by Joan Nathan
Every once in a while, you see a gem of a documentary, one that is filmed so beautifully and takes you out of your sense of time and place. THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM is one of those gems

 Every once in a while, you see a gem of a documentary, one that is filmed so beautifully and takes  you out of your sense of time and place. THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM is one of those gems. It is the story of photographer and filmmaker John Chester and his wife food blogger Molly, who changed their lives, ostensibly, because of Todd, a dog they rescued, who couldn’t stop barking when he was left alone in their apartment. The result was they were evicted. With the help of an undisclosed investor and a mid-life time for change, they bought a neglected farm an hour north of Los Angeles in the foothills of Ventura County and, as the movie shows us in the beginning, in the wake of the fires nearby last year, they almost had to  evacuate, reminding them and us of how terrifying nature can be.
As they quickly saw the reality of dirt as hard as a rock, land stripped of its nutrients from torrential rains (when it comes), and very little knowledge of how to deal with the land, they smartly hired Alan York, a new age organic farmer. With no one else to help them, the Chesters followed his advice about bio diversity, telling them to raise and grow everything in what became their Apricot Lane Farms. The movie, produced by Laurie David (AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, FED UP), chronicles how, within 8 years, the Chesters turned the dried out land into a garden of Eden, but a garden of Eden afflicted with what every farm is afflicted as well as the real life pests and problems that go along with organic farming.
The Chesters recorded endlessly, filming the day and the night world of predators trying to kill chickens, eat fruit, and generally having a feast out of their garden. By seemingly filming 24 hours a day with a good editor, the audience is in for a physical up close breathtaking treat, seeing swarms of insects, snails, pigs being born, and a young orphaned calf who finds a new mother on his own, all part of the extraordinary bounty of nature.
Unlike so many other movies and tv shows where talking heads relentlessly barrage viewers with endless negative soundbites, THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM preaches silently by having us quietly glimpse the nature around the film, including the coyotes killing so many of their chickens and Chester having to use his rifle to kill the culprit. After killing the coyote, John said that he now looks at death differently. Sometimes nature has to do some ugly work and the earth, that will be here after we are gone, will endure for civilizations to come, overcoming climate change, fossil fuels, etc. to have a natural healthy ecosystem.
As taken as I was with THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM, it almost inspired me to start a farm but I think I will stick to my garden…enough work for me.

John and Molly jump for joy in ther gardens

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(The videos above are not from the film but from the Apricot Lane Farms website where you can view many other short films and photos as well as get recipes and learn more about the project and how to get involved.)
joan-nathan.jpgJOAN NATHAN has been called the “doyenne of Jewish American food,” A regular contributor to The New York Times and Tablet Magazine, she is the author of eleven cookbooks including her latest work, King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World. Joan’s books include the much-acclaimed Jewish Cooking in America, winner of both the James Beard Award and the IACP/Julia Child Cookbook of the Year Award, and An American Folklife Cookbook, winner of the R. T. French Tastemaker Award. An inductee to the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage, she has also received the Silver Spoon Award from Food Arts magazine. The New American Cooking won the James Beard and IACP awards for the best American cookbook published in 2005. The New American Cooking explores the many innovators and changes that have influenced American food over the past 40 years. Ms. Nathan established her career by studying ethnic cuisines, primarily Jewish food, and by tracing families—and the foods they prepared—to their roots of the food in the Middle East.

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 3.05.26 PM.pngMs. Nathan’s PBS television series, Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan (you can watch them here) was nominated in 2000 for the James Beard Award for Best National Television Food Show. She was also senior producer of Passover: Traditions of Freedom, an award-winning documentary sponsored by Maryland Public Television.

Joan was born in Providence, Rhode Island. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree in French literature and earned a master’s in public administration from Harvard University. For three years she lived in Jerusalem, where she worked for Mayor Teddy Kollek. In 1974, while working for New York City Mayor Abraham Beame, she co-founded the Ninth Avenue Food Festival. The mother of three grown children, Ms. Nathan lives with her husband, attorney Allan Gerson, in Washington, D.C., and in Martha’s Vineyard.

Her website has recipes and more including information about the wonderful cookbooks that have lots of great food you can prepare, mixed with fascinating stories about foods and their history and traditions.
Read Gaetano Kazuo Maida’s review of THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM and recipes from Molly Chester on EatDrinkFilms. Each is rich with photos, videos and fun links.

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