My wife Molly specialized in farm-to-table cuisine and I was a documentary filmmaker, but we had a collective dream that our once-coveted identities as filmmaker and chef couldn’t satisfy… to become farmers.
It’s easy to dismiss those inciting incidents that shape our existence—from the benign daily interactions to the seemingly insignificant elements in nature that led to life as we know it. It all matters and that’s why I made “The Biggest Little Farm.” The story chronicles my wife Molly’s and my epic 8-year farming journey, turning a degraded industrial lemon farm into one of the most biologically diverse farms in Southern California. Our story is one seemingly disconnected incident after another that ultimately becomes our weird new life.
Recently I was reminded of one such inciting incident that transformed our lives from city dwellers to regenerative farmers while giving a tour of our farm to the public. An older man on the tour limped up abruptly stopping only a few steps in front of me. He smiled like he knew me… or something about me. Then he took in a deep breath through his nose, as his eyes gazed off into the distance, and said, “so…do you still thank that dog Todd every night for helping you find this life?”
I had sunglasses on so he couldn’t see my eyes fill with tears but he probably saw me biting my lip as I turned away. My reply was simple, “Yes, yes I do.”
Todd the hero who led us to farming died a few years ago. He was a flat coated retriever/border collie mix (like a jet black golden retriever with piercing white eyes). He was a rescue dog, and it was a promise we made to him that forced us out of the city and into our dream life as farmers. A rather curious story, which is better explained in the film. But the exchange with this man reminded me how the most potent mysteries of life that got us to where we are can be those things we miss in the everyday. Sort of like when we look up at the stars revering the infinite wonder of the universe… while standing upon the trampled soil, dismissed as dirt—a far more complex and infinite wonder. It welcomes death and returns the makings of life so that we can live.
Do enough of us wonder how that is possible?
After the undisclosed incident with Todd, we quit our careers to start the farm and I never again intended to make another film. Yet that didn’t stop me from carrying a camera in my truck documenting these little moments. I’d be switching between two worlds. In a single day I’d find myself suturing the wound of an injured piglet and a moment later I’d be capturing footage of a ladybug “in labor” perched on a dark green leaf delivering her bright yellow eggs.
Over time I became inspired watching life return and this profound story unfold. By year five our land was revealing nature’s interconnected secrets. I now knew the story, but would I allow myself the freedom to tell it in a way that would defy expectations?
I feared that a film about a farm working in harmony with nature would be expected to be a polarizing essay of right and wrong. The acceptable villain of the story a human, a corporation, or greed, leaving the audience with anxiety and rage, narrowing their perspective not widening it. After eight years I’ve discovered that a wider lens is the best way to interpret the language of an ecosystem that functions based on two things: consequence and impermanence.
Perhaps there is another way to see this world and I wanted to give a perspective and a voice to its complexity. Because if it is a reconnected world we seek, then there is only one way to find it—a lens that softens our eyes to imperfection and opens our hearts to a deeper understanding of the elements that divide us. Buried in the cold and cruel ways of nature is a mirror that reflects back our human journey. The answers we seek for our lives are there if we know how to see.
Molly and I have found the unexpected answers to what we didn’t know we were missing. We understand the purpose of death and that has redefined how we see life. I hope you will find this world on our farm as purposely terrifying and inspiring as we have.