An Ecosystem Within Our Ecosystem: Regenerative Farming At Apricot Lane Farms
Stretching across 214 acres of bucolic southern California countryside, Apricot Lane Farms is the kind of place where chickens have ample space to roam, cattle graze in fields of lush green grass, and colorful produce is harvested sustainably. It’s an idyllic setting that brings to mind a simpler time when humans had a strong connection to nature no matter where they lived.
Husband-and-wife team John and Molly Chester established Apricot Lane in 2011 when they left city life behind to pursue their dream of living and harvesting in harmony with nature. Although their operation is certainly not the only family-run farm with ambitious eco-friendly goals, Apricot Lane stands out by embodying the principles of biomimicry, a philosophy that encourages humans to follow the patterns that already exist in nature. The Chesters raise animals and crops and tend to their land in ways that restore the air, water, and soil rather than harming those valuable resources. Their goal is to have all systems work in harmony with one another to create a fully functioning micro-ecosystem.
“Farming is teaching me just how incredibly intelligent nature is, and that alone is comforting,” says John Chester. “Our job is to be patient, be observant, and at the right time, provide the natural, raw ingredients that she needs. And then just step back.”
Building a Micro-ecosystem
The resiliency and wisdom of nature are on display at every level of the farming process at Apricot Lane. And it all starts with the soil.
Regenerative soil practices help the soil stay healthy, which in turn supports not only the crops but the vegetation and animals as well. Through manure composting and maintaining ample cover crops like grasses and trees, the farmers ensure that organic matter (grass, bugs, leaves, etc.) gets broken down into nutrients that feed the plants.
The crops at Apricot Lane are grown without pesticides or other chemicals. Whereas most conventional farms use chemical-based pesticides, the Chesters have taken the time to cultivate an interdependent ecosystem that supports natural pest control methods. Conventional pesticides have an immediate effect; alternative approaches can take time to perfect. For example, during one of their first years on the farm, the Chesters discovered snails were consuming their tree leaves. To combat this, they began raising ducks as a natural way to control the snail population. The ducks eat the snails and in turn lay nutrient-rich duck eggs.
It’s not just the crops and vegetation that get the all-natural treatment. The livestock is also raised without antibiotics or hormones, and they feed solely on grass, as they typically do out in nature. Another way Apricot Lane’s livestock mimics nature is by moving from pasture to pasture. In the wild, animals are constantly on the move to avoid predators. This pattern of movement also keeps the land from being overtaxed by wildlife. Apricot Lane makes sure the animals follow one another through the field, fertilizing as they go, before moving on to greener pastures.
“I think it’s a simple way of farming,” John says.
Apricot Lane is both certified Organic and certified Biodynamic, an in-depth process that took four years. And according to the Chesters, their all-natural approach to farming is not only good for the environment, but it also makes a real difference in how their food tastes.
The Biggest Little Farm
It’s awe-inspiring to consider the ways each organism at Apricot Lane works in service of the greater whole. And it’s precisely this sense of awe that inspired Chester to make a documentary about him and his wife’s farming journey. Titled The Biggest Little Farm, the film was an official selection at major festivals such as Sundance and Telluride.
“I’d been taught in environmental stories to be afraid of [nature] — and I felt the opposite,” Chester told the LA Times. “I felt a love and a hope, and I’m asking, “Why?” It’s because I was able to experience this four-dimensional eight years on the farm as a purposeful, intent-ful return to biodiversity and how suddenly everything was working together to try and help us if we were willing to take some expectations for perfection off it. I fell in love with a hope I’d never felt for something that has been trying to keep us alive for billions of years.”
Chester acknowledges that connection to nature is something everyone can relate to. “We face the climate issue and environmental farming as a polarizing thing: Someone’s right, someone’s wrong, we blame. The missing thing for me in these stories was the very thing I found in farming: This incredibly deep connection that was not polarizing, which actually made me fall in love with something and see so deeply into it, it somehow made me feel safer about everything.”
As the New York Times concluded, the film’s message is hopeful yet realistic: our planet is facing major environmental challenges, but there are still so many things we can do to mitigate the problems we face. Apricot Lane Farms answers this call to action and provides a blueprint for how others can incorporate the same bio-centric practices.