The Biggest Little Farm

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Biggest Little Farm
"The real joy in the film lies in watching what started out as barren land gradually bloom over the years."

In an era when we tend to focus a lot on ecological disaster and the damage done to the environment around us, it's good to take stock sometimes and remember that there are people trying to move things in the other direction. Molly Chester used to have a dream of getting away from the city and running her own little farm the old fashioned way, enriching the natural world rather than depleting its resources. When she and husband John adopted a dog with a barking problem and were told they couldn't keep it in their apartment, he decided to get behind her dream so that the three of them might find a way to make things work. This documentary, which he helmed, follows their efforts over the years that followed. It's not a particularly complex tale nor a naturally dramatic one, but it is inspiring - because if they could make a success of it, so could practically anyone.

there can't be many people out there who know less about farming than Molly and John did to begin with. Two things helped them to overcome this problem: a willingness to put in day upon day, year upon year of hard work; and the facility to look for help on the internet. There they found an expert who guided them through each stage of the set-up process and helped them to deal with their various crises. They also found young people willing to share the physical load in the early stages in order that they might improve their own skills. Little farms - as opposed to corporate owned monocultures - are coming back in a big way. The Chesters' film functions as a guide to help others who want to give it a go. importantly, it deals not only with the practical hardships but also with the emotional ones.

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There's no escaping death on a farm - nor, every now and again, having to kill. The Chesters aren't really prepared for this and we see the impact it has on them, at times pushing them close to the point of giving up. We also see their despair when their crops are attacked by pests, their fruit left too scabby and bird-pecked for sale (curiously, nobody seems to suggest making jams or pickles or brewing with it). These low points provide the contrast that they - and we - need to fully appreciate the highs, from the productive capacity of an extraordinarily fecund pig to her friendship with a bullied rooster, the joy of ducks rushing out to plunge into a new pond and the exuberance of dogs learning to herd sheep for the first time. All these scenes are skilfully captured on camera, illuminated by the California sunshine - drawn, no doubt, from an abundance of material most of which would not have matched their quality, but impressive nonetheless.

The real joy in the film lies in watching what started out as barren land gradually bloom over the years, growing richer at every stage until even the state's terrifying giant wildfires can only threaten so much - this land has been reclaimed. Though the Chesters at first view the wild animals which find their way onto the farm as pests, they gradually begin to make sense of their mentor's assurance that each has a role to play.

Despite its narrative simplicity, the richness of its subject gives this film real charm and makes it compelling viewing. It's a timely reminder that individual efforts can still make a difference - and a reminder of why it's worth it.

Reviewed on: 24 Dec 2019
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Filmmaker chronicles his own efforts and that of his wife, to trade in their city life for a small farm dream.

Director: John Chester

Writer: John Chester, Mark Monroe

Starring: John Chester, Molly Chester, John Chester, Molly Chester

Year: 2018

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: US


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