The crowd-pleasing farm documentary, “ The Biggest Little Farm” is perfectly executed! It begins with our farmer, Molly, telling her husband, John, that she is not okay with staying on the farm while six major wild fires swirl around her and their small son. “There is so much to lose” are her words. The remainder of the film shows us just how much.
Jeff Beal’s music and the beautiful cinematography of wildlife photographer John Chester supports the idealistic tale of John’s and his wife Molly’s venture into old school farming. The first person narration works well as they tell the story of their rescue dog, Todd, and how his incessant, daily eight hours of barking gets the couple evicted from their Santa Monica apartment in 2010.
Molly, a chef, dreams of farming all the food she needs. With the aid of investor friends and family, the couple purchases 240 acres one hour north of Los Angeles. The clod-like soil is dead from mono-culture farming and drought. They enlist a farm guru, Alan York, as a consultant. Alan champions the highest level of biodiversity possible. First, they must burn and rip out everything that never should have been planted, set up an irrigation system, and use worm poop and cover crops to aerate and build up soil nutrients. Their first year budget is blown in six months and no crops are planted. Money is not mentioned again.
An orchard is started with seventy-five varieties of stone fruit trees. Every farm animal is acquired from bull to pig to lamb to hen. A staff is hired and expanded. Young people come to learn farming techniques along side them. Year two has the Apricot Lane Farm successfully selling fifty dozen eggs in an hour.
Interspersed with hard work we see beautiful close-ups of hummingbirds, playful animated graphics, and overhead views of nature perfectly sculpted. When problems begin, nature provides a solution. Coyotes killing 200 chickens mean they need to be moved to the orchard to eradicate the root-chewing gophers. Crows decimating tree fruit means bringing in owls. Snails in the citrus mean bringing in the ducks. Flies overwhelm the farm with maggots until the chickens eat them up. Co-existence is delicate, not forced. Year three and four have the harmonious dance partners always changing. Owls eat gophers, too.
Rare and unique varieties give the Chesters an edge in the marketplace. Tours are given. Sustainable farming tips shared.
Year five brings 18 inches of rain. The Chester’s topsoil does not float out to sea because of the cover crop and the aquifers. Year six and seven have one of the guard dogs killing hens, but the complex and diverse web of life seems to be in equilibrium.
Molly and John have a son and micro-organisms teem in the soil. The raging wildfires send smoke, but the farm survives. The Chesters become comfortable with a certain level of disharmony. A lone lamb frolics and a coyote eyes an easy meal. The guard dog barks and a lamb is returned to the fold.
Many filmgoers brought their elementary school children. Families clapped as the credits rolled. I noticed poets Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver were listed as inspiration.