Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge – stars of the reality show “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” and winners of the 21st season of “The Amazing Race” – will be at the Southern Ideal Home Show in Raleigh on Saturday.
If you don’t know the men’s story, here’s a quick rundown: Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge lived in Manhattan, working in advertising and for Martha Stewart Living, respectively. Driving through the countryside in upstate New York one weekend, they fell in love with a restored mansion. They made a lowball offer and it was accepted. Once both men lost their jobs in 2008, the house and farm went from weekend retreat to a launching pad for a lifestyle brand, Beekman 1802. (It is named after the home they bought and the year it was built.)
Appearances on Stewart’s television show and stories in The New York Times and elsewhere helped the men sell a line of goat’s milk soaps, but once they won $1 million in “The Amazing Race” in 2012, both were able to work full time at the Beekman Farm in Sharon Springs, a historic spa town three hours northwest of New York City.
Ridge grew up in Randleman, N.C., 80 miles west of Raleigh and attended the University of North Carolina. He was a doctor specializing in geriatrics before leaving medicine to become “Dr. Brent” for Stewart’s publications and TV show.
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On the phone last week, Ridge spoke about the couple’s journey, their efforts to help other small farmers and how Sharon Springs has changed.
“As of last February when we won ‘The Amazing Race,’ we were able to pay off our mortgage with that prize money and now we are on the farm full time,” Ridge said.
Before competing in “The Amazing Race,” the men had developed a line of pasta sauces called Mortgage Lifter, named after the heirloom tomato in the sauce. The idea was to use profits from the sauce to help pay down their mortgage. Their mortgage paid, they decided instead to use 25 percent of sauce profits to help other small farmers pay off their mortgages. The rest of the money would grow the sauce line.
Last year, the couple sold enough pasta sauce to raise $13,000 to give away to small farmers. Ridge said they are trying to get the word out that applications are available at beekmanmortgagelifter.com. The deadline is April 22.
In the six years since the company started, the couple has published two cookbooks and has another with heirloom vegetable recipes due out this spring. Kilmer-Purcell has written a memoir, “The Bucolic Plague,” now out in paperback. They have expanded their product line to include jams, cake mixes, T-shirts, seeds and furniture. While another season of the Cooking Channel’s “The Fabulous Beekman Boys” is in the works, Ridge says they are discussing another television project. Their brand and work has one focus.
“We focus on seasonal living, trying to make the most out of every season,” Ridge said. “We focus on creating heirloom quality products, no matter what category they are in, whether it’s a piece of furniture or a hand-woven linen. We try to think of things that can passed onto the next generation.”
Beyond the farm, the men are having an impact on their community. While Ridge said they don’t like to take credit for the turnaround, he does note that their retail business supports 42 local craftspeople and their TV show has highlighted the area’s beauty. A harvest festival that the men started six years ago drew 500 people that first year. Last year, 12,000 people came. Plus, Ridge notes, four new businesses have opened downtown in the past four years.
“Everybody is working together,” Ridge said, “to make sure whatever success has started has continued to grow.”