This past weekend in Charlottesville, VA I had the pleasure of listening to The Fabulous Beekman Boys at the Paramount Theater on the mall. First, let me say that the Paramount is a great theater! It’s golden age opulence was restored and new life was breathed into a closed and run-down theater which is now enjoyed by all who visit. This was indeed at great venue for the Monticello Harvest Festival keynote speakers Brent and Josh of Beekman Boys fame.
A brief history of the Beekman Boys of course starts with the men themselves. Brent Ridge, a doctor turned Martha Stewart employee and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, a former advertising executive, went from being city-slickers to farmers almost overnight. A series of unfortunate, or in hindsight fortunate, events led them to where they are today. After taking a few wrong turns in the town of Sharon Springs, NY, the couple got lost and found their now famous farm, which they purchased during the real estate boom. This was funnily conveyed during their power point with a slide showing a graph of housing market trends over a long period of time with the highlight being their house purchase at the apex of the real-estate boom. Unfortunately, soon thereafter they both lost their jobs and the real estate market crashed around the same time. So, with a mortgage to pay and their income gone, it was time to get creative!
Luckily, this is where they excel! With Farmer John bringing his goats to their farm and lending his expertise on farm life, Brent and Josh’s adventures were captured in their show The Fabulous Beekman Boys. With steep learning curves and personal sacrifice, the duo was able to launch their product line of goat milk soaps and cheeses, Beekman 1802, and open their first store.
In 2012 the couple won the Amazing Race and used the winnings from this contest to pay off their mortgage, allowing for Josh to quit the NYC commute back and forth to the farm. Since then they have written books and partnered with Target. This was the crux of their presentation. They are launching a Farm-to-Shelf movement with the help of Target and the goal is to support small(er) farms by purchasing their produce or other products and also source local US companies to produce and package the final products. Beginning in November 2015 you will see the fruits of their labor in Target Stores. My hope is that it will be a triple win for the Beekman 1802 company, local farmers and packaging companies, and Target.
On another positive note, Brent and Josh give back to local farmers through their Mortgage Lifter Program. This program selects small(er) farms and grants them money to support helping to pay off the farm or farm debts. How, you ask? They are using “Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato.” Radiator Charlie was a guy in West Virginia that developed this tomato during the depression to help him get by when times were bad at his auto repair business. The tomato he produced yielded so many tomatoes and with a promise to feed a family of six, he sold these plants to families and did so well he paid off his mortgage in four years. So what does this have to do with Beekman 1802? Well, initially they planted these tomatoes in hopes of creating a pasta sauce that would help them pay off the farm.
Their goal of paying off the farm was suddenly met with the winnings from the Amazing Race. So now what do you do with all those tomatoes and the Mortgage Lifter Heirloom Tomato Pasta Sauce? They decided to pay it forward!! Using those same tomatoes in their pasta sauce and creating a perfect blend of locally sourced produce with commercially grown tomatoes keep the sauce affordable. This helps farmers in a few ways. One by guaranteeing these tomatoes will be purchased. Secondly, Josh and Brent are using 25% of the proceeds of their sauce to pay it forward to other small farmers. They are expanding the product line with their upcoming 42 new products at Target. It’s genius and wonderfully philanthropic!
Brent and Josh have shown that it takes a village for the success in the farm and the artisans they promote and support. While learning how to farm they relied on the locals to bring them along. Along the way they also supported the locals in other ways. Now launching their new campaign Farm-to-Shelf they are taking this to a whole other level. I think most of us realize the importance of farmers. Will you support Farm-to-Shelf?