When a good friend told me The Biggest Little Farm was right up my alley, I knew I had to see this movie. This documentary about one couple’s dream to leave the big city and buy a farm is compelling on many levels. This is a love story about two people that rescue a dog named Todd. There is also a storyline on how traditional farming works when given a chance, and there’s a storyline on toughing it out when things go wrong.
Molly (a personal chef and food blogger) and John (a cameraman) leave the city with their dog and through creative financing, buy a 200+-acre farm 40 miles outside of Los Angeles. With the help of Alan York, a soil, plant, and biodynamic consultant, John and Molly start a long rehabilitation of an avocado and lemon farm that was practically dead. They blow through the first year’s budget in just six months laying out the design, putting in infrastructure, planning types of crops, and animals for the farm.
Starting out during one of the worst droughts the area had ever experienced seemed hopeless, yet it was under these conditions that success would mean even more. To rebuild a farm that looked almost desert-like and turn it into a healthy, productive farm seemed impossible to most. The soil was so dried out and compacted; a shovel couldn’t penetrate the surface. By introducing bio-organisms, animals, water saving contours, and cover crops, they rebuilt the soil to a state that would support dozens of types of plants.
While monoculture farms dotted the surrounding area, Apricot Lane Farm was willing to show that a biodynamic, traditional farming approach could work better. They succeeded without using chemicals against insects and guns against coyotes-except once. When the soil was healthy enough to sustain the more than 70 varieties of stone fruit, and a vegetable garden, the plan slowly became a reality.
The movie takes viewers through the camera’s lens during seven years of trial, effort, blood, sweat, and tears. Coyotes kill dozens of chickens just as the farm starts getting a foothold in local markets with the best chicken eggs most customers have ever had.
Starlings descend in biblical-sized flocks and decimate the gorgeous juicy stone fruit just before they are ripe for the market. Gophers kill many of their fruit trees from eating the roots below ground, causing costly damage to the orchards. Snails attack the trees nearly coating the trunks in a moving mass of destruction.
Throughout this onslaught of nature, John and Molly try and find a natural balance that Alan told them is achievable. With each passing year the farm faces new challenges that threaten to sink the business unless solutions can be found. Each year they find a cure for one problem and another problem crops up. As if insects, coyotes, and starlings aren’t harmful enough, the camera lens captures what it’s like to ride out a typical Southern California wind storm.
Watch how 18 inches of much-needed rain carries off neighboring farms topsoil. But Apricot Lane Farms keep their precious topsoil due to the cover crops and thoughtful landscape contours Alan York instigated. Two years into the project, Alan succumbs to cancer, leaving John and Molly to figure things out on their own. This untimely death makes the little farm’s success unlikely without their mentor.
With the help of interns, farm staff, Great Pyrenees guard dogs, and lessons learned, John and Molly turn the worn-out farm into a case study of how to rehabilitate over-worked land. They end up with a veritable Garden of Eden against all the odds and deliver a message of hope for the planet in this stunning documentary.
While I would have liked to see a bit more coverage showing customers buying Apricot Lane Farm’s produce, that might have been boring to other viewers. Am I the only one that wonders who buys all this biodynamic/organic produce? Probably not.
For movie fans of all genres, this documentary is a beautifully filmed, smartly told story of the love for our planet, its creatures, and each other. I believe just about any movie fan would love this film. The story will have you wanting to clap at the end, then go out and support your local small farmer. You might even get the urge to buy a farm and repeat John and Molly’s success? Our planet needs more farms like Apricot Lane Farm. I hope the movie starts a revolution in farming, leading to thousands of similar farms like John and Molly’s.
Photos courtesy of Neon.
Kurt Jacobson writes about travel, food, wine, organic gardening, and most anything else from his varied professional life. His articles appear in Alaska Magazine, Fish Alaska Magazine, Metropolis Japan Magazine, Edible Delmarva Magazine, North West Travel and Life Magazine, and Mother Earth News. Kurt lives in the Baltimore, MD area with his wife, dog and cats. Kurt’s articles also appear on several websites like:GoNomad.com, Trip101.com,
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