Epic journeys of a heart’s desire that is propelled by an uncompromising idealism may commence with great hope for arriving: 1) safely at a destination; 2) no worse for the wear; and 3) with no lasting scar. Though impossible to fully know in advance all of the twists or turns that will challenge one’s fortitude, conviction, confidence and capacity for perseverance, what is certain is each of those strengths will be tested. Multiple times.
What is also certain is that uncompromising idealism will inevitably be called up for review, and potentially be transformed into tempered pragmatism. For this wisdom change to occur — that is reflected in a surprising new level of maturity — time must pass. This generally takes way longer than one might imagine, similar to watching a carrot grow. But for the real payoff of success and gratification, one must prevail over irreversible mistakes, despair and exhaustion while never losing sight of the goal.
Easier said than done.
I learned some of this business acumen from my father, my greatest teacher and spiritual mentor, through words he whispered to me while he was a few hours away from death. Like many who desire to be self-employed, to be the master of one’s daily tasks, my father’s epic route began with an idea that wasn’t particularly original, accompanied by a decision based on a simple truth: To achieve independence, financial and otherwise, would require that he changes horses in midstream, that is, leave behind one line of work at midlife in order to try a new opportunity. This came with risk — not only because there was no guarantee of success. He had meager funds to launch his business and no venture capitalists to cover his losses should he falter along the way.
Whether commenced from a leap of faith or utter foolishness, some life-altering moves, such as what my father made, can seem to happen at what look like inconvenient moments. Not enough of the plan is ever formed properly or sufficiently to dodge every detrimental unknown, plus those who are closest to knowing what details do exist are far from convinced such a plan could be worth the tradeoffs.
But not for the determined.
For those individuals there is no inconvenience, rather a sense of momentum that is far greater than any resistance. It is the force of willing happiness. When one possesses or is possessed by, if you will, this force, then the excitement of possibility begets creative energy that births some thing from no thing.
The Biggest Little Farm, a majestic new documentary by filmmaker/farmer John Chester, is one such epic journey. The 91-minute film, in movie theaters May 10, spans the inception of the glorious dream of John’s wife, Molly, to its organic resolution: their corner of Eden that is home to 9 billion* micro organisms cohabitating with myriad filthy farm animals, luscious crops and leafy orchards.
The dream of their farm takes the shape of a purpose-driven organization that is fueled by several motivations and agendas. They strive to provide a forever home to their rescue dog and to satisfy Molly’s expansive love of food and cooking, while remaining aligned to an intention to farm in harmony with nature. Learning to live with a comfortable level of disharmony, as the seasons and years pass, is an unexpected skill to be mastered daily that anyone can appropriate as a spiritual practice.
Watching their shared dream as it makes an arc of transcendence over several years is surprising and uplifting as much as it is tender and funny. A soundtrack to match the splendid visuals enhances the emotional story of experiencing nature at the extremes, while pursuing solutions and finding beauty in every breath and blink. John tells viewers in narration that “forward momentum and hope nurtures luck,” and this truth is not lost on viewers. The animals and plants in their care, as well as their supportive circle of employees and volunteers, all fit seamlessly into a mystical choreography of music and film editing that expresses life’s interdependence and fragility.
Followers of Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday” will recognize John and Molly from the enchanting short videos John filmed about their Apricot Lane Farms. These shorts concluded several of the series’ episodes, sending viewers off to continue their Sunday mornings riding a high of love, truth, beauty and wisdom. This feel-good, family friendly documentary, suitable for ages 7 and up, continues in that spirit.
When viewers first see the farm, 200 acres in Moorpark, Calif., it resembles a used and abandoned painter’s canvas desperately in need of cleaning before it can be overlaid with colors that may bring it back to life. But the aerial shots make it easy to question Molly’s dream of an eco-friendly, sustainable farm happening there. The soil is depleted, likely toxic from years of commercial farming methods and heavy use of pesticides. What trees that do remain on the land have either long since gone dormant or else died, like the bees in the rotted hives. Anyone other than John and Molly, who were not possessing the force of willing happiness, would likely retreat to recalibrate the vision.
John explained during a recent phone interview how he and Molly were able to manifest their heavenly vision of paradise, despite biblical tests of unimaginable life and death dramas and traumas.
“Life really works at a much higher level,” John said, explaining that he and Molly throughout the process had been “trying to put nature in a straight jacket.” By allowing it to be its own thing, and the longer they were able to walk with their embarrassment of not knowing all the answers or what the next right thing was, they could find a way forward.
“The entire farm and all of life is impermanent,” John explained, adding that when it came to the life cycle of animals on the farm — particularly ones who weren’t thriving — “letting that animal go puts energy back into your life.” It also is the nourishing energy that “becomes the building block for life that comes after.” That awareness and knowing they “had to take some step” helped John and Molly to manage trauma after trauma.
It also helped that they both possess a positive, hopeful intention, the right level of intention for willing happiness.
Many who are successful at anything — be it sales or farming or parenting — learned to pivot when required, and to refine both their skills and approach with what they have learned from others or from nature. In the film, each new challenge of drought, rain, flood, wind and the unexpected infestation of what appears at first to be adversaries — aka pests and wildlife — taxes the stamina and creativity of John and Alan York. Alan served as both a biodynamic farming expert and a visionary whose insistence on incorporating as much diversity as possible into the farm is one of the greatest reasons Apricot Lane Farms grows into a viable business, and even an educational campus.
Viewers of The Biggest Little Farm may increase their personal and professional successes by applying some of John’s principles of farming: using observation, creativity and humility.
The common thread that connects John’s entire body of work, he says, is a profound truth that “redemption is possible through humility.” Each embarrassment of failure while growing the farm ultimately led to John being able to slow down enough to fully observe, allow time for a creative solution or next step to emerge, even when he and Molly were not certain of a favorable outcome.
As John explains in the film, “observation followed by creativity is becoming our greatest ally.” It’s a priceless lesson brought to vivid life, season after season on the farm, that can easily be applied to any challenge or opportunity, whether it be in business or personal relationships, for in that lesson there is hope, and that is what is behind what is possible.
* To clarify and underscore this important fact, John says their soil has become so biologically diverse after eight years of their regenerative methods, that the 9 billion micro organisms number “actually relates to the amount of micro organisms in 1 tablespoon of our now healthy soil.”