March 25, 2020  (Web Review)

The Biggest Little Farm

(2019) 92 min. DVD: $22.99, Blu-ray: $31.99. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (avail. from most distributors).

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

In 2010, John and Molly Chester lived in a tiny apartment in Santa Monica with a rescue dog named Todd. Unfortunately, Todd was a barker and the Chesters faced a decision: either let Todd go, or buy 200 acres of barren land an hour away from Los Angeles—with the help of investors—in a mission to create a sprawling biodiverse farm. One suspects that there is a bit more to this story than this simple either/or, but nature cinematographer John Chester’s feel-good film chronicling an eight-year period during which Apricot Lane Farms was born and eventually flourished tells an impressive tale of sustainability. The Chesters are aided in their quest by quirky farming expert Alan York, who initially focuses on rebuilding the nutrient-depleted soil with composting and cover crops—resulting in an amazingly photogenic terraformed site. Along the way, the Chesters face more than their fair share of problems, many of which involve circle-of-life remedies: ducks eat snails (which are dining on the fruit trees), owls devour gophers (which are destroying root systems that support the trees), and guardian dogs protect the chickens from coyotes. By adopting such measures, the farm is able to continue to bring eggs, vegetables, and fruit to local markets. Longlisted for this year’s Best Documentary competition (but failing to make the shortlist), The Biggest Little Farm ultimately charms viewers with its story of down-home entrepreneurial derring-do—buttressed by loads of cute animal footage—despite some narrative omissions (suddenly, the Chesters have an army of fellow workers?) and an obtrusive musical soundtrack that signals every single uplifting or tense moment. At the end of the day, the Chesters take an arid patch of real estate and transform it into a Shangri-la supporting up to nine billion microorganisms (“energized entirely by the impermanence of life”) that sold over 500,000 lbs. of food in year seven. Extras include bonus sequences and outtakes. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (R. Pitman)