John Chester chronicles his life with wife Molly and Todd, the dog they adopted, as they acquire Apricot Lane Farms in Moorpark, California, and struggle to get it up and running. Their hope is for the farm to run in harmony with nature, “like something out of a children’s book”, and across eight years they realise that dream by planting 10,000 orchard trees and over 200 different crops, as well as bringing in animals of every kind. It’s a daunting tasks with problems constantly arising.
In many ways, ‘The Biggest Little Farm’ is a simple Hollywood fable about triumph over adversity as John and Molly utterly transform 200 acres of land which is deplete of nutrients and suffering from drought. The doc is simple and sweet, imbuing a sense of wonder at the diversity of nature it portrays. You really want John and Molly to accomplish this dream, which is for the greater good as well as so personal.
The couple develop Apricot Lane into an incredibly biodiverse environment with every animal type and crop. It’s a delicate balance with various circles of life, everything from gophers to aphids have a purpose. As well as the farm animals, owls, hawks, snakes, weasels and badgers arrive from outside to fulfil their part in balancing the ecosystem. Though Chester is hesitant about the realities of accomplishing harmony, he comes to see its many advantages. Issues arise too, particularly to do with pests as an overwhelming number of snails devastate the fruit. He struggles especially when wild coyotes go after his ducks and hens – he doesn’t want to shoot the creatures as he is certain they too have their place in this natural cyclical environment.
The feature is heart-warming and full of tender, funny moments, for example, when a pig gives birth to almost twenty piglets. Elsewhere an egg within another egg amuses all, and the friendship struck between Emma the pig and Greasy the rooster is just the cutest. To assure healthy soil, they need excrement so be prepared for lots of poop talk, but there’s sadness mixed in too, for example when animals get sick or killed, or have to be put down. There is death, yes, but also life and Chester insists life emerges from death as micronutrients return to the soil and the circle of life continues.
The beautiful shots of nature recall David Attenborough and BBC nature documentaries. There’s so much wildlife to be in awe of, from the birds and insects to the animals. ‘The Biggest Little Farm’ educates and enlightens as well as entertains adults as much as kids. It doesn’t quite have a vegan agenda, but it conveys a strong message about having respect and responsibility for the lives and environments that surround us.