Call it serendipity in the face of adversity. In 2008, Brent Ridge, a geriatric doctor and former Vice President of Healthy Living at Martha Stewart Omnimedia, and his partner Josh Kilmer-Purcell, a bestselling author (I Am Not Myself These Days, The Bucolic Plague) and advertising executive whose clients included such mega-brands as Target and Absolut, lost their jobs. They moved to the historic, 60-acre Beekman 1802 Farm, in Sharon Springs, about 40 minutes west of Albany, which they had purchased a year earlier as a weekend getaway. A decade later, they now oversee what NASDAQ calls “one of the fastest growing lifestyle brands in the country” and have breathed new life into their rural community.
Buying the Farm
“We were living in New York City, but we liked to go apple picking in upstate New York,” recalls Ridge, “We would open a map, see where our finger landed, and that’s where we went. In 2006, our finger landed on Schoharie County. On our way out of [Sharon Springs], we drove by this farmhouse with a ‘for sale’ sign. At that time, you could get a 0% mortgage, so we took out $1 million mortgage and bought it.”
After purchasing the Beekman farm, on weekends Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell took the train from Penn Station to Albany Station, where they left a car. Inspired by their country get-away, they started a blog, To and From, which they wrote on the train. Heading north, they laid out what they wanted to do that weekend, then on the way back to the city, they said what really happened.
Goods from Goats
Upon arriving at their farmhouse one weekend, they found a note in their mailbox from a neighbor: “I’m John. I’m losing my farm. Could I graze my goats on your property?” Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell agreed, envisioning a petting zoo without having to maintain it.
“John’s moving in with us was fortuitous,” says Ridge, “When Josh and I lost our jobs, we googled, ‘what can we make with goat milk’. We started with soap. That’s how Beekman 1802 was born.”
Cultivating a Better Life
Sensitive to the struggle farmers and craftspeople in upstate New York have made a living, Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell used their marketing know-how to expand Beekman 1802. They now produce goat-milk products including cheese, lotions, shaving cream and hair care items which they sell, along with numerous locally-made crafts, in their mercantile in Sharon Springs and on their website, www.beekman1802.com. They also host a reality show, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, on the Cooking Channel, publish a magazine and host seasonal festivals that attract visitors from around the world. They work with 300 local craftspeople, such as blacksmiths, potters and food-makers, and credit a combination of optimism and dedication as the formula for their success, but with a balance.
“In New York City, if Martha [Stewart] sent an email at 1:00 a.m., I responded at 1:05 a.m.,” says Ridge, “Moving here was a reset on how to approach life. We raise our own food. We appreciate what each season brings us. If you haven’t had tomatoes since last September, they taste so much better! If you always have instant gratification, it’s impossible to truly appreciate something. It’s too temporal. There’s no specialness.”
Likewise, working with locals has required an adjustment. There are large swaths of the region without broadband. People might check email only once per week out of necessity. The Beekman Boys also have fewer resources at their fingertips for a multi-faceted business. Finding talented product designers and marketers in the area and running a successful retail store in the middle of nowhere top their list of challenges. However, their reenergized community makes it all worthwhile.
“So many people in upstate New York don’t see how things can get better,” explains Ridge, “There’s a malaise. Also, if you grow up here, you don’t appreciate the beauty that’s outside your door. But when local people see the marvel in the eyes and the change in spirit of visitors, it’s contagious. They think, ‘Yes, this is an amazing place. There is opportunity here.’”
Do they miss city life? Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell have never looked back, but they do return to New York on the train at least once monthly for business reasons.
“When you live in New York City, you’re defined by your career,” says Ridge, “Now when we’re in the city, we see amazing window displays and appreciate a museum exhibit. We have fresh eyes every time. And the train is great! We have Wi-Fi for the whole two-hour 15-minute trip. We don’t have to worry about parking in the city, and it drops you in the middle of town.”
Take Amtrak to Beekman 1802
To participate in a Beekman 1802 festival, meet the goats or shop at the mercantile, take Amtrak to either Schenectady Station or Albany-Rensselaer Station—Don’t forget to use the New York By Rail 15% discount!
From Schenectady Station, get picked up and taken to your reserved #NYTRAIN Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Click here to reserve your car or call the Albany-Rensselaer office today at: 518-374-7890. Or, take a 30 to 40-minute cab ride west to Sharon Springs, NY.