In a long-ago published interview (I think it was in an Ebony magazine I was reading in the dentist’s office), I remember Eartha Kitt being quoted as saying:
“I trust the dirt. I don’t trust diamonds and gold.”
As a kid growing up in North Carolina, who most assuredly had dirt beneath his fingernails at the time, this was a profound (and profoundly crazy) statement, which is, I suppose, why it stuck with me all of these years.
Of course, almost as soon as it was humanly possible, I fled the red clay environs of my childhood for the smooth, hard asphalt of New York City…in the pursuit of diamonds and gold.
By most people’s account, I found them. I had a good job and a de-luxe apartment on the Upper East Side– just like the Jeffersons (!) I went to some pretty great parties and had some conversations with some famous people (They’re just like US!!)
But after a while, you learn that many of the diamonds are zirconian and a lot of the gold is just left over brass from one of Donald Trump’s construction projects.
Josh and I cashed in every last stock we owned and scraped the bottom of our savings barrel and purchased The Beekman Farm. At the time, it was a cute diversion from our life in the city. We adopted a herd of goats (and a farmer), plucked eggs fresh from the chicken coop, planted a garden with heirloom vegetables, learned to can, jam, preserve and freeze, and even learned to make our own soap and cheese.
That first summer on the farm, the garden was so successful that our weekly grocery bill was reduced to $30 (including the necessary paper-based products). We were in the best shape of our lives and our skin was perfectly sun-kissed, albeit in a distinctive farmer’s tan pattern.
Of course, our friends thought we were kind of crazy. Why did we spend every weekend working from sun up ‘til sun down? Why had we become so fascinated by the differences between cow, goat and rabbit manure? And why would we exile ourselves so far away from the Hamptons?
In the fall of ’08, as the markets entered the beginning stages of their global meltdown, we were sitting in the kitchen of the farm canning the last of the tomatoes and listening to NPR when a conversation with Eartha Kitt came on. She talked about the early part of her career when she was just starting “to make it”. In her first home in Beverly Hills, she installed a chicken coop in the backyard and referred to herself as a “dirt girl”.
And with that it became clear. We are dirt people, too.
Like Eartha at the start of her career, when we started Beekman 1802, we were a novelty act.
These days we have plenty of friends who want to learn about life on the farm, about gardening and about $30 a week grocery bills and whose dream we are living right before their very eyes.
As we struggle to grow our farm, work with members of our community to grow our village and create a better life for everyone around, some might say that we are still chasing gold.
One thing remains true. That gold is the “black” kind. It’s the glacial kind. The kind that made Schoharie County, NY, “the breadbasket of the American Revolution”. The kind from which springs infinite possibilities for growth.
The kind that gets under your nails and stays there.