“THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM” — 3½ stars — John Chester, Molly Chester; PG (mild thematic elements); in general release; running time: 91 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — John Chester is a wildlife cameraman, and his wife, Molly, is a private chef. When their rescue dog Todd’s barking issues force them out of their Los Angeles apartment, John and Molly decide to get a little more ambitious with their career goals: They're going to run a farm.
And so, the journey to create the “Biggest Little Farm” begins. With the help of some investors and an out-of-the-box farming expert named Alan York, John and Molly purchase and renovate Apricot Lane Farms, a 200-acre property about an hour north of Los Angeles. The goal is to create a functioning, old-fashioned farm with enough crops and animals to generate what John describes as the “highest level of biodiversity possible.” Molly’s goal is a little more specific: She wants to grow all the ingredients she needs to cook her sophisticated meals.
Assembled from footage shot over several years and narrated with voiceover from John and Molly, “Biggest Little Farm” follows the couple on their agricultural quest — from the early stages where York helps them transform Apricot Lane Farms from a neglected wasteland to a place where crops might actually grow, to the challenges they face once operations are up and running.
Those challenges highlight an increasing clash between the idealized circle of life existence John and Molly envisioned — York told them that eventually running the farm would feel like surfing — and the reality that nature is far from utopia when left to its own devices. At every turn, different pests rise up to make John and Molly’s lives miserable: Snails, birds, gophers and coyotes all take turns destroying crops and livestock, undoing whatever progress John and Molly feel they might be making.
One of “Biggest Little Farm’s” most vivid lessons, though, is the way the dedicated couple works to solve each problem, along the way, discovering surprising solutions in unexpected places.
In that way, “Biggest Little Farm” isn't just the story of a married couple striving to run a farm. It extends far beyond its farming context to give people a creative wildlife documentary, a study in problem-solving and a thoughtful look at the clash between expectations and reality.
Of course, it’s also a lot of fun to watch all the animal footage, brought to life thanks to John’s expertise. We get to know all sorts of tenants on the farm, from chickens and sheepdogs to a 300-pound pig named Emma. And at one point, John sets up some night vision cameras that reveal all sorts of welcome and unwelcome visitors once the sun goes down.Comment on this story
The fun stuff acts as an important counterbalance to the harsh reality of the film, which displays the brutal existence many animals face in the form of predators like the aforementioned coyotes. For that reason, some parents might want to reserve “Biggest Little Farm” for their older kids.
Still, “Biggest Little Farm” is an excellent and insightful documentary — one that would make Old MacDonald proud.
Rating explained: “Biggest Little Farm” is rated PG for some frightening images, including animal gore and dead and sick animals.