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Culture Documentary

Wrestling with the land

(FarmLore Films)

Documentary

Wrestling with the land

A California couple discovers that building a farm in harmony with nature is a tricky business

The soil was dead. John and Molly Chester stood amid their dusty, 200-acre farm in Southern California wondering whether they could coax plants from the hard-packed dirt. They dreamed of turning the land into a sustainable farm, but the earth would not give up its bounty without a fight. The documentary The Biggest Little Farm (rated PG for fleeting bad language and scenes of the birth and death of animals) tells the story of the seven years the Chesters spent turning Apricot Lane Farms from a wasteland into a garden.

They spent the first year simply preparing the soil before slowly introducing livestock and fruit trees. Their goal was to create a farm that thrived on the harmony of nature, rather than a farm that exploited nature. But it turns out that growing crops in harmony with nature can be tricky business.

The film’s mantra: Harmony is simple but never easy. Each time the farm took a step forward, nature seemed to push back. Hens attract coyotes, leafy greens attract snails and aphids, and fruit trees attract starlings. Compromising on the vision would be easy—by using chemicals to kill pests, for example—but the film tells us that the easy answer isn’t necessarily the one that restores nature’s balance.

As we watch the Chesters chase their dream, we learn what roles chickens and pigs and sheep play on a farm, but we also learn the importance of worms and bees and coyotes. The farmers learn that harmony doesn’t just happen. It needs guidance. 

The documentary makes no reference to faith, but Christian viewers will see nature’s intricacies and be reminded that God designed plants, animals, and earth to be interdependent. The Biggest Little Farm shows a family working within that framework, modeling one method for being good stewards of the land.