Film Reviews

As the documentary 'The Biggest Little Farm' begins, Molly and John Chester get evicted from their LA apartment because of Todd’s behavior. Todd, the sweet, sad-eyed dog they rescued from a hoarder, barks incessantly when the couple leave, hence the crisis. So Molly and John do the only sensible thing they can, given their promise to care for Todd.

They move to a 240 acre farm an hour north of L.A., in Moorpark, California, no matter that they don’t have the experience needed to manage the property already in severe distress from neglect and drought. This is the catalyst for wildlife documentarian John Chester to direct and narrate efforts to establish a diverse, interconnected and mutually beneficial world of over 200 difference crops, 10,000 orchard trees, and dozens of animals. What he learns from his mentor Alan York and hundreds of hours of backbreaking work plus heartbreaking problems over eight years is amazing and awe-inspiring.

In a filmmaker letter, John Chester expresses most profoundly the heart of his work and its revelations, especially for viewers who have never tended a farm. He writes, “I find the most potent mysteries of life to be those things we miss in the everyday” and, he adds, “by year five our land was revealing nature’s interconnected secrets . . .  an ecosystem that functions based on two things: consequence and impermanence. . . I wanted to give a perspective and a voice to its complexity.”

Indeed, he does. Along with John, Molly, and his workers, I suffered with their sick sow Emma who bonds with the rooster Greasy, cringed at the dozens of chickens killed by coyotes, bemoaned the thousands of snails that invade the orchards in addition to the flocks of birds that make 70% of the crop unsalable, trembled at the storms that destroyed property, and admired the sheep, cattle, and dogs so well-tended.

In a quick hour and a half, I came to admire Molly and John’s fortitude and perseverance, though I’d like to have known much more about the workers and investors who helped make their success possible. Overall, the story of Apricot Lane Farm should be both a warning and an invitation to those who want to “return to nature.”

'The Biggest Little Farm' screens at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinema.