The Biggest Little Farm is a documentary following two California dreamers - filmmaker John Chester, his wife Molly, a professional cook and their beloved blue-eyed mongrel dog Todd, who decide to leave their rented flat in the city and set up an organic farm on a burnt-out stretch of land north of Los Angeles. The surrounding land is an ugly industrial moonscape either with miles of derelict battery chicken houses, or long stretches of plastic tubes covering fruit bushes. The soil is dry and rock hard.
Working on the principal that nature will support itself if there is enough variety - John and Molly, with a good friend advising them and a team of helpers, set out to plant 10,000 fruit trees of different varieties, many kinds of vegetables and establish a menagerie of beehives, sheep, pigs, different breeds of cattle, chickens, geese, ducks and other livestock. It doesn't always work out - but with a bit of imagination they find solutions. An army of snails arrive on the trees - but they discover the geese and chickens like eating snails. As they meander through the orchards the birds also fertilise the ground. Elsewhere the cattle and sheep also provide manure that revitalises the soil.
Within a few years the arid ground comes back to life. Owls, herons, hummingbirds, gophers, badgers, mice, rats, rabbits, snakes and a colourful array of creepy crawlies come to live on the farm. With healthier soil the meadows hold water better and as the aquifer fills up the land turns lush and green with many wild flowers.
There's plenty of dramatic episodes and characters - including an unforgettable pig named Emma and her best friend, Greasy the rooster, some marauding coyotes - beautifully filmed as they slink along at night with eyes gleaming. A heroic hummingbird sheltering her nestful of eggs in branches swinging backwards and forwards through a wild storm. Lots of cute baby animals.
The film really glosses over how John and Molly managed to fund such a massive project - there's mention of fundraising rallies at the beginning - but this 'little farm' is no smallholding. Its a massive 250 acres. There is also no reference to climate change - although we see its impact. And while they may be using 'traditional' farming methods like companion planting - I don't think the film showed them using solar or wind power to work in harmony with nature. Of course the whole project is a work in progress so maybe they will look into using more alternative technology in future. Just once, John says he is beginning to wonder about raising farm animals which are going to be sent away and killed.
So slightly vague - nevertheless, The Biggest Little Farm is visually very beautiful. Querky. Personal. A likeable and refreshing film. I hope it inspires many more people to farm like this in future.
Watch a trailer here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfDTM4JxHl8
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