When she was nine years old, a climate-concerned camp counselor told Molly Chester that “if we didn’t do something to change, the Earth wouldn’t exist.”
The exchange left a young Chester having a full-blown panic attack, becoming a vegetarian, and entering into a decade of avoiding the topic of climate change for fear of spiraling into anxiety.
Fast forward to today: she’s turned her anxiety into action and transformed that fear into a love for healthy food and protecting the land that provides it. She also abandoned her vegetarian diet for one inspired by the regenerative farm she started with her filmmaker husband John, Apricot Lane Farms, made famous in their Oscar-nominated film, “The Biggest Little Farm” (available on Disney+).
“This whole time that I spend here [on the farm], I’m not thinking about climate change. I’m thinking about the fact that I love this land, that I want to see it thrive,” Chester told The Cool Down. “It’s less fear and more of a love story –– the more that we all are finding our ways to connect to the natural world and protect our love for it, the more that things will turn around.”
It’s less fear and more of a love story –– the more that we all are finding our ways to connect to the natural world and protect our love for it, the more that things will turn around.”
Over a decade after that camp conversation, Chester attended culinary school and became a private chef in Los Angeles. In 2011, she and her husband decided to take a chance on a shared dream to build a life and make an impact through food and farming.
On a dusty, dry, and lifeless farm an hour outside Los Angeles, they saw life, hope, and a future, not just for their family, but for our planet.
They transformed those 10 acres into the thriving 214-acre Apricot Lane Farms, rich in biodiversity and abundant in nutrient-dense food, all through the power of regenerative farming, which is rooted in healthy soil and creating a healthy ecosystem that essentially supports itself. The farm grows more than 200 varieties of fruits and vegetables and humanely raises sheep, cows, pigs, chickens, and ducks.
With John’s filmmaking background, they captured their story in “The Biggest Little Farm,” taking viewers inside the farm’s transformations and introducing the lovable animals on the farm.
One of the latest ventures from Apricot Lane is Chester’s new cookbook featuring the farm’s nutrient-dense recipes, “The Apricot Lane Farms Cookbook,” available on Oct. 25 (you can pre-order it here).
As Chester told The Cool Down, the farm began as a means to the end of being able to cook with the delicious and nutrient-dense food that shines throughout the book.
“It really is designed to be a window into this piece of land and hopefully an inspiration for people to get connected to the land that exists around them,” she said.
The cookbook doesn’t advocate for a specific kind of diet –– as Chester says, each type of diet has its own purpose for each individual. A long-time vegetarian, Chester says she saw her own health decline on that particular diet.
“I found that meat was an important part of my diet,” she said. “And I had to get comfortable with the cycle of life, and that the animals that you’re raising to then be able to serve your life’s purpose need to be honored.”
As a farmer, she looks to the land to inform how much meat she consumes. Instead of fertilizing their farm with petroleum-based fertilizers, the animals fertilize the soil. As Chester explains it, if a farmer chooses to use animals on their farm, there’s a certain cycle of life that must happen to regulate the reproduction of the animals. Witnessing this cycle of life, she says, makes the Chesters intentional and mindful about their consumption. “You can see from your land what an appropriate amount of meat consumption is based on how much can be healthfully produced.”
Put it another way: most of us don’t think about where those plastic-wrapped chicken breasts in the grocery store come from, whereas, as Chester explains, when you “get connected to your land and cook from your land, you start to become interested in using the whole animal because you are really respectful of that animal.”
“There’s an emotional connection to it, which creates a reverence, and in eating the whole animal, there’s so much health that’s inside of it,” she added.
There’s a lesson for all of us there, even if we don’t live on a farm –– get connected with the land and food produced around you.
“If you don’t want to grow your own food, there’s people around you that do, and so you really just have to find those people. And the easiest way is from the local farmer’s market,” Chester explained. “Beyond that, if you are so inspired, there’s so much that you can do right in your yard, or even on your porch if you have an apartment, with just growing some herbs or growing some tomatoes.”
All these years after climate anxiety paralyzed her, Chester is living by example –– not by telling anybody else what to do, but living a life with John and their 7-year-old, Beauden, that feels right to them. Now, the farm’s rebirth has become a metaphor for the possibility for our planet when we let nature heal itself –– and their film has helped them tell that story across the world.
“We have taken land that was completely dilapidated and had no nutrient density in it at all and have improved the soil much more than I ever could have imagined possible,” Chester remarked. “And that’s just what happens when you actually just put some consciousness into a space that didn’t have a lot of consciousness to it. And so imagine what we can do as we all start to just do our own little version of what this is.”
“I’m infinitely hopeful because I think that the turnaround could happen much, much, much more rapidly than the decline ever did,” she continued.
John echoed Molly’s optimism: “That resilience that exists within the natural world gives me so much hope, because it’s just waiting for us to unleash its full potential,” he said in their new Disney+ update. “As long as we continue to show up, our little world will reveal more of its secrets.”
Check out “The Biggest Little Farm: The Return” on Disney+ and order the Apricot Lane Cookbook here.