Have you ever dreamed of leaving the city and living off the land, growing your own crops and gathering your own eggs? John and Molly Chester had that fantasy when they lived in a Santa Monica apartment that boasted only a porch garden. Then they actually purchased a 200 acre orchard called Apricot Lane Farms. The acres are located in Moorpark, in Ventura County, a community of approximately 35,000 people one hour north of Santa Monica.
Developing a Dream Farm
The couple were ready to create their “dream” farm. Since John is a filmmaker by trade, he documented their unpredictable development of Apricot Lane Farms from its inception. The result is the documentary The Biggest Little Farm. You learn from their experience that although farmers will encounter obstacles and setbacks, they can stand back, adapt, and persevere.
In developing their plan for the farm, the couple enlisted the help of the late visionary Alan York, who they describe as one of the world’s most respected soil, plant, and biodynamic consultants. He envisioned a biodiverse farm for the Apricot Lane property and helped them to slowly create a natural ecosystem – during California’s record drought. Besides York, the Chesters also had the help of investors, two farmhands, and like-minded farm assistants found over the internet.
Love and Loss on the Little Farm
To say the least, their plan was ambitious. Right away, they ripped out 55 acres of old lemon and avocado trees, built a state-of-the-art compost facility, reactivated a defunct well, fixed five miles of irrigation, and restored an old pond. The couple went through their first-year budget in six months without planting a single crop.
The Biggest Little Farm takes us through the machinations of developing and maintaining this farm. We follow the planting of acres of crops (10,000 orchard trees and over 200 different types of edible plants) and the purchase and breeding of a variety of livestock including chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep, cows, and bulls. We sympathize with every setback and cheer along every achievement. More than anything, the film makes it plausible and achievable that even dedicated former city dwellers can learn to live in a harmonious relationship with the land.
This harmonious relationship comes with delight as well as challenges. The film captures the indescribable cuteness of farm animals, as well as how John grapples with the very real reality of putting down animals on a farm. We marvel as he delivers 17 piglets at once. And we agonize with the couple as they suffer both the loss of crops due to infestations and the loss of chickens from coyotes and other predators.
Transformation after Toil
We are astounded by the transformation of barren “somewhat neglected” land into fertile rich orchards after eight years of toil. Tension is established early on by possible devastation from encroaching Ventura wildfires. Will these novice farmers lose the land they have magically made come to life? Is luck on their side or not? Their journey is worth the ride. Always interesting, inspiring, thought provoking, and, well, beautiful.
Fall in Love with the Farm
John Chester’s experience in TV and documentary direction shows in the excellent nature cinematography, seamless editing, and concise voiceover. The combined result paints a visual story that makes us all fall in love with this little farm.