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Review: The Biggest Little Farm

May 17, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

It was a rescue dog named Todd that inspired filmmaker John Chester and his wife Molly to give up their urban life in the city and buy an old farm in California, a story that is recounted in his documentary The Biggest Little Farm.

John was working as a cameraman for an animal rescue reality show, and rescued Todd from the home of a woman who was hoarding dogs. To make a long story short, Todd’s separation anxiety caused him to bark constantly during the day while they were at work, which made it hard to keep him in their apartment.

So John and Molly made the decision to buy two hundred acres of property just outside of Los Angeles and opened Apricot Lane Farms, with the goal of living in harmony with the land and becoming sustainable farmers, something that Molly had been dreaming about for a while.

John documents their several year long process of revitalizing the land, including rehydrating the dried up soil, planting a wide variety of crops, and raising livestock, including a pregnant pig named Emma who is sure to steal your heart. They embark upon this journey with the help of their mentor Alan York, an old veteran of living off the land whose grand vision provides the blueprint for the farm. Their goal is not only to raise and grow all of their own food, but also to turn a profit by selling eggs and produce at local markets, but it’s a lengthy process that is fraught with many ups and downs.

York estimates that it will take about seven years before the farm becomes fully sustainable, and we follow them every step of the way as things both good and bad happen in their lives, with the small triumphs often met by setbacks. Editor Amy Overbeck does a good job of editing about seven years worth of footage together into a mostly engaging narrative that nicely details the ups and downs of farming life, with all the ebbs and flows of a dramatic feature. The film is also beautifully shot, mixing together home video footage and some wonderfully composed nature shots of both plants and animals that lend themselves well to being seen on the big screen.

While this is overall a feel good film, there are also many more serious moments, and I would give a word of caution to some animal lovers and more sensitive viewers, as there is a part involving a wild coyote that keeps killing their chickens and ducks, leading John to make a drastic decision that goes against their initial goal of not actively interfering with nature. It’s not shown in an overly graphic way, but I can imagine it will prove upsetting for some viewers.

Through the many different challenges of actually running a farm that the film documents, The Biggest Little Farm comes to explore deeper themes about the circle of life, and how every cycle of life and death is equally important in terms of creating a harmonious environment, with even the many creatures that are thought of as pests playing an important part in the larger ecosystem. This is ultimately an enjoyable and at times touching and inspiring documentary about getting back in touch with nature.

The Biggest Little Farm opens today in limited release at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here. It will be expanding across Canada on May 24th.

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