The Biggest Little Farm (dir. John Chester, 2018) follows John and Molly Chester, husband and wife team, through their first eight years of starting Apricot Lane Farms in southern California. The story begins as we meet John and Molly, initially working as a wildlife cameraman and a private chef respectively, living in a small apartment in Santa Monica. Events unfold that lead to the couple rescuing a very special dog from an animal hoarder – they name him Todd, and he plays an incredible role in determining the coming fate of the young couple.
Todd the Dog
Todd becomes the foundation and impetus to change their lives entirely, leaving behind their small apartment and L.A. livelihood to begin an incredible journey to regenerate a 200-acre farm, just outside the City of Angels. It becomes clear early in the film that both John and Molly have a deep interest and curiosity for nature, healthy ingredients, holistic living, and the potential for returning to an idyllic, traditional faming method – yet very little expertise. As they decide to make this grand shift in their lives, they strike gold (literally) and manage to acquire an investor who is willing to fund the entire enterprise (the investor has remained nameless). It isn’t mentioned what kind of numbers we’re talking, but let’s be clear – this is not a small-budget operation. It’s important to note here that the sum that is made available to the pair allows them to create a massive transition and input state-of-the-art equipment from the get go, so this is not the daily life of our average farmer or aspiring farmer. In any case, the investment allows them to purchase an old, destroyed, barren farm of 200-acres, bordered by other similar industrial farms, either equally derelict or still operating mega mono-cultures.
The vision John and Molly have, however, couldn’t be farther from the farms of their neighbours. Although they start the farm in very privileged way circumstances, it does allow for entertaining watching as they shape, change, plant and overhaul huge areas; making possible radical and extreme changes at an incredibly fast rate, all while leaning on the expertise and mentorship of Alan York (1952-2014), a leading expert on traditional farming methods and biodynamic systems. Together, they believe it is possible to create a farm that works in perfect harmony with nature, where it is possible to grow and support a whole host of diverse life to produce everything from eggs, vegetables, herbs and flowers, to keeping livestock like cows, pigs, and sheep, all while supporting the outlying eco-system, harvesting carbon from the atmosphere, and improving soil conditions. It’s a radical idea. It brings out a dogged perseverance in both John and Molly, as they begin to try to improve the land they’ve inherited: rock hard and completely devoid of life.
An Adventure of Challenges
The film examines their process of creating a veritable paradise from nothing (save for quite a few pennies), through a complex (yet, somehow, quietly simple) connection of inter-species dependency that, by the end of the film, comes full circle. An emotional portrait of radical, intentional ideas and everything that can go wrong along the way: testing their ideals and resolve, throwing in challenge after challenge, before becoming a balanced, holistic, profitable (financially and otherwise) haven of wildlife.
The Biggest Little Farm is less a guidebook, more an ephemeral glance into what connects us humans to the earth, and the cornucopia of other organisms that are found along the way. Beautifully shot throughout – John’s previous life as a wildlife photographer is a huge plus in this regard – you will feel connected to pigs, puppies, lambs, nectarines, gophers, starlings, owls, and, yes, even poop, through the unique lens of this documentary. A definitively entertaining, inspiring, emphatic experience that may encourage you to drop everything and find a barren bit of land for yourself (you’ve been warned!)
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