Dr. Brent not only ‘talks the talk,’ he ‘walks the walk’ of healthy living. He and Josh Kilmer-Purcell own a beautiful farm in upstate New York. With heirloom organic gardens, gorgeous meadows, and a beautiful 1802 homestead, the Beekman farm is home to Dr. Brent and Josh on weekends. It’s also home to their many goats that produce the milk for their Beekman 1802 soap. “Beekman 1802,” their mail order business is thriving nicely as the public learns the benefits of their wonderful products.
Dr. Brent graciously agreed to share with me a little more insight into his world of corporate life and farm life at Beekman.
Dr. Brent, Many of us came to know you during the development and opening of the Martha Stewart Center for Living. How did your affiliation and subsequent employment with Martha begin?
I first met Martha about five years ago and soon learned that we share the same approach to health: Plan ahead, be prepared, arm yourself with as much information as you can, and try to make the healthiest decisions.
We began planning out the Martha Stewart Center for Living at Mount Sinai, which Martha dedicated to her mother. During that process, we realized what a powerful statement we were making AND that there was a possibility for us to do so much more. So many millions of people read Martha’s magazines, watch her on TV, listen to the channel on Sirius, and look to the company as an authentic source of good, practical information. By including more information about how to live a healthier life, even if we get a fraction of our customers and friends to make a few healthier choices, then we will have accomplished a lot.
Dr. Brent celebrates with Martha and others at the opening of the Martha Stewart Center for Living
As Vice President of Healthy Living at MSLO what are you responsible for?
I work with all of the talented staff at the company to figure out the best way to present health and wellness topics to our various audiences. Our most recent projects have been the launch of a new website, www.wholeliving.com, and a daily radio show of the same name on Martha Stewart Living Radio on Sirius 112.
Martha and I are also working on a book full of practical tips and useful advice for people who find themselves in the role of caregiver. Almost all of us are or will be caregivers during our lifetime. How do you organize the home to make it safer or so that it saves you time? How do you manage to prepare quick, yet nutritious meals? And how do you take time out for yourself in the midst of doing all of this other work?
We’re drawing upon my experience as a physician and Martha’s expertise in homekeeping.
As a boy growing up in rural North Carolina, did you always want to become a Doctor?
I remember as young as the age of 3 playing with my plastic doctor’s kit with my great grandfather as the patient. He was either very tired and looking for an excuse to lay around on the sofa or had the patience of a saint.
My mother was also a nurse, so that obviously influenced me as well.
By nature I am a very caring person (some might say a worry-wart), and I do love science. I love knowing how something works. The body is the most incredible machine ever imagined.
In April of this year we ‘met’ several of your beautiful goats on a segment on the Martha Stewart Show. It was then that we learned about Beekman Estate and Farm. What inspired you to buy the property?
I grew up in a fairly rural part of North Carolina, and though I have lived in New York City for almost a decade, there was still a part of me that had roots in that lifestyle. I had been looking in parts of upstate NY for some farmland for several years, and happened upon the historic Beekman farm, and I knew immediately that this was where I was supposed to be. This place called out to me, and I really do feel that it owns me as much as I own it.
When did you buy the property?
We’ve owned the property for just over a year.
Did you need to complete any extensive renovations prior to living at Beekman?
Thankfully, no. The prior owners, Patricia and Eric Selch, discovered the Beekman as it was literally falling in on itself. The house was built in 1802 and had been completely abandoned twice during the subsequent 2 centuries. Eric led an extensive, historically accurate renovation of the house that employed all local craftsmen and took over 3 years to complete. Right now on www.beekman1802.com we are focusing a lot of the blogs and the photos on the vegetable and flower gardens, but come winter, we’ll be exploring more of the house itself.
Speaking of the vegetable and flower gardens, the heirloom organic garden sounds amazing. What prompted you to take on this gardening challenge?
Admittedly, we were overly ambitious. Everyone told us so. 50 raised beds is enough to feed a small township! Personally, we wanted to have the satisfaction of growing our own food and truly appreciating it. We feel that being connected to where your food comes from is important and that it’s something that American culture has moved too far away from. It’s also much cheaper. Our grocery bill during the summer is about $30 per week, and that includes the necessary paper products.
We were also fortunate that our neighbors are the owners of D. Landreth Seed company, the oldest heritage seed company in the country. The company’s owner, Barb Melera, is a constant source of information and inspiration…and seeds.
We blame our ambition on the Landreth catalog.
On your website homepage, it states, “Too many of us are out of rhythm with the world around us which is why we founded Beekman 1802.” How does Beekman help you get back into synch?
The idea behind our company, Beekman 1802, is to enjoy the fruits of every season as they come. When William Beekman and his family were living in their dream home 200 years ago, they did not contend with some of the modern distractions…and conveniences… of contemporary American culture. I had to wonder if that was not an overall happier life. Certainly I think that there was more gratitude then for the things that you had. I also think there was a greater appreciation for craftsmanship. That’s why all of the products you see on our site are handmade by us or other local craftsmen. Any product we carry will be authentic, simple, beautiful, and practical and we hope that people who visit on the web or buy our products appreciate this.
What do you hope to inspire within the visitors of your Beekman site?
We don’t set ourselves up as cooking or gardening experts. We are just normal people trying to learn how to do things in a new (yet old) way. We hope that we can inspire other people to do the same or, at the least, to share in the joy of each of our discoveries. We really do learn something new every day.
We hear a lot about Healthy Living and Whole Living. We know that’s a relatively new core content area of MSLO and it seems as though Beekman is a more personal extension of that living philosophy. How would you best describe “whole living” and the philosophy of whole living?
I think the definition of whole living is best left to each individual, which is why wholeliving.com covers such a wide variety of topics, from healthy recipes and sustainable living to fitness, beauty and even inspirational horoscopes.
For me personally, I think that people too often separate out their “health” as yet another obligation. In that sense it gets relegated to the back burner. I try to incorporate a healthy lifestyle into the things I love doing already. I love gardening, cooking, working around the house, and even crafting around the holidays, and I can almost always find a way to incorporate well-being into the projects I am working on. Sometimes it’s as simple as choosing a better ingredient for a recipe or working a new muscle group out in the garden. I try to be conscious and aware of what I am doing and the choices I am making at all times rather than making “mindless” decisions.
As you’re well aware, I’m a goat milk soap convert. I love the product. What made you start a soap business?
We are ultimately trying to make the farm biodynamic, meaning that all the products we use on the farm originate from the farm. Because we were raising goats, we wanted to find as many uses for the goat milk as possible. We took lessons from Deb MacGillicuddy (who later became our partner in the business) and started making soap primarily for our own use and to give as gifts to people who came to visit us on the farm.
At Christmas, when I was thinking of what type of homemade gifts I would give to people around the office, I decided to give soap and a delicious goat milk cajeta. Martha, of course, got some of both. I had also given some soap to my friend Eva Scrivo. She is the host of Beauty Talk on Sirius 112 and has a commanding understanding of what is good for the skin. She loved the fact that the soap was chemical and fragrance free and after she tried it thought it was the best soap she had ever tried. This corroborated with what some of our guests had said, particularly those who have very sensitive or dry skin.
It was Eva who suggested we start selling the soap, and you can find it in her salon on 50 Bond Street in NYC. Up to that point, our website was really about learning and sharing. We weren’t selling anything at all.
Did the April Martha Show appearance help the Beekman store business?
It certainly made many people aware of the farm, and we have many people who come to the site and register who just come to read what is going on or look at the pictures. They don’t buy anything at all, and we love that. For us, it is all about the learning and sharing.
The appearance on the show, however, did lead to lots of inquiries from other magazines and retail outlets interested in featuring or carrying the soap.
On your own blog, “To and From” (which I love) you recently told your readers about a new store front in Sharon Springs, NY. Are you planning to expand beyond the mail order business? Are you looking for other retail partnerships?
Thanks for reading the blog! A historic building in the middle of the village will be the new factory for the soap. It’s a huge space, and the front of the building, formerly a department store built in 1910 will be divided so that Deb can create her own retail experience. Deb makes wonderful olive oil soaps.
What do you envision the Beekman 1802 product line to look like in, let’s say 3 years?
We will continue to add products to the soap line including a soap for each month of the year whose scent is derived from what is in bloom or in use on the farm that month. We are also developing additional skin care products like lotions and milk baths. We are developing a line for baby as well that will include soaps and hand-woven organic swaddling cloths.
By the first of next year, the farm will be a certified dairy, and we will have food products like artisanal goat milk cheeses, cheesecakes, and the delicious cajeta (goat milk caramel).
It is very important to us that any product we carry be handmade and somehow derived from the farm or from the period in which the farm originated (1802-1804)
We are always exploring the work of local craftsmen to see what they are doing and whether their handiwork is appropriate for Beekman 1802.
When you look at Beekman as a whole (home, farm, business, land, etc) what do you love most about it?
Honestly, I love learning. It’s so fascinating to learn how to do things on the farm and to talk to local farmers and craftsmen. Everybody I meet is like a true American treasure.
How often do you get to spend time at Beekman?
We are at the farm every weekend.
Do you and Josh entertain often at Beekman?
We have weekend guests at least once a month, and usually twice month. However, we have set a hard and fast rule that guest frequency can be no greater than every other week. We need those weekends in between to catch up and to plan for the next guests so that the experience is always wonderful for everyone.
Is it hard adjusting to the peace and quiet of the farm vs NYC life during the week? Do you feel equally comfortable in both places?
I do feel comfortable at both places, but that may have something to do with where I work. There is a profound appreciation for “do it yourself” and the artisanal at MSLO. If I worked for another media company, people might think my choices for weekend recreation were more abnormal. There’s really no disconnect at all. I love being able to interact with our audience at the company, and I equally love talking to people who know me only from the work on the farm.
What’s a typical day on the farm now that we’re into the peak of the gardening season?
This is a very busy time for us. We are always up by 6:00, and unless we have a social engagement of some sort, we are outside working in the vegetable or flower gardens until at least 6 or 7. We usually take a lunch break during the hottest part of the day, around 2:00, and we try to eat things fresh from the garden. In the evenings we will either have someone over for dinner or accept an invitation elsewhere. We also enjoy going down to the American Hotel for a drink and a visit with locals and guests. It’s so nice to have a true local watering hole.
Do you still spend time making some of the soap?
Of course! Though we can’t keep up with demand entirely on our own. This is why Deb is an invaluable partner.
What do you hope to ultimately achieve with Beekman?
I think our main goal will always be to raise awareness about seasonal living—appreciating what every season brings.
Do you ever plan to open Beekman for tours?
We welcome people to stop by on the weekends if they see us working out in the yard, though we expect them to pitch in! We were asked to be a part of a tour of historic homes in August, and we will see how that goes. I’m still trying to decide whether it is gracious to have people remove their shoes or not. I scrub the floors on my hands and knees, so it may be worth the social faux pas to keep the floors a little cleaner.
Give us a glimpse into your corporate day. What’s your typical day like at MSLO?
This can really vary. I am on radio 4 times per week, so there is a lot of planning for that. When the TV show is in production, there’s always planning for health segments even if I’m not actually in the segment, and, of course, there’s the writing of the columns for Body + Soul and Living.
People might think these are the exciting parts of the job, but I really do like the business side...figuring out how we can do things that have the most impact on our customer’s lives. As in any company, this requires a lot of meetings. Thankfully, there are so many talented business people at MSLO that I learn something new every day at work, too.
You take a lot of time out of your day(s) to keep in touch with your readers and listeners. Your blog, your column in Martha Stewart Living, “Sandwich Day” on Wednesdays with Sandy Gluck, Ask Dr. Brent, Tuesdays on Sirius, and I recently noticed the new community space “Ask Dr. Brent” on marthastewart.com. How important is that contact for you?
It is VERY important. I read every email, complaint or suggestion that comes in, and I incorporate that information in what I put out in the future.
Our readers, viewers, and listeners are the reason this company exists, that’s why you see so many of MSLO’s “experts”, taking the time out of their work schedules to connect with the audience. Even Martha is on Sirius all the time answering questions.
What does Dr. Brent dream about? What is your hope and dream for the future?
I truly hope that I never get bored or that I lose my curiosity. That would be more of a nightmare than a dream.
To learn more about Beekman and what Dr. Brent and Josh are doing on the farm, visit: www.beekman1802.com For more information and inspiration on whole living, visit the new whole living website at www.wholeliving.com and listen to the whole living radio program on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius Channel 112 at 10:00 a.m. eastern. Photos courtesy of: Anders Krusberg/The Martha Stewart Show, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia; Dr. Brent Ridge & Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Beekman1802.com Special thanks to: Dr. Brent and Josh for their kindness and support; Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Corporate Communications Department for their assitance in making this interview possible; My dear friends for your love.
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia has officially unveiled their newest website wholeliving.com.
As the online home of MSLO’s body+soul magazine, the new site features more than 1,000 content items including easy, healthy recipes, interactive photo galleries, ideas for stylish eco-décor, green cleaning tips, life-coach advice, exercise videos, natural stress-busters and more. Much of the content would be a great complement to the ideas you present on your site.
The website is a natural extension of MSLO’s growing presence in the healthy living category; body+soul is the fastest growing magazine in the sector.
Readers of House Blend are encouraged to visit http://www.wholeliving.com/ for ideas on how to live a healthier and greener life. Here are a few examples of the great information you'll find:
No-Cook Meals – Try one of these seven cool, healthy dinners without turning on the stove.
Healthy & Delicious Snacks – a photo gallery of guiltless midday snacks
A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Gardening
Green Cleaning Tips – Nontoxic cleaners that deliver considerable power at minimal cost
Sirius Radio listeners, make sure you tune into Whole Living, the new green living show, on Martha Stewart Living Radio on SIRIUS Radio channel 112. The live daily call-in show, which airs Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., offers expert tips, trends and advice for living healthfully and responsibly. Live healthy. Live responsibly. Live well. "Whole Living" refreshes your body and your mind with expert advice and fresh ideas about eating well, going green, staying fit, and much more. Join host Emily Hoffman as she discovers with you, the best ways to make yourself, your home, and your planet healthy and beautiful, inside and out.