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May 12, 2019

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Big dreams on the ‘Biggest Little Farm’

JOHN and Molly Chester didn’t, like Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, buy a zoo. But they got start-up investors to help them purchase a 213-acre farm just north of Los Angeles.

“The Biggest Little Farm” documents their rosy fantasy.

“Not just any farm,” John says of their ambitions for an old-school, biodiverse plot. “We’re talking about something out of a children’s book.”

When they excitedly survey their new land, the couple, newly liberated from day-jobs and a cramped Santa Monica apartment near Los Angeles, bubble with anticipation. “I wonder if we can grow bananas,” says Molly.

The imagined romance of agrarian life has long been the stuff of daydreams, from “Anna Karenina” to “Shaun the Sheep.”

“The Biggest Little Farm” chronicles the eight years of what happens when two city folk try to do what many urbanites only imagine before determining that they could never, really, bring themselves to wear overalls.

The steep learning curve for the Chesters is steeper, still, because they aren’t merely dipping their toe into farming. Unlike the mono-crop farms all around them, their Apricot Lane Farms will be a restorative farm with its own self-perpetuating ecosystem that, once up-and-running, coasts on nature’s own cycles. There will be ducks and chickens and a bull and over 70 varieties of fruit. “Diversify, diversify, diversify,” says their consultant Alan York, a surfer dude-type who speaks mystically about riding a farm like you would a wave.

Harmony, of course, proves elusive. Bliss is constantly interrupted by the toil of farm life and a diverse host of invaders: coyotes, snails and birds, not to mention drought and wildfires.

Molly and John began their quixotic journey intending to document every step of the way, leading to segments on Oprah’s OWN network. Their lives are laid out here for inspiration and envy.

“The Biggest Little Farm” feels like a version of the kind of viral video that spreads on Facebook, equal parts uplifting and self-congratulating.

“The Biggest Little Farm” is most invested in capturing not the Chesters’ renewal, but the rehabilitation of their land, from dried-out hillside to lush, recycling idyll.

On a planet overwhelmed by habitat loss, we’re going to need a lot more like them.


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