Nine years ago in 2010, Molly and John Chester were living in a cramped apartment in Santa Monica. Molly was a private chef who specialized in filming how to make healthy recipes for a food blog, while John was a cameraman who specialized in environmental documentary shoots.
They were forced into making a complete lifestyle change when they adopted a rescue dog named Todd from an animal shelter and the canine wouldn’t stop barking loudly whenever they left him alone at home. With Molly having dreamed her entire life of owning a farm, they put the word out among their friends and family in search of investors who could help them buy a 200-acre plot of land and transform it into an eco-friendly, bio-diverse farm that would stand in stark contrast to the impersonal and industrialized “factory farms” that dominate today’s agricultural industry.
The couple has improbably succeeded in turning a big chunk of dried out wasteland into a veritable Garden of Eden whose beauty is stunning to behold. Even more improbably, they managed to painstakingly film that transformation, along with the dramatic struggles they faced and overcame along the way, and have turned it into the new documentary “The Biggest Little Farm.”
“Biggest” opens starkly with the grave threat of Ventura County wildfires looming over the horizon of the farm as John and Molly pack their most prized possessions and ensure their hundreds of animals are safely evacuated as well. From that cliffhanger opening, in which we’re left to wonder if their farm survives or burned down for naught, the film takes us to their former lives in Santa Monica and the dramatic decision to start anew amid the great outdoors.
They manage to secure major yet unspecified funding and embark on the adventure of a lifetime, relying on a natural-farming expert named Allan to show them the way to bringing the dead soil to life. He impresses on them the importance of trusting nature to solve all the problems if they rely on other forms of nature to do the work.
Their goal is to turn their Apricot Lane Farm into a “fruit basket,” growing over 70 forms of fruits and vegetables for sale in addition to allowing chickens and other animals to thrive in a free-range setting that in turn spurs rapid-fire sales of their eggs in local markets. Yet for every victory they make while learning how to raise pigs, goats, sheep, cattle, horses, Guinea hens and more, they also have to contend with wild coyotes attacking their chicken pens and the vagaries of dealing with the wild side of nature, where bugs and birds render thousands of fruits at a time worthless through their pecking.
They are helped along the way not only by Allan and a pair of experienced Latino men who have worked on the farm for decades before the Chesters, but by an idealistic crew of twentysomethings who come from around the globe to have a meaningful job that can make them one with nature. As they manage to make their land thrive in utterly gorgeous fashion over the course of eight years, John Chester and his crew find astonishingly beautiful and detailed examples of how the natural ecosystem is constantly adapting and replenishing itself amid floods, droughts and massive windstorms, always returning to a balanced success.
It’s nothing short of miraculous that Chester and his incredible crew managed to film all of these highly detailed changes while facing the challenges of actually running the farm and learning to make it thrive from nothing. This is a film that spotlights not only the rewards of hard work but also the all too forgotten meaning of respecting the wonders of creation both on the ground, beneath the soil and in the gorgeous night skies above.
Best of all, “Farm” teaches audiences all of these things while completely avoiding any heavy-handed, politicized speeches that could divide or even turn off potential viewers. It’s a deeply humane and simple story first, one that doesn’t explicitly mention God either, yet is so beautiful it’s impossible to not thank the divine for supplying its inspiration.
“The Biggest Little Farm”: A