John Chester is not the typical entrepreneur. He gets excited watching animals eat grass and finding worms in his soil.
The filmmaker-turned-farmer runs a different kind of startup: a biodynamic farm. Just north of Los Angeles, in small town Moorpark, John, 48, and his wife, Molly, 37, have a 213-acre farm that is going beyond organic farming to focus on biodynamic, or biomimicry, where every aspect of the farm works in sync, feeding off of one another using nature as its guide on what to do, and not to do. Few such farms exist in the country; it’s costly, consuming, and short on returns in the initial years.
“It’s a simple way of farming. But it’s not easy,” John says. “It requires harnessing the solutions that already exist in nature. No shortcuts.”
A big part of biodynamic farming, even if you’re producing vegetables and fruits, are the animals. The Chesters’ farm animals are now famous: their stories have been featured on Oprah’s OWN network. Chester who filmed shows for Animal Planet has cameras set up all over the farm, documenting the growth of the land, and his company, over the last few years. He has produced several short films to bring alive the dynamics of farming: these include vignettes on an odd friendship between their pig-in-residence and a rooster, the birth of more than a dozen piglets, and how sheepdogs fiercely protect their flock.
The most notable character on their farm is Wesley, a Scottish Highlands bull (a rare sight in sunny California) who spends her days gingerly munching away on apples and grass on the Chesters’ property. She’s surrounded by sheep, cattle, pigs, roosters, dogs, birds, and horses. The Chesters don’t sell meat; they sell produce and eggs primarily. But they use the animals to keep their lawns manicured and get an endless supply of manure.
In fact, in the middle of what has been a historic drought in California, Apricot Lane Farms is covered in lush green land, almost meadow-like. The reason, Chester says, is because they invested in grass.
Wait, what? Invest in grass in a drought?
Sounds contradictory, but Chester explains that the grass helps retain water when it does rain (as it has in the winter months), preventing runoff, which strips the land of topsoil and its nutrients. Plus, it helps retain carbon, a process known as carbon sequestration. Lastly, grass keeps the animals happy, and munching all day long. By rotating the animals from one patch of grass to the next, Chester is able to prevent overgrazing.
Read the full story at Forbes.