if you just buy their products. We believe that having a better life is a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of helping your neighbors and those things don’t just happen. So we’re not just a brand of things you buy we have a philosophy of helping your neighbor,” Kilmer-Purcell says.
After launching a line of pasta sauces made from small farm ingredients, Target reached out to the entrepreneurial couple for a collaboration for a food line. Now Beekman 1802 Farmhouse, the brand’s home line, launched on Sept. 14 and is available for purchase on target.com. The collection is Americana rustic with a modern twist and includes items such as a dinnerware collection, bedding collection, lightening collection, rugs, a sofa and much more. Prices range from $14.99 to $599.99.
The significance of having their items sold by a big-name retailer like Target isn’t lost on the couple.
“A company like Target never would have launched a food or home brand with a company that is so visibly fronted by a long-term gay couple,” Ridge says. “I think it just shows how far we’ve come.Target is a middle-America-based retailer and the fact that it’s a non-issue for them really shows where we are truly at in America.”
Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge’s journey from city boys to farmers can be seen on their now-defunct, three-season reality television show “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” which aired on Planet Green and the Cooking Channel.
Although the reality show experience was new for the town, Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge say people were very welcoming to the show and to the couple.
“We always say Doug and Garth at the American Hotel were the pioneers. They were the first gay couple to move into the area in the late ‘90s and they were so beloved that Doug is now the mayor now,” Kilmer-Purcell says. “People here were really open to the idea of outsiders because they had brought in business and tourism. So we walked into a really friendly atmosphere. We always say homophobia is a luxury of the middle class because rich people generally have more exposure to the world and poor people have bigger things to worry about.”
The town even became part of one of the biggest days in the couple’s lives.
“They always think what we’re doing is weird, but I think they’ve learned to trust us because we genuinely bring a lot of good energy and outside people into the area,” Ridge says. “When we got married in 2013, we invited everybody in Sharon Springs to the wedding. They all came including priests and pastors from congregations that didn’t recognize gay marriage.”
The couple — who’ve been together 16 years — says although it was weird having cameras around at first, they became used to the environment and formed a special relationship with the crew. Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge even attended the director’s wedding.
Their newfound reality TV fame also landed them on the 21st season of “The Amazing Race,” in which they came in first.
While they have earned acclaim for their creative business, the couple thinks there is more behind the stereotype that gay people have a great eye for design that runs deep.
“Our philosophy is that growing up LGBT kids have to be really creative,” Kilmer-Purcell says. “I don’t know if it’s true anymore but when we were growing up we had to be really creative to find ways to hide your true identity. You start your life being incredibly creative. It makes a lot of sense that LGBT people go into creative fields. Most of the heteronormative world, they can just go with the flow their entire lives. Whereas LGBT people have to start overcoming obstacles as soon as they are aware of their differences.”
The couple have utilized their creativity to new heights by expanding their business in ways beyond a food and home line into giving experiences to others.
Website visitors can take a live look at the Live Goat Cam, a live stream feed on beekman1802.com to experience the beauty of their goats for free from anywhere in the world.
The couple has also curated “Trips of a Lifetime” in which small groups of people ranging from 15 to 25 can purchase trips with the couple to international locations. The trips are designed with a commitment to agriculture, philanthropy and understanding different cultures in mind. Last year, they went to Cuba and next year they are planning a trip to India.
With all Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge have accomplished, there is still one aspect of their brand that they may never live down.
“When we moved in, because we owned the Beekman Farm, everyone started calling us the Beekman Boys. And everybody still calls us ‘the boys’ and I have this dreaded feeling that we’re going to be 80 years old and they’ll still be calling us ‘the boys,” Ridge says.