I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened up The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers (An Unconventional Memoir) by Josh Kilmer-purcell. My gut reaction was Green Acres in drag, and I suppose I wasn’t that far off. The author was a drag queen in a former life. Life changes though. Josh Kilmer-purcell (who from now on I will refer to affectionately as Josh, despite our having never met) was approaching middle age and ready for the “next stage” when he and his partner stumbled upon the Beekman Property during an apple picking trip upstate. It was love at first sight. The Bucolic Plague tells the story of the purchase of that historic 60 acre property, the couple’s life in Sharon Springs, N.Y. and their attempts to make Beekman a profitable enterprise. What began as weekends spent playing at gentlemen farmers quickly became a complete lifestyle change for the couple – in more ways than one.
Josh’s partner is Dr. Brent – beloved by millions as Martha Stewart’s wellness advisor. Martha, who plays a larger part in this book than probably even she knows, is Josh & Brent’s inspiration and torment. It quickly becomes apparent to them, and everyone reading the book, that running the Beekman as a small farm is the surest route to failure. Small, family-owned farms are failing across the country. It’s become a basic fact of rural life. And so – using Brent’s lifestyle knowledge, Josh’s ad exec experience, the help of friends and neighbors in Sharon Springs, even the assistance of Martha herself – Beekman 1802 was launched. A lifestyle company begun on a line of soaps made from goat milk (provided by goats kept on the farm). It quickly expanded to include an heirloom seed company owned by neighbors (featuring seeds planted in Josh’s garden), a baby line, quality stationary, heirloom linens, artisan goat milk cheese and a haberdashery section featuring a silk scarf which I will be ordering in the near future. Everything is the work of local artisans. The entire enterprise can be viewed, complete with blogs by both Josh and Brent, at the Beekman 1802 website.
It’s a great story, but the characters are what make this book stand out. For example: to say that Dr. Brent drank the Kool-aid over at Living is putting it lightly. He spearheads the project of making Beekman 1802 – the website, blog and now television show – a lifestyle brand every bit as powerful as MS. Brent’s OCD tendencies and laser focussed desire to emulate Martha should be irritating, even creepy, yet somehow it’s not. Mainly because for him it is all about fulfilling Josh’s dream to quit their day jobs and live at Beekman full-time. His desire to make Josh’s dream come true makes the mayhem that follows endearing rather than just manic. He is endearingly manic. And yes, it’s a good thing! (you should have seen that coming). Their relationship comes across as funny and sweet in all the right places.
It’s difficult to convey how funny The Bucolic Plague actually is without including an excerpt. Sadly, this one is much too short.
The rest of our first weekend in our new country home was spent exploring the sixty acres surrounding the Beekman, greeting neighbors who stopped by to tell us their stories of the mansion, and sweeping up dead flies. It was impossible to tell where they were coming from. They just appeared at the windows, carpeting the sills and floor with their slow-motion death throes. We had yet to see a fly that was actually flying. They just kept coming and coming, like a buzzing Night of the Living Dead.
Josh’s over the top personality comes through in every sentence . His view of the world is funny in a sharp and witty way. He sees the ridiculous in the individual. But the people he portrays are all in on the joke. He doesn’t laugh at his friends, he laughs with them. And as funny as the book is, it would be a disservice to classify The Bucolic Plague as another version of “a city slicker moves to the country and hilarity ensues”. This isn’t just a story of two gay men who try their hand at farming. The book starkly, if humorously, depicts the huge amount of work that goes into developing a lifestyle brand, revitalizing a town… and following a dream.
The boys have had some success at that. Beekman 1802 has expanded into a reality television series The Fabulous Beekman Boys which premieres Wednesday, June 16th (that’s tonight folks!) on Planet Green. I’ve had the opportunity to preview the first two episodes, with mixed feelings. In the interest of full disclosure I’m not a fan of reality shows. That said, I was bothered by the disconnect between the book and the show. The characters you meet in The Bucolic Plague are likable, lovable even. By the last page I was ready to pack up and move to Sharon Springs myself. But the charisma these people have in print didn’t always successfully transfer onto the screen for me. What The Fabulous Beekman Boys is missing is Josh-Goggles: his gift of making people sparkle. Even worse, the show seems to be taking the tack of “will their relationship survive!??” pretty early on – which seems like a weak place to start a series.
The reoccurring theme in The Bucolic Plague is Josh’s desire to get down in the dirt at Beekman Place vs. Brent’s need put it up on the Martha pedestal. I would have enjoyed a show that met someplace in the middle. After two episodes I’m not sure that The Fabulous Beekman Boys is it. Eventually, though, it might be.
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers, New York (2010).
ISBN: 978 0 06 133698 0