The Biggest Little Film
Interview with John Chester on his new documentary
The Biggest Little Farm
by Jennifer Lisle
American farmer-filmmaker John Chester can relate to the ex-pat experience, even though he has never lived outside of his native country.
“When I entered the world of sustainable farming, it was like moving to a foreign country full of people you don’t know.”
In 2011, Chester, a cinematographer in Los Angeles, and wife Molly, a personal chef and blogger, uprooted their urban lifestyle and bought a neglected 200-acre farm in Ventura County, with the goal of turning the arid land into an old-school fully-sustainable farm.
With humour, warmth and wisdom, Chester documents this unique ex-pat experience in the “ground-breaking” documentary, The Biggest Little Farm, which premieres in Zurich on 11th July. The film follows the husband-and-wife team as they try to realize their storybook bio-dynamic dream, which presents an endless round of challenges in the form of pests, scavengers and wildlife marauders.
Named Apricot Lane Farms the enterprise, under the tutelage of traditional farm-Zen-master Alan York, is set up to cultivate a diverse range of produce and livestock, including avocados, lemons, various vegetables, more than 75 types of stone fruit, as well as pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, guinea hens, horses and cattle. The menagerie even includes a brown Swiss dairy cow.
Unlike industrial or factory farms, where the goal is to maximize production at the lowest cost, this carefully-chosen combination is laid out to maximize the eco-dependency of the elements. The hope is that Mother Nature will endow a perfectly bio-diverse farm with all of the tools to sustain itself. But Mother Nature, as the film shows, is not such an easy-going character.
For every productive measure, like improving the soil with worm-tea compost and cover crops, there is a destructive element, like a rampant snail population, to contend with, proving that symbiosis is two-way street. Aside from driving tractors and building fences on a family farm, Chester embarked on the project with no formal farming experience and admits he learned how to suture on the Internet. But, heroically, each time the couple is presented with a challenge, they resist chemical and factory methods and asks themselves instead, “What would Mother Nature do?,” in seeking sustainable solutions.
While the farm and film have been successful, “humility,” Chester says, has been his biggest and most unexpected takeaway from the experience.
He explains that “having a base of knowledge,” was “less important than the acceptance of not knowing as a way into problem-solving.”
Without a certain level of humility, farmers might make assumptions about how something can be solved, like insects, pests and weeds, and come up with a short-term band-aid solution.
“Instead,” says the filmmaker, “I’ve tried to think of a problem in 4-D,” where you see how it can solved to benefit the earth in the long-term.
By highlighting these challenges and solutions, and against the specter of a global climate crisis,
the film addresses the issue of sustainability on a greater scale and shows the role that farms can play in solutions, like using cover crops to improve carbon absorption from the atmosphere.
“In the last seventy-five years we’ve gotten away from trying to understand how nature works,” says Chester. “We’ve mechanized it and tried to control it. But nature has a four-point-five billion-year head start on us, and we’re just starting to understand how things work.”
The film has received praise in the media and general public and, by its very nature, provokes viewers to ask what they can do to boost the sustainable-farm movement. Short of starting their own sustainable farm, Chester says the biggest contribution viewers can make is by becoming responsible consumers.
“People can vote with their dollars and focus on buying from sustainable farms.”
Little Big Farm Opens in Zurich on 11th July 2019
Please see the official trailer below:
Luckily for Zurich residents, who may only have enough apartment space for some potted basil, there are many opportunities to shop, buy and eat organically and help to “grow” this movement. Watching the movie when it comes out in July is a great way to get inspired and please see the list below for ideas.
Some Bio/Organic Food Shops in Zurich
Der Bio Laden
Grassrooted.ch, is an organization that promotes sustainable farming by offering vegetable boxes from local farms.
Organic Farms Restaurants, Hotels and Markets in Switzerland
Comprehensive guide compiled by Biosuisse to organic farms, restaurants, hotels and markets in Switzerland. Includes map. (Only available in French, German and Italian).
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Article Written by Jennifer Lisle
Jennifer is an international freelance journalist who has written for The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and Elle, among many others.
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