The Biggest Little Farm | Docs/ology

The Biggest Little Farm

Director: John Chester

Runtime: 91 minutes

Nature documentaries are usually about remote places and exotic plants and animals, but imagine if a nature photographer focused his camera on a farm instead. That’s The Biggest Little Farm, a documentary by and about John Chester and his wife Molly and the two-hundred acre, completely organic and biodynamic farm they start in Southern California. They name their farm Apricot Lane Farms after the decrepit orchard they find on the land when they arrive. Running a farm was a life-long dream for Molly, and when an incident with their dog forces them to find new living arrangements instead of the small L.A. apartment where they were living, the Chester’s take the opportunity to pursue the dream. They make a plan, find some investors, and get a lot of help from a natural farming guru named Alan York. The film documents the ups and downs of the first eight years of the farm’s life.

After a quick, tension establishing prologue in which Southern California wildfires threaten the farm, John Chester narrates the story chronologically, to show how each new animal and vegetable addition contributes to or subtracts from its overall health. Because Apricot Lane Farms is meant to be biodynamic and organic, the Chesters must learn the natural rhythms of their ecosystem and find ways to balance cultivation and wildlife on the farm. Things do not go smoothly. It seems that every agricultural success causes a new problem without a natural solution, and the Chesters are always fighting the urge to adopt the easy path of using pesticides and guns to kill off the invading pests.

While the story of their journey is told chronologically, it is oriented around distinct micro-dramas. Each could have their own title -– “The Plague of Snails,” “The Chicken Murders,” “Emma the Ambulatory Sow,” etc. And although they each contribute to the larger whole, sometimes a problem in one area of the farm ends up being a solution to another someplace else. It is endlessly fascinating to watch the Chesters figure out all these little agronomic mysteries.

Enveloping all of this is some of the most beautiful pastoral images you’ll ever see in a film. The dew on the fields and orchards appears to drip off the screen. You can almost smell the musty loam when John or Molly reach their hands into the earth to check the soil. John captures hawks and gopher snakes and coyotes hunting. He pays special attention to the hummingbirds and flycatchers that build nests in his trees, catching even the way the sunlight makes some of their feathers shine. And he uses the same skill in photographing the lambs and the piglets and the chicks and ducklings as well – so in addition to being a compelling story of biodiversity and ecological balance, The Biggest Little Farm is a children’s storybook come to life. And while it is truthful about the difficulty of farming, it is ultimately idealistic and hopeful that a holistic way of living with the natural world is possible if we’re willing to work at it.

Written by- Elijah Davidson