SHARON SPRINGS, N.Y. — It sounds like the breathless plot of a zany sitcom: Manhattan adman who moonlights as a drag queen trades high heels for barn boots to raise goats and purple tomatoes with his partner, a doctor who moved from geriatric practice to The Martha Stewart Show before chucking the city life for a new career on the farm.
The story of Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge is chronicled in a cable TV show, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, on the Planet Green network. But it's a reality show rather than a gay Green Acres. The men also share their exurbanite adventures in a blog and in Kilmer-Purcell's hilarious book, The Bucolic Plague.
It all started in October 2006, when Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell, who have been together since 2000, rented a car in New York City and drove off for their annual apple-picking weekend. They ended up 195 miles north of the city in Sharon Springs, population about 550, and were charmed.
"We thought this was the greatest place, this ghost town that refuses to die," said Kilmer-Purcell, 41.
Outside the village, they happened upon a white Georgian-Federal-style mansion with Palladian windows, a wraparound porch and a state historical marker saying that it had been built in 1802 by William Beekman, a judge and businessman. They thought it was a museum, so they pulled in. There were a red barn, overgrown gardens, towering oak trees — and a "for sale" sign.
Thus began Beekman 1802, the farm and lifestyle business launched by the partners after they scraped together $950,000 to buy the mansion, which had been restored to its original grandeur in a multimillion-dollar makeover by the last owners in the mid-1990s. The business includes a Web site designed by Kilmer-Purcell, where the men blog about life on the 60-acre farm, communicate with fans and sell soap, cheese and caramel sauce made from the farm's goat milk, and fine handicrafts made by local artisans.
The farm was originally intended to be a weekend getaway, but that changed after Wall Street tanked.
"Like a lot of people, we both lost our jobs in 2008," Kilmer-Purcell said. "We made a pact: Whoever found a new job first would take it, and the other would move to the farm and try to make it into a profitable business." He was hired by a Manhattan ad agency, Ridge moved north, and the two have spent weekends together at the farm ever since.
Lauren Michalchyshyn, president of Discovery Channel's Planet Green network, signed up for emails on the Beekman 1802 Web site and was moved to suggest a reality show to chronicle the farm's progress. The Fabulous Beekman Boys is in its second season, airing at 10 p.m. Tuesdays.
Episodes have featured Ridge planning a raised-bed vegetable garden, goats giving birth, Kilmer-Purcell grumbling because Ridge missed his book-signing in Manhattan, and Ridge painting the walls of the tiny shop they opened in town.
"People who watch the show send us emails and say we can't possibly do everything we're doing. They think we have a legion of helpers behind the scenes, like Martha Stewart," said Ridge, 37. "We don't. The truth is that we're working 18- to 20-hour days. I'm hand-wrapping the soaps at the shop and trying to get things done around the farm."
Ridge graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in his home state, did postgraduate training in geriatrics at Columbia, then got an MBA from New York University and went to work for Martha Stewart as vice president for healthy living for four years. He tried medical practice but soon realized that the emotional toll was too draining for him.
His blog on Beekman1802.com suggests that Ridge has found his calling among the goats, chickens, pigs and vegetables.
The farm produces 80 percent of what is consumed there, Ridge said. He built the organic garden, which has 110 varieties of heirloom vegetables in 52 4-by-6-foot raised beds surrounded by a hand-stacked stone wall crafted by a local stonemason.
New York City provides an avid marketplace for the farm's products. Ridge loads two big picnic coolers with goat cheese and takes it by Amtrak to Manhattan, then rolls it down the city sidewalks to customers that include Fairway, Whole Foods and Zabar's.
Ridge said 22 people in the community derive income from the farm business.
Town of Sharon Supervisor Sandra Manko said the farmers and their TV show have given a boost to local shops, galleries, restaurants and lodgings and have attracted new businesses and residents.
About 500 people showed up for the village's annual harvest festival three years ago. Last year, more than 5,000 came after seeing the previous festival on the TV show, Manko said.
"People say Sharon Springs is so lucky we came here; we changed the town," Kilmer-Purcell said. "But we came here because there were already people working to refurbish the old hotels and get businesses going. That's what attracted us here."
There are economically depressed small towns all across the countryside where people are mired in the sense that nothing's ever going to change, Ridge said. "What we brought, if anything, was just someone to point out, 'Wow, look what you've got here. It's beautiful. What can we make of it?' "