First-time farmers flip unscripted fame into thriving lifestyle brand

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After launching a brand of soap, cheese and cookbooks, Brent Ridge (above, left) and Josh Kilmer-Purcell (above, right) have savvily turned reality shows into a marketing tool to spotlight their growing business.

Last month, the couple won CBS’ “The Amazing Race,” taking home $1 million after traveling the globe under the team name, “the Beekman Boys,” a term borrowed from the name of their reality show “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” produced by World of Wonder, that’s aired for two seasons on cabler Planet Green.

Name refers to the Beekman Mansion, a 200-year-old, 60-acre estate in Sharon Springs, N.Y., just outside New York City, the home base for the entrepreneurs’ lifestyle brand, Beekman 1802, they launched in 2007.

For most city slickers Saanen, Alpine and Nubian mean next to nothing. But for Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell, these kinds of goat milk are key to their success.

“It was just supposed to be a weekend farm,” Kilmer-Purcell says of the decision to move from Gotham into the mansion. “We were those obnoxious Manhattanites that just go and buy a weekend property.”

Along with the property came a sassy diva of a llama named Polka Spot and 80 goats, as well as their owner, a farmer named John who had written to the “Beekman Boys,” because he was in danger of losing his property.

More changes came in 2008 when Ridge, VP of wellness for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, was laid off, and Kilmer-Purcell, a partner at an ad agency, lost his job one month later. Stuck with the farm and four-legged mouths to feed, the twosome opted to make their pastoral purchase profitable.

Farmer John and his goats were good for dairy products, so marketing aficionados Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell accepted the challenge of flipping vats of goat milk into artisanal cheeses and soaps.

Ridge used his connections to introduce their soaps on “The Martha Stewart Show,” yielding $8,000 in sales and prompting a DailyCandy feature. The successful debut culminated in a call from Planet Green’s Laura Michalchyshyn, who expressed faith in a TV series about their lives as sustainable farmers and businessmen.

“When someone comes to you and says to you, ‘Do you want to do a reality show?’ You get the worst picture of reality television in your mind — even though they call it a docu-series, to make it sound better,” Kilmer-Purcell says.

But after speaking with Michalchyshyn and World of Wonder heads Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the unlikely first-time farmers realized they had similar goals for their docu-series: a skein that would be both earnest and entertaining.

Ridge describes “The Fabulous Beekman Boys” as a 30-minute commercial for the brand, because many Beekman 1802 product announcements coincide with on-air appearances and debuts. But there’s more to the show, Kilmer-Purcell says, than convenient product placement.

“People look at the Kardashians and the Housewives — now that might look fun, but you can’t experience that. (Those shows are) actually designed so it’s not you,” adds Kilmer-Purcell. “For us, we show our town, we show our farm, and then you can come to our town, you can come to our farm.”

After receiving a rash of tour and soap requests, the two inaugurated a harvest festival, which coincided with the skein’s first season. The fest celebrated the harvest from local farmers and sought to bring the Sharon Springs community together.

Around 500 people — roughly the size of the town itself — attended the first fest, followed by consecutive turnouts of 5,000, 8,000 and 10,000. Last year’s batch of 10,000 included visitors from 23 states and three countries overseas: Ireland, Australia and Norway.

Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell say the skein’s spotlight doesn’t just illuminate their business, but also the surrounding businesses of Sharon Springs. When the Beekman Boys took up their farm there were only three viable businesses on the rural town’s main street, but over the last 1 1/2 years, four new businesses have opened and are now thriving.

This is due in large part to Beekman 1802’s collaborative efforts to manufacture goods within the town. Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell design every product in their store and then go to locals for production. Right now the Beekman Boys are working with 22 different craftspeople, and almost every product in the store is made within 20 miles of the farm.

“We make our money off of the things we produce ourselves — like the soap and the cheese — and then we help create a marketplace for the skills, because we want to preserve them,” Ridge says. “How many blacksmiths are left in America? How many people are weaving on looms in their living rooms?”

Some of Beekman 1802’s popular products include the “Year in the Country” soap set, Blaak artisanal cheese, hand-woven towels and washcloths and cookbooks. Looking ahead, the Beekman Boys are hiring a retail director, their first “big boy hire,” to go nationwide and are putting the cap on their Heirloom Dessert Cookbook due out October. They are also announcing the first line of hotel amenities made with goat milk — many of which are made in nearby Courtland, N.Y.

One of their quirkiest endeavors, however, involves their llama, Polka Spot, who has become active and viral on social media, developing a notorious Web presence for all things fashion- and farm-related. A comic book series about the llama is in the works and a photo app is available for smartphone users. This latest ploy is representative of the type of kismet and open-mindedness that has helped the couple become so successful on the bucolic business front.

The Beekman Boys are pitching a new show about the Sharon Springs community at large and are working to secure a third season of “The Fabulous Beekman Boys” on the Cooking Channel.

Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell say the priority has always been to create a symbiotic relationship with the Sharon Springs community: “As we become successful, everyone in the community should become successful,” Ridge says. “And because we’re really making a living with a dream, we feel like everybody should be able to make a living doing what they love to do.”

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