The Biggest Little Farm, rated PG
The Biggest Little Farm is a delightful documentary from John Chester about his wife Molly’s dream to own and operate an environmentally friendly, traditional farm. Back in 2010, the Chesters lived in a small apartment in Santa Monica, California. John was a cameraman, working on documentary films, and Molly was a chef and organic food blogger. Molly had long dreamed of living on a farm and cooking what they grew on the farm. The Chesters adopted a rescue dog (Todd), but he barked all day long, resulting in complaints from neighbors, and eventually the Chesters being evicted from their apartment.
This was their opportunity to leave the urban life and buy a farm, but they had no money. They shared their vision with others, and eventually got investors, though the film does not tell us who they were or how much they funded the effort. It was enough for the Chesters to purchase and develop Apricot Lane Farms, a 200-acre farm, located in Moorpark, California, about an hour from Los Angeles.
What they found when they started to develop the farm however was that the soil was lacking in nutrients, and not conducive to building a thriving farm. They decided to hire an expert in this area, the rather eccentric, but likeable, Alan York. York told them that they needed to bring life back into the soil, with worms, cover crops, compost, etc. Then they needed to diversify what they planted on the farm, and they did, eventually ending up with about 10,000 orchard trees and over 200 different crops. The Chesters did not have any farming experience, but hired two men, one who had worked on the farm through five owners. In addition, many came to the farm to help from around the world in response to Molly’s internet pleas. Unfortunately, York, their mentor, died from cancer about halfway through their journey.
The film takes us year by year over eight years with the Chesters and the farm. We eventually see the land transformed from the dry barren farm we see in the beginning to a lush green thriving sustainable farm. In addition to Todd, we see many animals – chickens, Emma the pig and her best friend Mr. Greasy the rooster, sheep, sheep dogs, owls, etc. added to the farm, along with some unwanted animals – coyotes, snakes, starlings, gophers, etc. Interestingly, many of those animals that they believed to be hurting them, actually ended up helping them. We also see how the land is refreshed through death. Life (we see newborn piglets and sheep), coming through death is a theme in the film. Other themes are pursuing your dreams and hard work. Content concerns are minimal. We do see a number of dead animals, primarily chickens, as a result of disease and the coyotes.
We also see the Chesters deal with drought, California winds, wildfires and an 18-inch rain that washed away much of the good soil from their neighbors, but not theirs, due to their cover crops. The Chesters started out wanting to bring harmony to their lives and be in harmony with nature, and ended up in what they refer to is a comfortable disharmony with nature.
Today, Apricot Lane Farms is a successful business, supplying produce to some of Los Angeles’ finest restaurants. Their eggs sell out as soon as they are put on sale.
The documentary is beautifully filmed. For example, I enjoyed seeing close up slow-motion scenes of hummingbirds. It also includes some helpful animated sequences. The film, which includes some humor, is directed and narrated by Emmy winner John Chester (Super Soul Shorts), who wrote the film with Mark Monroe.
The Biggest Little Farm is a beautifully filmed documentary about John and Molly Chester’s environmentally friendly farm in California, and one of the best films I’ve seen this year.