Huffpost Books
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Annie Spiegelman Headshot

A Book About Escaping to Upstate N.Y. Is Just Like Walden, Only Campier!

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

2010-11-12-FINALBucolicPlaguecoverimage.jpg

Can a chic, overachieving doctor and a successful Manhattan advertising executive leave the Big Apple and survive on a historic farm in upstate New York? I doubt it, especially since most New Yorkers think Central Park is the vast wilderness... What knuckleheads would think they could actually survive in a mansion built in 1802, with a herd of 88 goats, a flock or two of chickens, a couple of barn cats and bunnies, a large legendary heirloom kitchen garden and a brand-spanking-new business selling handmade goat-milk soap? Did I mention they're gay and that one is an ex-drag queen?

In The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers, Josh Kilmer-Purcell superbly documents his courageous, harebrained idea of leaving his grandiose job at a Madison Avenue advertising agency to become a goat farmer. With the help of his partner, Brent Ridge, known to fans as Dr. Brent on The Martha Stewart Show, they pack up their big city belongings from their small city apartment and a good chunk of their savings account to live the so-called bucolic life on the farm. The farmers, and I use the word very loosely, found the mansion while on their annual trip upstate to an apple orchard in Sharon Springs, New York; a small town packed with charm that has now found its happy place on the map. (Planet Green began filming a show about the farm and its new owners, entitled The Fabulous Beekman Boys, in 2009.)

From page one of the prologue, where Josh writes, "The last time I saw 4 A.M., I was tottering home in high heels and a matted wig sipping from the tiny bottles of Absolut I always kept in my bag for emergencies. Emergencies like last call. Now, a little more than a decade later, I'm digging through the backpack I've propped on the front fender of my pickup truck, counting baby bottles of fresh milk (for goats)," you will be hooked. This Bucolic Plague is laugh out loud funny; especially for New Yorkers, like yours truly, who have a challenging time believing in "nature." We secretly dream of a saner, quieter, greener place to call home but if we accidentally bump into a spider, earthworm or honeybee, it's game over. Back to the stinky subway and cranky Park Avenue jackanapes giving us dirty looks because we're walking too slow. Instead, the Fabulous Beekman Boys rise each morning to a chorus of roosters doing the standard Cock-a-doodle-doo. Only now, according to the author, it sounds like "Here comes the Bride," "Papa don't Preach" and "It had to be You" combined.

The prologue continues with a hilarious recap of Josh driving five belching baby goats in the backseat of his pickup truck across the George Washington Bridge to downtown Manhattan for their daytime television debut on The Martha Stewart Show.

"It'd been years since I'd purchased a car... And I certainly never purchased a pickup truck before," writes Kilmer-Purcell. "Everything I knew about trucks could fit on a lesbian's pinkie finger. But as new farmers, I reckoned that we would need one, as well as begin "reckoning" rather than merely thinking." And later in the book Kilmer-Purcell, under great duress, offers to help out at Martha's Fourth of July party and ponders the proper way to chop celery. "How big? Diced? Chopped? Do I string it first? Didn't I see her string celery on a Thanksgiving special once? Do I cut straight across? Or on an angle? Which angle? Forty-five degrees? Twenty-degrees? A slight but decorative slant? ... Is the proper way to slit one's wrist across the veins or along the veins? Can I die without getting any bloodstains on Martha's spotless kitchen floor?"

The accounts about the not-so-serene life in the country keep on coming. The emotional ups-and-downs of a couple who have taken on the enormous responsibility of owning not only a farm, but a historic mansion are chronicled throughout the book along with the struggles of changing careers, starting a new business and miraculously finding the time to build fifty raised beds to grow a victory garden at the site of the mansion's historic kitchen garden. I give the The Beekman Boys permission to kvetch. It's nonstop cultivating. Somebody needs to needs to tell Mother Nature to chill the hell out!

2010-11-12-frontporch_1.jpg

In between the adventures of the goats, ghosts, cats, zombie flies, cabaret roosters and turkeys are tasty nuggets detailing Martha's peony party, the filming of their failed "sizzle tape" for TV, the cast of characters working on the farm or up the hill or down yonder or at the local inn where the flamboyant, kilt-wearing innkeepers of the American Hotel dress in footie, fuzzy pajamas on Christmas Eve to read holiday stories to their guests.

"O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum . . . "

What's the take home message? That gay gentlemen farmers are the bomb!

COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!

Visit www.beekman1802.com for frequent farm updates, stunning countryside, plant and food photographs, various home & garden how-to articles and of course, to order your Beekman 1802 goat-milk soap. Visit www.Planetgreen.com to find the channel listings in your area.

Visit Annie and join the Dirt Diva Royal Horticultural Society at www.dirtdiva.com