Josh and his partner Dr. Brent Ridge, co-founded Beekman 1802, a media and Lifestyle Company inspired by their 200 year old farm in Sharon Springs, New York. With a firm commitment to environmental sustainability, Beekman 1802 is devoted to the artisanal, the hand-made and the belief that each season gives cause for celebration. As novice farmers, Josh and Brent share their ‘experiment in seasonal living’ through their website Beekman1802.com.
Josh graciously accepted my invitation to share some of his time with readers of House Blend. I hope you enjoy getting to know Josh as much as I have.
You were born in upstate New York and grew up in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. What was it like growing up in the rural, upper Midwest?
I’ve always appreciated having my formative years in the Midwest. It taught me to embrace a “Live and let live – unless a neighbor needs help” value system, which I think is the smartest way to go through life with your fellow man.
Describe “Josh the youngster” from Wisconsin.
I had, perhaps not surprisingly, an overactive imagination. Almost all of my free time was spent creating something – painting, writing, and carving. I created worlds of my own wherever I could – from building elaborate train sets to “filming” television pilots in my backyard with my neighbors.
Striking a pose at a young age
What is your most memorable childhood moment?
All family vacations. We didn’t have much money, but my parents made sure my brother and I saw as much of the world as we could – even if it was just a historical barn down the road.
From Wisconsin, you went…. Where?
My family moved to Massachusetts when I entered high school.
What were the teen years like for you?
Not my favorite time. Creativity wasn’t much valued in the high school I attended, so I had a fairly small circle of friends.
You spent your college years at Michigan State University and first majored in Hotel/restaurant management and yet graduated with your degree in English Literature. What prompted the change in major?
Accounting classes. Couldn’t figure out why I needed more math to become the world’s greatest host.
During your college years, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had no idea. Really, none. I was quite anxious about it. While I did love the Midwest value system I grew up in, it also instilled a lot of pressure to be practical. Which I’m not, instinctively. I was raised to “follow your dreams – as long as they come with a 401k.”
We’re going to fast forward a few years. Most things I’ve read about you begin with a statement about your former life as a drag queen performer. Do you ever tire of the reference to that period of your life?
It was a very important part of my life. And while it’s sometimes odd for me to have that be people’s first impression of me, I think it’s odder for them. While it was an important time of my life, it also seems incongruous to many people who meet me now. But being Aqua (my drag persona) was probably the most colorful, brave, reckless thing I ever tried, and I cherish those days – even though they nearly killed me. Now, at forty years old, it’s a great private joy of mine to look back on it all.
I Am Not Myself These Days - A Memoir
In 2006 your memoir was published. When I read “I Am Not Myself These Days” I ran the gambit of emotion. One moment I was laughing hysterically, the next I was crying my eyes out. From time to time I would just put the book down and reflect on my own life. By sharing the story of your life with (as) Aqua, what do you hope / want your readers will take away from this book?
Perhaps its cliché, but I would hope for people to read the book and realize how similar we all are. Which I think I accomplished, given the many letters I’ve received from such a varied audience or readers. The original title was “This Is My Normal” because I hoped for people to realize that the choices each of us makes in life feels normal to us. All in all, I think the world would be a better place if we just outlawed the word “normal.” Too often it’s used as a weapon.
Several years ago, you produced public service announcements for the Human Rights Campaign with Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s mother. How did the experience of meeting and working with Mrs. Shepard impact you?
That was a strange experience for me. I knew before filming the commercials that they would be most effective if she cried while telling her story. At the same time, I certainly didn’t want to be the person to make this woman – this mom – shed any more tears than the millions she already had. During a short chat before filming, it became obvious that she knew her story would resonate better the more emotion she put into it. So without prompting, she dredged up the most horrible emotions a mother can feel for our filming. She did it for her Matthew and all the other Matthews out there. It proved to me that there is no force stronger on this planet than a mother’s love for her child.
Are you active with the Human Rights Campaign or any other GLBT organization?
Not currently. I’m often asked to write about key LGBT issues for various publications and I wouldn’t want my affiliation with a particular group to compromise any journalistic integrity.
From your perspective, what is the key to acceptance and equality for those that are GLBT?
As far as I’m concerned, anyone who can’t accept me has the problem, not me. I have no time for them.
Candy Everybody Wants - Book #2
Your second book, “Candy Everybody Wants” has been described by Armistead Maupin as “a balls‐out joyride through 1980’s pop culture that enlightens as much as it exhilarates..” How much of Josh Kilmer‐Purcell is found in Jayson Blocher (the main character of the book)?
I say that “Candy” is the coming of age memoir I wish I’d lived. I was very much like the flamboyant and willful Jayson, except that I wasn’t as brave.
What inspired you to write “Candy Everybody Wants?”
Writing “I Am Not Myself These Days” was an emotional challenge. While it portrayed an exciting time in my life, it also required me to dig back to some really tough emotions. I wrote “Candy” to clear my own palate.
Is there a particular place where you do most of your writing?
Not really. I just need a chair, my computer, and several hours of no interruptions.
Brent and Josh on the back steps of their home, Beekman Mansion
I’m paging through the P.S. portion of “Candy Everybody Wants” and reading the unedited email interview with your partner, then identified simply as “B.” We now know of course that "B" is Brent. Was it a conscious decision to keep his identity concealed or did you just think it was nobody’s business?
I referred to Brent as “B” for many years when I wrote about him. He had his own career and goals, and I didn’t think it was fair to drag him into my career when I had nothing to do with his. Now that a good portion of our lives is co-mingled, there’s no need to put up that particular firewall anymore.
In the email interview, Brent was asked to describe you using just five adjectives. He used Sentimental, Compassionate, Analytical, Impatient, High-strung, and he also gave bonus adjectives of Creative Obsessive. That was in 2007. Do you believe those adjectives are still valid descriptors today?
Aww. I’d forgotten he’d said such (mostly) nice things about me. I actually think that may be the best description of me I’ve ever read.
How did you and Brent meet?
Brent and I met online in 2000. It took more than a year to really become inseparable. I don’t believe in fairy tale love stories. I believe in true bonds of friendship, generosity, and selflessness. I am lucky to have such an amazing partner in all senses.
Josh displays a large soccer-ball mushroom he and David discovered during our walk around the property in September. This mushroom became lunch.
Let’s talk about Beekman. When the idea of creating an integrated media and lifestyle company based on a mansion/farm in upstate New York was first being developed, what did you envision?
I’m not sure we had a full vision. As you can see on our website, our sort of “tagline” is: “A shared experiment in seasonal living.” That’s what we were on our first day, and that’s what we still are now. A shared experiment. People can join in and help us (and themselves) succeed and fail in real time. : )
How active are you in the operation of Beekman 1802? Do you have a particular area or responsibility?
Brent does the lion’s share of work on Beekman 1802 right now. I still work fulltime in advertising in addition to my writing. The brand is both of us, but the manifestation of it is all his.
Are you still hands-on with producing the line of soaps?
I help on the weekends when Brent needs me to. I also do the graphics and much of the photography.
Beekman Mansion in the winter.
Since you still split your time between the city and country, where are you most comfortable; on the Upper East Side or at Beekman?
Is it difficult to transition between the two places?
Hey, I’ve transitioned into a drag queen and back. City mouse to country house is a piece of cake.
Do you ever just want to run away from home?
Yes, but I can’t figure out which home to run from.
What do you do to find that work/life balance?
I whine about not finding it. Ask Brent. He’ll tell you that I’m busier complaining about being busy than I actually am being busy.
When you get stressed, what calms you?
That’s easy. Gardening. There is nothing I like better than planning, planting, weeding, and harvesting our garden. That’s my sanctuary, and what I’m most proud of. Feeding oneself is a major accomplishment in this day and age.
Josh prepares fresh radishes with butter and sea salt for a snack during our visit to the farm in May.
It was recently announced that a reality series based on your life with Brent at Beekman, “The Fabulous Beekman Boys” will begin airing in late spring 2010 on Planet Green. What was it like to have cameras and film crews ever-present during the filming?
At first it was pretty surreal. But we’ve grown used to it. We actually missed the film crew when they went home for Christmas. Having spent several holidays together with them by now, it felt odd to not have them share Christmas morning.
Will the ‘world premiere’ of the series take place at Beekman?
Well, I suppose that’s up to Discovery/Planet Green, but we certainly will have some sort of premier at the Beekman. I’d like to have it up in the hayloft and invite the whole village. They’re really the “stars” of the show. Without their help and advice, Beekman 1802 never would’ve gotten off the ground.
Dressed as William Beekman, Josh greeted those in attendance at the 2009 Harvest Festival in Sharon Springs. Nice ruffles.
In 2009, Beekman 1802 hosted “The World’s Largest, Oldest Garden Party” which came to a close with the Harvest Festival in Sharon Springs. Did the success of the event meet your expectations?
Yes! We heard from many people in the village that they had a lovely day, and that it had been a long time since Main Street had felt so “alive.” We had a blast.
Will we see another garden party and Harvest Festival in 2010?
Certainly. Brent has even bigger things cooking for this year. I was worried about whether he could pull last year off, and now I’m convinced he can’t accomplish all he has planned this year. Then again, Brent rarely fails. I never get to use my “I told you so’s.”
As I mentioned, we’re a “shared experiment in seasonal living.” Many lifestyle brands and gurus teach, preach, and lecture. We share. And we love when people share back.
Will you ever open Beekman mansion to public tours? Do people just stop by hoping to get a glimpse inside?
We’ve talked about opening up the mansion for the occasional tour. But people would probably be disappointed. We’re not a museum. We’re a home. Which means occasionally there are socks on the floor and cluttered countertops. People do drop by to see the goats in the field and we like meeting new people so that’s not a problem. I suppose if the traffic became too great we’d have to curtail that a little. We have a lot of chores to do!
You’ve been working on a book about the farm. Can you give us an inside scoop?
Yes, my third book, “The Bucolic Plague” will launch in June of 2010 from HarperCollins. It details the first two years of us owning the Beekman, and how we birthed the company. It’s really a “pre-quel” to the television series (though there was no series when I started writing it.)
What can we expect in this book?
I think people will be very surprised at the drama and challenges Brent, myself, and our relationship faced soon after we purchased the Beekman. Although we share a lot of what we do and think on our website, we don’t really speak much about our relationship. I hope people will find my reflections honest and helpful - and not exhibitionist.
What is most important to you in life?
Brent. Family. Neighbors. Earth. God.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I’ve gone from drag queen to ad guy to goat farmer. Your guess is as good as mine.
Where do you see Beekman 1802 in 5 years?
Hopefully we’ll have a huge community of like-minded people that stretches across the world. We’ll all be sharing our experiences about healthy, sustainable, fun and stylish living with each other. I’ve guess I’ve always wanted a commune. This might be the version I get.
You can stay up to date with all the happenings in and around Beekman Farm at Beekman1802.com