Planet Green’s new series, “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” chronicles the adventures of Dr. Brent Ridge, a former Martha Stewart Omnimedia VP, and his partner Josh Kilmer-Purcell, author of The Bucolic Plague, as they harvest crops, make soap and cheese, and work on their 19th century mansion in Sharon Springs, N.Y.
But if you’re tempted to think that a show about former Manhattanites-turned-gentlemen farmers is some kind of contemporary farm version of the screwball comedy The Money Pit, think again. A few weeks ago, for instance, the Beekman Boys wrote an email to friends who receive their newsletter, alerting watchers to the difficult topic they’d be covering in their next episode, called “Bringing Home the Bacon,” about animal harvesting. “We feel that it would be irresponsible to you, and to other small farmers across America, to portray The Beekman as nothing more than a televised petting zoo,” their letter said. “Every living thing on the farm has a job to do….We and Farmer John have the biggest job of all – to be sure that all of our animals are cared for in the most comfortable, happy, and safe environment possible.” The letter also urged readers to visit the Humane Farm Animal Care website and discuss animal harvesting with kids.
After the episode aired, we checked in with Dr. Brent to talk about life on the farm:
RP: Your television show recently dealt with animal harvesting. Did you have reservations about showing this part of farm life on TV?
Dr. Brent: Josh and I raise or grow about 80 percent of the food that we consume. We are no vegetarians and we just feel more comfortable committing ourselves to only consuming meat that we raised ourselves that we know was treated in a kind and humane way throughout its life.
People grossly undervalue food in terms of the toil and the sacrifice that is made to get it onto our plates.
RP: What kind of planning did you do to make sure you handled "Bringing Home the Bacon" in a way that didn't sugarcoat farm life - but also didn't work to turn viewers off to eating meat?
Dr. Brent: We sent out a warning to our entire viewership mailing list and posted warnings prior the airing. We also worked with Planet Green and with experts in the field of humane and ethical farming to create a fair and balanced discussion where all participants felt comfortable expressing their opinions.
We were not advocating for omnivores or for vegetarians, we were merely showing our personal feelings on understanding where our food comes from. We would be thrilled if people who saw the show became vegetarian if that meant that fewer animals would be so viciously pumped through the standard food supply chain.
RP: You've said that all the animals at the Beekman farm have a job to do. Can you describe why this chain of command is important in operating a farm responsibly?
Dr. Brent: Farming is a business, and for any business to be successful you have to monitor the ins and the outs and the productivity of every component. We do not think it is financially prudent to take on livestock that don't play a role in the functioning of the farm. We have enough mouths to feed. Having extra animals to care for just means that every animal receives a little less attention than it otherwise would.
RP: How has becoming farmers changed your lives personally? Any fundamental life lessons that non-farmers can take away from your experience?
Dr. Brent: We have much more appreciation for the work that other farmers, our neighbors, do. Until you've spent a couple of hours picking and shelling peas in 90 degree weather just to have enough for a couple of servings on your plate, you really have no concept of what it takes to feed the average American. It certainly makes us more willing to pay a premium for products that we know are produced in a manner that respects everyone involved in the process
RP: How can people help make changes in both humane animal harvesting and responsible farming? Is it all about voting with your wallet?
Dr. Brent: We realize that starting a farm is not within the reach or even the ambition of the majority of people, so I think it really does come down to support for local agriculture and a willingness to pay for it. I've heard someone say before, and it is worth repeating, that food in America is cheap because we are not really paying for it.