This is the documentary you need to see if you’re thinking of leaving the city for farm life.
Take a broken-down 200-acre property that has been transformed into an incredibly lush and diverse biodynamic farm over eight years and capture it all on film and you get The Biggest Little Farm. This documentary tells the story of two newbie farmers and their rescue dog as they leave Los Angeles behind to build a farm that will work in harmony with nature in Moorpark, California. John Chester, the Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker who directed the film, and Molly Chester, a private chef and blogger, discovered that nature isn’t easily harnessed when there are coyotes, gophers, snails, windstorms and wildfires to contend with. Here are some of the biggest reasons to go and see this film, which is at times heartbreaking, funny, achingly beautiful, charming and full of surprises.
Both the farm and the film owe their existence to a dog named Todd. The Chesters rescued him from an animal hoarder and promised him that their home would be his last. But Todd was a prodigious barker when left alone, so when the inevitable notice to vacate arrived due to noise complaints, the Chesters decided to take a chance on their dream. “It changed the course of our future because we had blindly committed to an animal and weren’t willing to break that promise,” says Chester. “Our love for that dog gave us this incredibly epic and magical existence.”
“We Went Crazy”
In less than a decade, Apricot Lane Farms went from a dilapidated monocrop operation to a thriving farm with 10,000 orchard trees encompassing 75 different kinds of stone fruit, lemons, and avocados; a cornucopia of vegetables; and a boatload of animals, from pigs and sheep to horses and highland cattle. “We piled too much on from the beginning and were growing way too many things,” says Chester. “We wanted a biologically diverse ecosystem, but we went crazy.”
An Untimely Parting
The reason for such diversity rests with the agricultural ethos of Alan York, a pioneer in biodynamic growing, an integrated system that builds soil fertility through composting, animals, cover crops and crop rotation. Chester enlisted the help of York early on, and he convinced the couple to bring in an incredibly diverse mix of crops and animals to help rebuild the soil. But an untimely parting with York, just when the system he had set up needed the most attention, left the Chesters feeling angry and frustrated. In the end, it forced them to become more creative and self-reliant to overcome their challenges. “I had to respect that there was something special about this farm, and I needed to look at in a different way,” says Chester. “The problems were just things to be solved — they weren’t going to kill us or our dream.”
Working in Harmony
By year five, the system created by York had begun to show results. Nature and agriculture were working hand in hand, with a balance between predators and pests that kept both in check. Yet, even with this dynamic ecosystem chugging along, every season would see a new pest or problem crop up, says Chester. The only difference now is that the system responds faster, preventing infestations and epidemics. Beyond this, their farm remains resilient in the face of climate change, with less soil erosion, an ability to store more groundwater and higher levels of carbon in the soil than a typical farm. “I didn’t want to make a film about climate change,” says Chester. “I wanted to make a film about its consequences and living through them. It’s about the potential to unlock these ways to integrate ourselves within a system that regenerates it rather than depletes it.”
The film is released on May 10 in the United States. Here’s the trailer.