TIFF Review: ‘The Biggest Little Farm’

A wonderful portrait of the hands that feed us

6 mins read

The Biggest Little Farm
(USA, 90 min.)
Dir. John Chester
Programme: TIFF Docs (International Premiere)

The Biggest Little Farm is a wonderful portrait of the hands that feed us. This personal documentary by John Chester shares the filmmaker’s mission to create a natural farm that harkens back to traditional practices. The farm builds upon the vision of Chester’s wife, Molly, a writer and food blogger, who emphasizes the natural methods of cultivating and preparing food. More importantly, though, the mission for the farm builds upon a promise the Chesters made to their rescue dog, Todd. They told Todd that his home with them would be his last, and when his unruly barking lands them an eviction notice from their LA apartment, the Chesters decide to take a leap and give Todd ample room to run as they buy a plot of land in the country. Letting Todd run freely lets them realize Molly’s dream of sharing her love for food with her community.

The mission is daunting by any measure, since the land the Chesters purchase is a parched patch of dead, hardened mud and unruly weeds. They enlist the help of farming consultant Alan York, who sees tremendous potential in the property and especially in the philosophy that John and Molly bring to the table. Alan’s vision, however, is a bit more ambitious than the Chesters signed up for. He emphasizes a diversified landscape that will rejuvenate the soil and create its own cycles of life as the natural order of the ecosystem returns to the land. This vision means far more plants, animals, and expenses than Jeff and Molly budgeted for. After a few years of trials, struggles, and concerns, the seeds begin to grow and the farm eventually blossoms.

An unexpected turn of events leaves the farmers feeling directionless and inexperienced to fulfill the agenda set by Alan, yet John takes a cue from Todd and simply steps back to observe the world around him. The film offers a valuable lesson in finding harmony with nature to help humans see their place in the world. The Chesters find success by working in tune with the natural cycles of the ecosystem, rather than trying to tame it as countless other farmers have done in the practice of seeing the Earth’s resources as mere stock for human consumption.

The Biggest Little Farm also provides an infectiously entertaining portrait of life on the farm by making the animals such rich characters. Coyotes and gophers play the villain by feasting on the Chesters’ chickens and fruit, respectively, while the farmers’ insistence on preserving the natural order of the ecosystem inspires them to remain steadfast in their refusal to use poisons or pesticide to preserve their crops. Todd the dog is bound to win over audiences with his beautiful eyes, while Emma the pig (née Ugly Betty) provides the doc with some of its most heartfelt and unexpectedly emotional moments as she delivers litters of piglets, clings to life following a difficult labour, and then rallies back under the care of her watchful friend Greasy the rooster. Amazing cinematography gives viewers up close views of animals both wild and domesticated. Chester finds the distinct personalities within the animals as he observes natural relationships of prey and predator that inspire him to consider the creatures humans raise for food.

Chester’s slice-of-life portrait encourages audiences to take responsibility of their consumption habits and to consider the origins of the food they eat and the hands that provide it. The farm plays an invaluable role in building community as John and Molly share with customers and neighbours their philosophy of healthy natural eating that draws from the Earth and gives back to it. The film invites audiences to reconsider the faces behind each table the next time they visit the farmer’s market. Fresh, healthy eating isn’t something we should take for granted, yet too many of us wolf down our meals without much concern for the stories behind each fruit, veggie, egg, or pork chop that finds its way to our table.

As Jeff and Molly share their experience of creating a natural farm from scratch, The Biggest Little Farm offers a frank account of the hardship and dedication entailed of such an endeavour. Chester’s film resonates with the passion and commitment of the world’s farmers who devote their lives towards providing communities with healthy, natural balance. As The Biggest Little Farm sees the land thrive under the Chesters’ care, the film inspires viewers to see themselves as part of a natural cycle, rather than as the top of a food chain.

Visit the POV TIFF Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.


Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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