iReport – The Fabulous Beekman Boys: What has growing your own food taught you about life?
March 23rd, 2011
01:30 AM ET
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When Josh Kilmer-Purcell and his longtime partner Dr. Brent Ridge stumbled across a 19-century mansion for sale in the tiny, upstate New York village of Sharon Springs during an apple picking trip, little did they know they'd lay down roots.

Josh, a New York Times bestselling author, ad executive and former drag queen and Brent, a former VP of Healthy Living for Martha Stewart, spent the next several years transforming the Beekman Mansion's mostly abandoned barn and surrounding acres into the sustainable, working farm that now fuels their burgeoning goat soap and cheese brands at Beekman 1802. It also serves as the core of their reality show, The Fabulous Beekman Boys and Josh's memoir 'The Bucolic Plague'.

As the pair connected with the land, establishing their heirloom vegetable garden and learning to grow nearly everything they ate, they realized they had also planted the seeds of self-discovery.

Josh and Brent asked iReporters, "What can growing your own food teach you about life? Maybe you learned about survival of the fittest while thinning carrot seedlings. Or perhaps did your grandmother share the family secrets while canning fresh tomatoes?"

Read Notes from Zone 6b – growing glasswort and sorghum in a Brooklyn basement

iReporter Eric Sundman sees what it means for a healthy, informed future.

"It brings imagination to reality. From sandwiches to alcoholic beverages, anything in reason can become a masterpiece or the next big thing. Also you can get the same or more vitamins and or medical remedies from fruits and veggies grown in a garden, than a bottle of pills from ... whatever pharmacy you frequent. With enough knowledge of course."

"I am still learning about the many benefits of food. Especially when cooking is a real good stress reliever for me. I can cook and feel better [knowing] that I was productive and didn't have to buy ramen or pizza like most of the college students my age. I love to cook and hope to teach my children the benefits of cooking rather than buy, McDonalds, TV dinners and pills."

"I want to learn more so I can learn from my children and so I can teach them a trick or two to have a happier and healthier life."

Lee Gunderson of Calgary, who iReports as Kalalau123 puts it simply: "Food IS life."

Of gardening, he says:

"I was raised on a farm and taught how to garden by my grandmother, a pioneer, and learned all her gardening secrets in the 1950's in Northern Alberta where what we grew each summer sustained us all winter. If the garden failed, we would not eat."

"Tended daily it returns the love it is given in endless bounty. The food is superb and fresh. Watered only with rain water and screened with nets to protect from birds, it flourishes."

"However, the odd time a hungry wanderer passes by and helps himself. But is that what life is not all about? Sharing with the needy? And we have more than we need."

And commenter Merlie has learned a thing or two about self-reliance.

"My mother is a big gardener so I grew up around gardens, and I recently moved 'home' as she is elderly and the caretaker of a disabled sibling. SO – I also help out with the garden, mostly with harvest and prep of food for canning and freezing."

"She, (we) can tomatoes, beans, pickles, applesauce, carrots and fruit juice. Beets and some tomatoes are frozen. Raspberries and cherries are frozen. Potatoes, cabbage, peas, radishes, broccoli, kohlrabi and leafy stuff is eaten fresh in mass quantities in season. Potatoes, onions, squash and garlic are stored as long as they last."

"City girl I may be – but in the event of the destruction of civilization I'll be able to buy survival with the gardening and preservation skills that my wanna-be farmer mother taught me."

Get started on a garden of your own and let us know what you learn either via iReport or the comments below. And join the Fabulous Beekman Boys as they team up with Williams-Sonoma to create the world’s largest "community" garden.

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. liam1234

    Please check, a really good green products website for you.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  2. Greg

    We've watched every episode, was a funny show.

    March 26, 2011 at 3:47 am |
  3. Shirley U Jest

    gag me with an organic spoon.

    March 23, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  4. laughing

    "a former drag queen and a former VP for Martha Stewart" Does anyone else find that hilarious?

    March 23, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  5. The South Rules

    "... in Northern Alberta where what we grew each summer sustained us all winter." So how long was your growing season in Northern Alberta, 3 months?

    March 23, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Suz

      I don't think it's necessarily how long the growing season, but rather how much land they had to grow on. Three months with a big plot of land makes a decent amount of produce that can be canned, frozen, dried, etc.

      March 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • John

      True that it's generally colder as you go north, but the summer days are very long too. Some of the finest vine vegetables (like squash) are grown in Alaska, where the sun virtually doesn't set in the summer. 3 months of near 24 hour daylight can grow surprising plants.

      March 23, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  6. Suz

    I am a rank amateur when it comes to gardening, but I still give it a whirl every year, mostly learning through trial-and-error and taking advice of the mother figures in my life who have much greener thumbs than I! It's fascinating to pick the brains of older individuals to learn what they learned and hear their stories.

    With me, gardening has had varying degrees of success over the years (last year was terrible – no rain!!) – but gardening itself is always, always rewarding in that it never fails to teach me new things. The added benefit of getting me outside and active is a bonus; plus, no produce tastes as good as when it's garden-to-table. (Especially pesto made with fresh basil – my mouth waters just thinking about it.)

    If you are even considering a garden – do it! Even if you live in an apartment and have a patio, start with some herbs and/or tomatoes in flower pots. You will not be disappointed!

    March 23, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  7. Delia

    I joined the Williams-Sonoma/Beekman1802 community garden & am trying to grow with seeds for the first time ever! (Usually buy small plants at the nursery.) Now I feel like a real gardener! Can't wait to weigh my bounty with all the other "Beek Geeks" and Williams-Sonoma fans at the end of our growing season!

    March 23, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  8. susanstexasgarden

    Okay, so Alice Waters I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, I think the woman is a Goddess. But I don’t live in beautiful Northern California; have a few acres of land and a restaurant. Not to mention several published books… Instead of dreaming about a small farm and small restaurant, neither of which I can afford, I have to make do. Let’s look at my skills.
    This is what I do have:
    1. Plenty of time, (thanks to the wonderful recession I am a product of the Dustbowl Layoff of 2010).
    2. I am a damn good cook, and am a huge advocate for healthy, unique food.
    3. I have a backyard, which has dirt. Nice dirt. More on that later.
    4. I have a degree in Biochemistry. In fact two of ‘em.
    5. I like to write.
    Using skills #3 and #4 I built 4 raised bed vegetable gardens in my backyard. The grand scheme is to have about 12, but 2 large and 2 small seems to be a good place to start. I looked on the internet and found directions on building them, ( took the dimensions down to my friendly lumber/garden store and had the lumber cut to the Internet’s specifics. Since I had never built anything in my life, my dear Husband gave me a quick lesson in using the drill thing and ta da! Four beds were built. A few snafus here and there, but eventually I had 4 nice beds. Next, I drove out to the country of Mansfield, Texas and purchased 200lbs of the best dirt/compost mixture I could afford. Do let me share with you, that the day I unloaded all that dirt into my newly built beds was quite a day. I am sure I hurt every single muscle in my body. But, in the end, said dirt was in newly built garden.

    Okay. This was September in Texas, so time for the first experimental winter garden. Since it was so late in the year my plan to grow everything from seeds wasn’t going to happen, so just this one time I bought seedlings. Planted spinach, collard greens, various lettuces, bok choy, garlic, beets, turnips, carrots and radishes. I still have some wonderful collard greens (recipe if you would like), garlic and spinach survived the winter and are thriving in the spring garden and I pulled the last of the beets and turnips last December. As for the carrots and radishes, which I did plant with seed, well, my lesson here is that you HAVE to thin them. I hated the idea of pulling up little plants that I worked so hard to grow, but root veggies wont’ grow if they are crowded. Pull them up. Just do it. Eat the micro greens in a salad and you will feel less guilty.
    So, now it’s spring and my goal is to grow everything from seed. Except for the vegetables I happen to purchase from the grocery store that still have a few roots on it. Plant them, they grow!

    Check out my new garden blog

    March 23, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  9. Scott Southerland

    Growing your own food is not that hard, it's about taking the time to ask questions, lime your garden space during late winter, cut he ground in spring and plant your see. Buy some plants from hot house grower as this will lessen wait time for certain types of food such as regular size tomatoes, bell peppers, egg plant, use seed for watermelon, cantaloupe, okra, corn, any types of beans (they grow very all and easily), Don't overwater you garden, even when really hot, let the roots dig for water (makes the plants grow strong) water every 4 days during really hot weather. Use 10.10.10 fertilizer before strong rains every 6 weeks(remember, you limed your garden in late winter, you will not burn the plants) despite what some say, water at night during really hot dry periods, this gives the soil time to let the water sink in. Mold will not grow as the plants quickly dry during drought/dry periods. If it rains a lot, no need to water. yellow crook neck squash and zucchini grow very easy in hot weather, just use seed. Good luck to all! Cut the grocery chain stores off as much as possible to force food price reform!

    March 23, 2011 at 9:33 am |
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