Diversify, diversify, diversify.
If I learned anything from John Chester‘s The Biggest Little Farm, it’s that you can do anything you choose to do. You can use your privilege to tell your city friends the crazy idea of wanting to buy a huge farm and make it self-sustainable, accept their ridicule, and eventually reap the benefit of their friends of friends with ample financial support—I’d love full disclosure on that price-tag because this project is massive with professionally branded farmers’ market wares and enough renovations to blow through a full year’s budget in six months. Throw a little luck in as far as finding an expert willing to set everything up and teach you what’s necessary (Alan York) and even you can have the patience to wait seven years for vindication.
I get that the point of this film is for Chester and his wife Molly to show the trials and tribulations of bucking the factory-fed trend of immoral farming tactics through good old fashioned hard work and love, but it’s tough to ignore the framework that goal was built upon. Is it cute that this is all because of a promise they made their rescue dog Todd? Sure. But that doesn’t excuse how they drew up a plan and had the time and resources to get things rolling correctly despite a poorly constructed narrative trying to pretend they were about to be evicted and thus in need of lodging fast. This choice wasn’t about poverty, emotional duress, or survival. They dive in headfirst because of a noise complaint.
That’s fine—all the power to them. Not acknowledging this fact, however, is disingenuous at best. One could say the endeavor is predicated on them having a white savior complex wherein their altruism for saving a dog from euthanasia and dried up soil from annihilation (along with two Latino farmhands hired for the manual labor) gives them the right to superiority over the thousands of farmers being extorted by huge companies because they don’t have the means to refuse. Would it be great if angel investors came down from Heaven and injected money into middle America to help these borderline destitute souls who’ve known nothing but? Damn right it would. That isn’t happening, though. This is just a pet project cultivated inside a vacuum devoid of big picture.
I say that objectively. Nowhere in this film is a thesis of how the Chesters’ model can be used on a grander scale. All it shows is that what they accomplish is possible with the privilege to undertake what most people never could. Is it inspiring? Sure. But it’s also a flash in the pan scenario wherein the big dramatic moments of true conflict are averted. Do they ever run out of money? Not on-screen if so. Did Mother Nature swoop down and destroy everything they built for no reason other than bad luck and climate change? Nope. Chester even admits every problem faced is born from the system York taught them. They’re creative in their ways of rectifying each, but there’s always an alternative approach they reject.
So why not talk about why they have the room to think? Why not mention the bubble in which they exist that lends the morality to be holistic when others simply can’t because shooting a coyote dead could mean whether they eat that month? I blame the lens of letting John Chester control his narrative. He flippantly says at one point that a neighbor would have no issue shooting a predator as though he’s better than stooping to such villainy when the reality is more that he doesn’t have to in order to stay afloat. He’s an award-winning director and cameraman and Molly is a successful flood blogger—this is a dream rather than last chance. It’s dismissive to say, but this is their hobby.
A lot of my backlash is a direct result of how Chester tells their story. Besides neglecting to point out their distinct advantage in pulling this whole thing off is his use of faux melodrama. The idea that Todd “saved” them might be true, but nothing here proves it beyond the unfiltered truth that his barking indirectly gave them the kick in the pants to become risk-taking entrepreneurs. That every single difficulty endured is ultimately solved because of a montage of John reading books at night or diffused by a exhale of laughter in the aftermath goes well past optimism and into the realm of divine merit. And am I the only one who saw the framing of York’s secret as his being a fraud steering them wrong?
It’s as though Chester realized their privilege enough to have to manufacture tension where none actually existed. You can only brace yourself for a fall of monumental proportions so many times when the issue is rectified two minutes later and never spoken about again. If your success is truly that pure—own it. Don’t pretend otherwise because you think it would be more compelling (the film literally starts with impending doom that foreshadows what’s ultimately depicted as a hiccup). Doing so alienated me completely to the point of not really caring about anything other than the stunning under-cranked and time-lapsed close-up footage of nature doing its thing. Sadly those wonders are used as evidence of the Chesters’ success opposite America’s failure rather than a solution.
 John and Molly Chester
 Apricot Lane Farms in THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM. Courtesy of NEON
 Todd in THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM. Courtesy of NEON