by Gaetano Kazuo Maida
You might try to resist THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM, a feast of food porn and farming, but just go with it, trust me. It’s a dramatic, studio-class production, with sophisticated nature cinematography, lots of cute animals, bucolic landscapes, idiosyncratic characters, some clever animation, and a Hollywood score, but there’s an intimate autobiographical story here that expands into a naturally philosophical observational film.
It opens with dramatic and emotional footage of a wild fire, but that’s not really the beginning. A married couple, nature cinematographer John Chester and his organic chef/food vlogger wife, Molly, rescue a dog, Todd, from being euthanized, but Todd is an all-day barker and they get evicted from their LA apartment.
They’ve always dreamed of having a farm, so of course they somehow raise the funding, buy a 200+ acre farm in Ventura county, hire an organic farming consultant, Alan, and head off to a new life… what could go wrong?
Their dream, and Alan’s vision, for a diversified and sustainable organic farm, is in stark contrast with the neighboring industrial-scale mono crop affairs. And their land is exhausted, desiccated, overgrown, and initially unresponsive.
With no hint of the scale of investment involved, they proceed to totally overhaul the farm, removing as much as they plant, reshaping the land with crops and livestock (and a lot of elbow grease).Inevitably there are challenges: disasters like predation of their animals, illnesses, ewes lost in lambing, birds gorging on the fruit, algae blooms on the irrigation ponds, gophers eating the roots in the orchards, tornado-scale winds, aphids, snails, a millennial drought… as John’s voiceover puts it, there’s a “slow disillusionment of our earnest intent… our good intent towards nature won’t shield us from its impermanence.”
But John also says, “observation followed by creativity is becoming our biggest ally,” and then, over time, things start to gel. The film is an eight year project, and “Alan told us by the 7th year we would no longer be alone in our farming, and he was right.” Raptors, snakes, weasels, badgers, coyotes, even their own maturing dogs, all begin to play their parts in the ecosystem, and Apricot Lane Farms is now a thriving enterprise.THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM yields a profound ecological lesson: diversity and intelligent planning can support a sustainable agriculture, an equilibrium. “If the whole thing from the beginning was to live in harmony with nature, well, we made it this far with a comfortable level of disharmony… the ecosystem of our entire planet works the same way.”
From the inspiration of Todd the rescue dog to the birth of a son—“someone else to be brave for”—“the question of who saved who was no longer a mystery.” This could be seen as a glorified promo for their commercial farm activities (and it’s that too, check it out: Apricot Farms), but it’s ultimately irresistible, heart-warming, inspiring… almost too good to be true. There’s a farm dream in most of us urbanites at one point in our lives, and this is a vicarious way to indulge it, or even perhaps, incentive to finally pursue it.
THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM, after an inspirational film festival tour and strong openings in New York and Los Angeles, starts showing around the U.S. on Friday, May 17.
Director/filmmaker John Chester will be doing Q&As in the San Francisco area.
Friday, May 17 – Angelika Film Center, New York following the 7pm show.
Friday, May 17 – Alamo Draft House Cinema, Brooklyn after the 8pm show.
Enjoy recipes from Apricot Lanes Farms on EatDrinkFilms.
THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM Film Website-Everything you want to know about the movie and where to see it.
Facebook -The best way to keep up on current activities
Apricot Farms website– All about the farm, the people who work there, recipes, videos, getting involved and more.
Molly Chester’s Organic Spark blog is filled with wisdom, recipes and videos including some Ophrah Super Soul Sunday videos.
John Chester’s website will inform you about John’s various projects, past and present.
Gaetano Kazuo Maida is a media professional and strategic planner. He has both owned as well as consulted for restaurants and opened a tea shop. He was a founding director of the Buddhist quarterly Tricycle, and producer/director of several films including Peace Is Every Step, a film profile of Vietnamese Zen teacher/activist Thich Nhat Hanh, narrated by Ben Kingsley. Among his other films as director and/or producer are The Simple Life, On the Luce, Rock Soup, Milarepa, and Touching Peace.
He is currently executive director of the nonprofit Tea Arts Institute and Buddhist Film Foundation and presenting The 2017 Buddhist Film Festival in Los Angeles and San Rafael this summer. The complete schedules are here.