Jewish law requires one to recite a blessing before eating. But it is not the same blessing for all foods. Each food has a unique blessing reflecting the reality that God created an abundant variety of foods to eat, not just one type of food. Indeed, we appreciate God more when we realize that He provides more than just nourishment for his creations. He also provides variety, and that is a testament to the divine complexity within nature. The Biggest Little Farm is a fascinating documentary that highlights this message.
John and Molly Chester make a decision to move out of the city and purchase 200 acres in the foothills of Ventura County, one hour north of Los Angeles. They plan naively to build a farm in harmony with nature, where they can grow a large diversity of crops and raise a wide range of farm animals.
Their initial problem: the land they bought is devoid of nutrients and suffering the effects of a long-term drought. The Chesters, however, are optimists; and, in spite of the challenging reality they face, they plant 10,000 orchard trees, over 300 different kinds of plants, and provide a home for an assortment of animals.
As time moves on and the ecosystem begins to reawaken, they realize that they need more knowledge to achieve their utopian vision. The teacher of that wisdom is Alan York, a guru of plant biodiversity, who teaches them that nature is cyclical. His message: what seems destructive today will, over time, be positive and enhance the harmony within nature.
Under his guidance, the land comes back to life. However, the Chesters’ experience of living in their self-made utopia comes to a standstill two years into their project. The rude awakening came in the form of pests. Birds eat fruit, causing a huge loss in farm revenue, snails eat tree trunks, gophers attack tree roots, and coyotes prey on chickens. Much of the farm labor spends time cleaning up the mess that is left, thus reducing time for crop tending and harvesting. When the Chesters begin questioning the practicality of their project, guru York is there advising patience, informing them that the ecosystem, like life, is cyclical and will eventually find its balance. York terms it “the rhythm of things.”
When York dies of cancer in the middle of the Chesters’ idealistic initiative, the Chesters have to figure out for themselves how to deal with the unpredictable vicissitudes of farming. Rain and wind do not come gently into farming life, and sometimes the consequences of rain and wind create major problems for harvesting crops. Over the long haul, however, their dreams are realized, perhaps not in the total way they envisioned; but their dream is basically actualized in the real world of sustainable, regenerative farming.
In The Biggest Little Farm, there are many life lessons. All the well known patriarchs of Judaism, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the greatest prophet of all, Moses, experienced failure of one sort or another in their lives, yet failure was not terminal for them. They learned from these mistakes, and grew to be better leaders because of them. So, too, is it with farming. Failure is a teacher, not the end of learning and growing and realizing one’s goal.
There is a lot to learn from farming failures. At the end of the day, the Chesters leave a legacy for the future for children, born and yet unborn. Here are some of the messages implicitly articulated for the next generation. There is a dance of co-existence in nature. For example, coyotes kill chickens, which seems to be a bad thing, yet when coyotes kill gophers, it seems to be a good thing. The key in nature is balance, which expresses a complicated web of life, representing a divinely ordained diversity measured over a very long period of time. Our planet and its ecosystem work with a comfortable level of disharmony, which creates a complex world with infinite possibilities.