Some farms are simply more inspiring. Apricot Lane Farms in Moorpark is one such place. To explain why, proprietors John Chester and wife Molly recently hosted a group tour in advance of “The Biggest Little Farm” documentary launch.
The Chesters launched Apricot Lane Farms in 2011. They didn’t have much farm experience at that point. John would farm in-between making films in his 20’s, and Molly was a private chef. They found a mentor in the late Alan York, who was instrumental in starting their journey. Still, they had a tower of new experiences to tackle. “A farm typically fights an ecosystem,” John says. “We had to find ways to try and integrate it.” The land previously housed a lemon farm with avocados that was “extractively farmed” for 45 years. The Chesters opened Pandora’s Box by restarting the ecosystem and have invested “blood, sweat, tears, and more blood,” as the documentary demonstrates.
Apricot Lane Farms focuses squarely on food and flavor. “To start with a nutrient dense food, it’s all about the soil and the choices farmers make,” Molly says. “Everything out here was a means to an end by working in the kitchen.”
People piled into three deluxe open-air carts and navigated the farm’s dirt roads. An unmarked barn signaled our first stop. John identified the contents as the farm’s “secret weapon.” He added, “Behind these doors are 350,000 friends, earth worms, that are composted back into soil, inoculating our farm.”
The 213-acre parcel with rolling hills now houses “seven farms in one,” including four-legged livestock, chickens, 80 different fruit trees, and over 100 vegetables and herbs in the garden.
The Chesters also put considerable thought into their chicken coop, which they move daily to spread manure.
John Chester addressed the high price of their eggs, which cost $15 per dozen at local farmers markets, and more than that at Erewhon. One dozen takes 12 x 25 hours of feeding, and that’s if their hens lay an egg every day. Most chickens lay one egg every other day. Apricot Lane Farms also provides pasture, water and organic, non-GMO feed that supplements 40% of their diet, which is not cheap. John says, “We’ll pay $19 for a martini in New York.” Restaurant distribution is limited to places like Gjelina, Gjusta, Mélisse, Nozawa Bar (for tamago), and Patagonia headquarters café in Ventura.
Pigs help till soil and turn the mulch. One female Red Wattle pig, Emma, weighs 650 pounds and had 17 babies, which nearly killed her.
The group stopped for a citrus snack and to see the whole property. Apricot Lane Farms has rows of wildflowers and move bee colonies to areas that need more pollination in the hilly area they call the “fruit basket.”
“The word sustainable is now being misused,” John says. “Nestlé even has a line of products with ingredients that are sustainably sourced.” Also, “sustainability” doesn’t require any certification. Apricot Lane Farms focuses on three components: economical, ecological, and emotional. “What we do here is beyond sustainability,” John says. “What we do is regenerative.”
The Garden House hosts much of Apricot Lane’s organic vegetables and flowers, many marked with educational cards. For instance, a Texas sweet onion sign reads, “pyruvate = tear-causing substance released during chopping.”
After the tour, as a special treat for invitees to coincide with the release of “The Biggest Little Farm” documentary, Lucques Catering prepared lunch featuring meat, fruits, vegetables, and herbs from the farm.
The abundant meal featured garden lettuce, fennel and avocado salad with Meyer lemon, green olives, and soft egg; farro tabbouleh with green garlic, roasted vegetables, and mint pistou; roasted ALF pork leg (thankfully not Emma) with leeks, roasted peas, stinging nettles, and sage orange sauce; ALF lamb meatballs co-starring roasted tomato sauce and goat cheese; and grilled farm steak & Moroccan carrot salad with cumin, coriander, and lemon.
For dessert, Lucques Catering baked cookies featuring farm carob, walnuts, and Roan Mills heritage grains.
Many other people contribute to the farm’s mission, including employees and volunteers. 15-16 people live on property at any given time, including WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) volunteers, who work 9 hours a day, 6 days a week, for three months. They get lunch and dinner five days a week featuring farm products. Lucky them.
Monthly farm tours span two hours, cost $25 per person and can be reserved through the website.