James C. Clay // Film
THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM
THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM has its heart in the right place. The director, narrator and subject of the film, John Chester, puts his idealized version of the way we consume food into practice with a dream project of owning a farm north of Los Angeles with his wife Molly. The film, more or less, is a commercial for Apricot Farms, which teeters on the annoying side; however, once the whole trend of farm to table living is dropped and the real-life struggles Chester faces in the film become front and center, it touches upon a universal truth that extinguishes the romance in service of a more grounded story.
As Chester narrates his story, we are taken to the beginning when Jon was a cinematographer and lived in Los Angeles with his wife Molly, who worked as a personal chef. As their family grew (when they adopted their dog, Todd), they became weary of city life and wanted more space and searched for a way to make an impact on their community. With little farming experience and no money to start their dream, the couple embark on a seven-year journey full of hardships that seem endless.
Like most environmental documentaries, there is an alarmist take that can bore viewers rather quickly, but what Chester is able to infuse into his work is a story that transcends the environmentalist cause and is elevated into a human story. THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM isn’t here to indoctrinate its audience, but rather present a philosophy via Jon’s voiceover that’s inspiring, if not a bit daunting at times. The biodiverse agriculture is meant to be sustained by patience, love and understanding, but like anything in life, mother nature has different plans for Apricot Farms.
Everything in this film has a purpose, including the Chester family’s initial ignorance for their project. We get to learn along with them about the hardships that come with owning a 55-acre property. From more obvious problems such as resurrecting dead soil, to coyotes killing their chickens and even more unforeseen issues like a snail infestation.
While THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM chronicles the history of what it means to own a farm, it might have worked even better as a miniseries on Netflix. But in the 90-minute run time, Chester is able to infuse little nuggets of wisdom within the frame. Sometimes the film feels a bit too tight and needs room to breathe because every time a problem ends at Apricot Farms another one begins.
Chester’s background as a cinematographer is put on full display as the property is framed in an idyllic light that makes even the worst problems Jon and Molly face seem serene.
THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM can become a hodgepodge of scrapbooking from their exploits, but it’s impossible to deny that these people have worked so hard to bring their vision to life. It shows what just a few people can accomplish if you just stay the course.
THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM is now playing in limited release.