Meet Molly and John Chester who are models for making dreams reality. It has been my honor to interview people who love their work and the time I spent with Molly and John was a peak experience in this process. They were incredibly generous with their story at our farm-to-table lunch in midtown Manhattan where Molly spoke to me through laryngitis, a testament to her German “get it done” family roots.
They are currently running a farm, raising a son and promoting their feature documentary, The Biggest Little Farm which will be in theaters on May 10th. This bio-dynamic duo, along with a menagerie of animals are the stars of the movie that chronicles a sometimes-harrowing journey transforming a conventional operation into a highly diversified organic farm. The film is beautifully shot, edited, scored and the storytelling is masterful. It educates its audience about sustainability, soil health and climate change, without being harsh or preachy. As a fan of great documentary films, I expect it will be nominated for an Academy Award.
I first watched the film at the New York Documentary Film Festival in the Fall where it was chosen to be the opening night film. I went in thinking I was going to learn more about healthy food and left knowing I had witnessed something historic and personally life-changing. Molly and John offer a dramatic tale of visioning a bigger, brighter future for all of us and a true story of courage that can give anyone with a dream, hope.
Molly and John have hard work, positivity and farming in their lineages. Molly’s happiest childhood memories were amongst blueberry bushes, cows, peacocks and cats on her relatives’ land in Pennsylvania. John grew up in Maryland where he was fascinated with animals, the outdoors and worked on conventional family farms. Molly’s parents are educators and her mother modeled creativity while her father is known for his strong access to joy. John’s grandfather was a motivational speaker for dentists and his parents gave him Joseph Campbell and other positive philosophical books to read starting at age nine. His mother took care of her family by starting a real estate practice after John’s father tragically lost his life to kidney failure at the age of 44. Molly has referred to John as “the jet fuel that is my husband”, and some of his ability to attack ideas and projects with passion can be attributed to losing his talented father prematurely.
As John developed his love of nature in Maryland, he also became enamored with cameras and eventually found his way to LA to work on television and films. Molly’s passions for food and healing brought her to culinary school and she was a professional private chef in LA while she conjured up the eccentric dream of an organic farm that produced an impossibly diverse array of fruit and vegetables without pesticides. John brought the awareness that animals are essential to the process of restoring soil and ecosystems that support livestock, insects, birds and native animals living in harmony. This lesson was etched into his heart and mind on a trip to South Africa where he saw how eliminating predators on sheep farms created desert conditions and how reintroducing wildlife brought back balance.
John and Molly transformed their passions and joint vision into a three-page business plan that went to an investor who funded Apricot Lane Farms in Ventura County. They arrived on their land in 2011 and since then, carefully documented the highs and lows of the transformation on film. The result is The Biggest Little Farm.
Apricot Lane Farms
Here are five lessons Molly and John learned along the way that may help you find and follow a dream:
- Find your buzz. Finding passions can be a physical, rather than intellectual experience. Before John and Molly knew that their passions for filmmaking and food would transform into a movie and a farm, they noticed a buzz or excitement in their chests. John got that sensation when he was with animals and holding camera equipment while Molly found her buzz around food in health food stores. As we discussed this concept we realized everyone may feel this in a different part of their body. For me, my buzz starts in my temples and moves to my shoulders.
- The dream may start as a small quiet voice, but it will always be wrapped in joy. Pay close attention to this whisper and over time it will get louder and clearer. Slow down enough to listen and grow your own dream through the noise of life.
- Tell a lot of people about your dream. It is good for honing and articulating the idea and the naysayers will offer your first test. The process will bring up doubts but keep returning to the dream.
- There is something good beyond the embarrassment of failure if you can stay still. The tendency is to push these uncomfortable feelings aside and move past the embarrassment as soon as possible. However, if you can stay with it, there is often something important and essential to learn from the failure.
- Do the work of finding and following your dream as if your life depends on it. Do not take our country’s promise of the pursuit of happiness for granted. There will be sacrifices but the effort will lead you to an authentic life.
These filmmaking farmers are great models of compassionate leadership as they support each other, feed their community healthy food, lead their farming and filmmaking teams, mentor other farmers and inspire all of us to take our own dreams more seriously while being more in tune with the planet.