TV show follows evolution of exurbanites’ farm

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SHARON SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) - 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 life 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 Planet Green. 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,” a follow-up to his memoir about his nightclub career as Aqua, a drag queen who used live goldfish in the glass-globe breasts of her costumes.

The cast of characters includes other residents of tiny Sharon Springs, a former spa in farm country 43 miles west of Albany. There’s Doug Plummer, described by Kilmer-Purcell as “Paul Bunyan in a kilt,” proprietor of the restored American Hotel along with his partner Garth. And Farmer John, who raises goats with some help from his partner, Jason, who builds nursery pens for the kids and wooden milking stands for the dairy. And there are the local weaver, soapmaker, blacksmith and woodworker whose wares are sold by the company launched by the fledgling farmers.

It all started in October 2006 when Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell, together since 2000, rented a car in New York City and drove off for their annual apple-picking weekend. They ended up in Sharon Springs, 195 miles north of the city, 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 it had been built in 1802 by William Beekman, a judge and businessman. They thought it was a museum, so they pulled in the gravel drive. 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 website 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,” said the trim, bearded and bespectacled Kilmer-Purcell, leaning on the massive brick hearth in the farm’s kitchen. “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.

Sharon Springs, population about 550, was a fashionable spa in the 19th century where the Vanderbilts and other high-society folks came to “take the waters” at mineral springs and Oscar Wilde gave porch-side readings at the American Hotel.

The village, nestled in gently rolling countryside that inspired James Fenimore Cooper’s novels, faded as a spa but enjoyed a rebirth as a vacation spot for Jewish families during the heyday of the nearby Catskills Borscht Belt. Its latest resurgence is fueled by affluent second-homers and Manhattanites who left the city after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Lauren Michalchyshyn, president of Discovery Channel’s Planet Green network, signed up for emails on the Beekman 1802 website and was moved to suggest a reality show following the farm’s progress. “The Fabulous Beekman Boys” is currently in its second season, airing Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

Episodes have featured Ridge planning out 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,” Ridge said. “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, 37, slender and boyish with a soft North Carolina accent, 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 the emotional toll was too draining for him.

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