'PEN15' Revisits The Awkwardness Of Middle School


Support for this podcast and the following message. Come from mayo clinic when you are searching for answers that can change your life. You know, where to go mayoclinic more. At mayo clinic dot org slash answers from WHYY in Philadelphia. I'm Terry gross with fresh air today, the inescapable awkwardness and extreme emotions that come with puberty and being in middle school. That's the subject of the Hulu comedy series. Penn. Fifteen let's with the show's co creators and co stars Anna cockle and Maya Erskine there in the early thirties but play middle school versions of themselves. They say making the show force them to relive their experiences. Some scarring others baffling sexuality at that age is really bewildering and confusing, and it doesn't make sense. I was turned on by sand dunes. I don't know why apple cores real brought rotten apple cores and sand dunes. Also we hear from. John and Molly Chester who gave up city life to start a sustainable farm. The story of their trials. Errors and successes is the subject of the documentary, the biggest little farm the middle school years have got to be one of the most awkward periods of life. I don't know if many people would want to go back and revisit those years, but that's kind of what our guests Meyer Erskine an-, Anna concl-, did they co created the Hulu comedy series Penn fifteen in which they co star as seventh grade versions of themselves in the year two thousand in reality. They're both in their early thirties. But the rest of the shows middle schoolers are played by actual teens pen fifteen explores what it's like for Maya an-, Anna to deal with puberty mean girls and their first sexual feelings. It's embarrassing poignant and very funny and many of the stories come from Erskine and cockles real tribulations in middle school a heads up to parents. This interview includes a couple of brief non-explicit. Mentions about how they dealt with those kinds of sexual situations. When they were that age pen fifteen has just been renewed for a second season Meyer Erskine an ankle spoke with fresh air producer Sam brigger. They started with a clip from the show Anna and Maya are having a sleepover. After Anna has just had her first kiss with her boyfriend, Brendan, and it's not as she fantasized. It would be my Asir about it. And then like your lips close together when you guys are standing close together. Yeah. Um they touched. Wasn't. It literally wasn't at all. He put his lips like all the way around mine. L and like sucked. It's not funny. And then why was that she just sucked me put his tongue in my mouth any like to like a torpedo cat tongue. Drilled my mouth like. Do that. Yeah. I can't I wish I could your tone. Did you do it back or did it with hin back lake? It was in trouble. You know? Crazy. I know. Awful. But at least you have your first kiss, you know. Which? I really do. Everything's just different. I don't know. I just have to break up with them. So. He is not Brendan that badeah snacks at the bowling alley. You know? No, it's like, the Prenton that Trotha pack throw this. So what's up to you to get the next boyfriend? That's a scene from the hula show. Penn fifteen created and co starring my guess, my Erskine and Anaconda welcome to fresh air tanks. Thanks so much for having us. You know, those early teen years are such a strange time. And you have these bodies that are starting to sprout in adult hood, but you have minds that are probably not ready to handle that yet, and you having to cope with these more adult situations, and the thing that makes us a worse as your emotions are just so intense like everything is just saturated and overwhelming like just the way that that teens respond to music like it's so important in it's like their theme music, so everything feels so consequential, and you know, and then they're talking they're thinking about romance. So like everything is a powder keg. And there's so many misconceptions too. It's like in real life. Anna me, I thought kissing was going to be the ultimate feeling of romance. And that's all I wanted. Like, I was not interested in sexuality at the time. I just wanted to like hold someone's hand and fall in love and kiss like zaken, Kellyanne save by the bell. So when the real when the real version happen, which was just this weird tongue. Yeah. Like just drilling me. I it was a shattering of expectations. But you're and I think that's true on in a lot of different ways. But you're fronting as though you either enjoy it or you get it or whatever. And there's a lot of sadness in humor that I think that comes with that. Yeah. I think you you create these beliefs of, you know, things lasting forever. Like your friendships? I will be friends with this person till the day, I die and not realizing that things will change because you might go into different classes than your best friend or you start developing different tastes than your best friend. It's it's. Drama dea. Yeah. So Anna that scene was based on your first kiss. Right. Yeah. It was amazing. Yeah. That. Yeah. I mean, and and what I found out recently in my I had a really similar experiences that I went home after my real first kiss, and I had been looking forward to it for so many. Here's and and I was one of the last girls that I knew to do it. So I remember just being like, okay just have to do this. I have to get out of the way. And then I did. And then I went home, and I told my mom who I didn't tell anything to in cried. And and I was like I never wanna do that again. Yeah. I had the same experience where I was a late bloomer with boys. And when I had my first kiss, I had the same expectation of going to be this romantic movie like kiss, and again, I don't know what's with these boys drilling their tongues. What are they watching watching watching watching watching something? But I cried after as well because I thought in my mind at the time, I thought, oh, I guess, that's what kissing is like, that's how hissing will be. For the rest of my life. Right. Yeah. Could you describe what you guys were like in seventh grade? I mean, these characters pretty similar to how you were. I was I was the same in different. I think that the version of me and Penn fifteen was more me and fourth and fifth grade. I think in real life by seventh grade, I learned to hide the things that I realized that made me, you know, a target in fourth and fifth grade. You know, I would tell people not to cheat. I would tell people not to swear. I don't know. I was just like generally annoying. But it came from who I really am. And always will be which is you know, the there's good and bad to it. And and I think as I got older. Yeah. I just learned that I I'm gonna keep some of those things to myself, I'm going to adjust how where I put my papers. So you don't sheet off my paper. But I'm not gonna tell you not to. Things like that you just learn to Coppola a bit more. But I definitely I can be like delusional optimistic and that can be good and bad. And and so that's just still with me. You know? Yeah. Yeah. And I think for me I was full of contradictions. I was incredibly insecure and then brazenly confident at moments delusional, e so I I was incredibly whiny as a kid, and I think that comes through a lot as a way to get things. And I think my fear of letting go of childhood was a huge issue for me. I wanted to be an adult yet. I was really scared of losing my innocence, especially in front of my parents because I acquainted innocence with love. So I thought if I maintained this childlike self than or identity than my parents would continue to love me the way they've. Loved me all these years. So that's a weird misconception that I created in my head the that's played out on the show, or Maya sort of becomes almost babyish in front of your parents. Yeah. That's still exists to this day at thirty one. I'm sad to say that I revert really easily in front of my parents. And I'm sure there's something that they're gaining from that to which is something I'm exploring why does this happen? Not to put the blame on them. But I'm like, why do you guys in trouble? Yeah. Did you guys feel targets of bullies at that age? I wouldn't necessarily call them outright bullies. But I had friends that would. Put me down a lot, and I didn't really comprehend what they were doing until years later. But yeah, I wouldn't say necessarily bullies. That would. Yeah. I had a weird thing happen where base there was kind of a cycle in my school where the older girls would harass the younger girls, and that was even more in high school but in middle school. There is a rumor that went around about me that I masturbated with an ice cube. It was really fun for me that rumor, and they came up with a really brilliant nickname called icebox. Unfortunately, like brilliant. In that followed me for you know, the next will really till I graduate school. Let's and with it came this kind of sexualization of me that I wasn't ready for like, I was very much a prude at the time, you know, quote, unquote, and was in going there. And yet there's this like thing there about me out there. And I was labeled as a slot, essentially. I mean, there are posters put up about me that said slide, and he got really extreme. And and and in other ways like I was simultaneously accepted. I mean, I I had you know, groups of friends, and and and had a found my place in high school. But that followed me you were saying that you felt like you were accepted to at the same time. And and in my memory, I wasn't accepted. But when I talked to people who went to my middle school. They always say you seem so happy like you refer. With everyone and you were doing okay while I was going through this private misery. I guess and I looked in my yearbook recently, and I got overflowing messages of love. But in each message. It was you are the cutest Asian I've ever met all my God. I love you so much. You're the cutest, Asian Maya, screw those other Asians. You're the best Asian, you know, that that was the majority of these messages in my yearbook, and I'm sure in I took that in as a kid, and in my heart of oh, no one likes me for me address that in one of the episodes called posh, which has a really funny preface where you guys are doing like a public service announcement at your school, and there's like five girls some of them are like the scarier, popular girls, and you're going to be the Spice Girls. But you're like you're now elderly suffer. From osteoporosis, and you drink milk, which makes your bones feel better than than you can dance right? That's right funny. But then, you know, mile wants to be posh spice, and but the these three other girls, not including Anise is no you should be scary spice and for people who don't remember the Spice Girls scary spice is the only black member of that group. And they're like, you should be scary spice because your tan, and you look the most Laker and maya's the character like well. Okay. I guess and then things start getting really bad like the popular girls. Like, you should bring us the milk because you should be the servants. And then they start calling you Guido the Gardner, they're sort of like free associating like all the racist things that they can think of and then you know, your character doesn't know what to do because it seems like she's not totally clear. What's going on? She was like this is uncomfortable. But maybe I'll play along because it girls are laughing. So maybe I'm funny. She starts acting like how they she thinks. They want her to act in. It's really uncomfortable. And that's true. Right. My that came from. That's your experience, isn't it? That did happen to me a lot, and I would play into that role really easily to become the jester, and I would make characters up and imitate my mom with a thick Japanese accent. And it would cause kids to laugh, and I thought okay, I'm doing good. I'm I'm I'm I'm a funny person because they're laughing at me. But really they were laughing at my mom's accent the thick accent. And I didn't put that together as a kid, and it never penetrated me the way we show it in the show at the time because you're just trying to survive. So I think we were trying to show, you know, a lot in thirty minutes. But what is that like when it's kind of hitting the person? And and what is it like when you first realized for the first time that your not like your other friends, you're not white. You don't sound the same. You don't look. The same. Even though this whole time you've held this belief that you are the same person, especially as your best friend. And so that moment of recognition in the mirror of oh, I don't have is like Anna or those girls. Why don't I I wish I did? And that hitting harder that that was something that I don't think I fully explored till we started writing this show. Do you? Remember that first time when you felt that way. I think I remember when I went over to a friend's house, and we were putting makeup on. And when they would put eyeliner on they had, you know, double eyelids. So you could see the skin above the eyeliner. But when I would put the island or on it covered my whole eyelid and oh get emotional thinking about it and us crying too. And and not having. It looked the same was such a it made me hate myself. I hate in my eyes a hated that. I didn't have. Thick double eyelids. Like my friends because that's all I saw around me. And I didn't have any ideals of beauties to look up to really when I was a kid growing up of Asian beauties. Oh, and so. Sorry. Yeah. It's not fair. Watching you go through that in the scene and the girl's talking to that way was extremely moving. And you know, it's it's a bunch of white girls. And and I'm one of them, and I'm the best friend, and I'm not saying everybody stop. It's it's it's a mirror of that in. It's a mere of now in the sense of you know, I've been raised from a small girl in real life in a very liberal progressive. You know, I went to unitarian church and the way that diversity was dealt with was like, we should all be colorblind. We're all the same. And that's as far as it went. And I think that you can see in the episode the negative results of that really of antigens going. Well, we're the say that's just funny, and that's just humor, and I had something feels off. But like, it doesn't it's not important. And the other thing I wanted. To say was just reiterating. How important it was to not vilify those girls because they weren't aware fully of what they were doing that. It was somehow ingrained in them. And I was so grateful that we got to write an ending where Anna acknowledges. Yeah. How Maya feels that? I don't think I ever received that in life. So to have your friends say, you're right. I don't know what it's like to be like you, right, right? And I'm sorry. Let's talk about how you decided to actually play these characters yourselves. Like, why did you think that that would work your women in your thirties, and you're acting like thirteen year olds and the rest of the middle school actors are actually teens. How did you think that was going to fly? I mean, we didn't know it would work necessarily. But we knew that if we wanted to explore a lot of the real things that happen to us at that age we couldn't ethically or legally but thirteen year. Old actors in those rosacea. Sure. And then you know, an-and, I Nyerere are were first actors, so we always approached telling stories through character. And it'd be great to be thirteen again, you know, go through all of this trauma. But there was a lot of fear in questions of how is this going to actually work with real thirteen year old kids? And so we had to film of half a pilot essentially to see if it would work as an experiment, totally work. Like you look awkward and look secure new doll. Look like everyone else. So that's given bodies hunting must've sold at the time. And it's even funny like an elect, you're you're you like tower of the seven. What did you guys do to your appearance physically to embody those younger versions like what what did you do in terms of makeup? And just also how you held your body's. I had braces. And it was kind of like invisible line with, you know, braces, put on it. So it just slipped in and out, but I did start using wax onset on very method because it's hard, you know, scratching the timeout. And then I yeah, we had kind of like binding straps on our chests, and then and it really my always says, and I love this that the genes were always ill-fitting because they were for kids usually from EBay, and then the strap on the chest would like push your stomach, and you know, to the most pouch e sausage way that could go which feels right? And then and then. Yeah. For me, you know, again, something that I did when I was thirteen was kind of casually always be blocking my my stomach as though, you know, just hoping that everybody would just see me as skinny and not not they wouldn't know that I was trying to not bring attention to my. Stomach essentially, he's trying to hide it all the time. Yeah. And I think I was just so physically uncomfortable like you were saying, but because I had to wear a wig every day, and I had this retainer put in we put mustache hairs an eyebrow hairs on on ourselves. In addition to the hair, we have already pre wax pre tweet. I tried not to shave my face for this preparation for this role. Let's go. But yeah. With the straps in the jeans, you're just so physically uncomfortable that it makes you self conscious. And and even though you want to have bigger breasts at that age. You also want to hide whatever is developing because it's not your ideal version of what you want. We're listening to the interview fresh air producer Sam brigger recorded with Maya Erskine an-, Anna concl-, co creators and co stars of the Hulu series Penn. Fifteen we'll hear more of the interview after a break annual talk about how hard it is to start an organic form with John and Molly Chester, I'm Terry gross. And this is fresh air. This message comes from NPR sponsor each rate. Investing your money shouldn't require moving mountains. No matter how much or how little experience you have each raid makes investing simple along with great value. They provide the tools and support you need to navigate the markets all to help your money work hard for. You for more information. Visit each raid dot com slash NPR each rate. Securities LLC member, sipc. That's get back to the interview fresh air producer Sam brigger recorded with Maya Erskine an-, Anna concl-, the creators and stars of the Hulu comedy series. Penn. Fifteen what I'd like to play a clip about Anna interacting with one of the kids in the show. And this is a great scene. And this is Anna has just recently gotten a letter from a possible suitor, and it's written in this tiny tiny handwriting like like, seventh graders do and you're in science class. And you put it underneath the microscope because he wanted to read it. But at that moment, your teacher calls your partner to go up to you. And it's your partner turns out to be Alex who is like your own Antic ideal. So let's hear that scene. Nice. Can you read that or they can't quite I don't know how to use them microscope? So. It says I like playing with you, Anna. Let's hang outs. Oh god. Whoa. Zana? It's just me stupid. He likes you who. You what? Friend and snacks. Who's who's? Oh him. I don't know cares. Yeah. So was up with your your Jaffer, whatever I broke up with her. I'll have. Oh my God. I'm so sorry. It's jill. What did you hate about her? Shoes. Always there. If I was your boyfriend, I mean girlfriend, I would not be anywhere unless you wanted me to be somewhere. And then I'd be there on time. Cou. Crazy. There's this kind of music concert thing tomorrow night. So cool. And I'm in length abandoned chorus nice fairly up time for a boyfriend. But I do have a little are you going to go or? Well, I think we have to go. Like, hey, Pat thing. So I just love all the work that Anna's doing there and getting absolutely nothing back like flash forward to like doing all the emotional labor in some relationship down the road. But. Yes, funny. So like, the the cool boys are just so dismissive of an my, but like it's blunt. It's like these direct rejections, you know. He doesn't even know her name, and you know, that must really hurt, but it's kind of like like tearing off a band-aid, right? But with the popular girls, it's it's different. Like, they never outright say things like your loser. I don't wanna hang out with you. It's always like these various strange excuses like, oh, there's not enough room in my parents car few sorry or like, oh, I don't. I'm not supposed to loan close to my friends, even though all the girls around her are wearing her clothes, and like it some ways it feels worse than what the boys. Do. It's like more tortuous because it in part it gives my and and hope like it gives them something to hold out for and like, you know, maybe there'll be room in the car next time or and because in some level like the characters. Want to accept those excuses. I think yeah, I really related to that experience with the popular girls, we were all really close in elementary school. But then once middle school came and people started looking more beautiful or showing their expensive bags and things. I slowly was getting pushed out, but they were always really nice to me and say, oh, Maya Sar, you can't come to the brunch of the bar mitzvah like but happy birthday. We love you, you know, and they would call me from the brunch and ruined them. Were there my mom? Yeah. I remember that moment I started bawling after and my mom, I probably can't say this on air. But she was like those little pitchers I'm over at no more. And like, I be they call me because I was like, no, they're being sweet, they're saying happy birthday mom, and she was like, no, it's not okay. Because I wanted to be included in the if you were you were a best. Friend. Yeah. So yeah, it's it's it's the hope that you you on the head. Yeah. Not not really excuse the popular kids behavior. But I I I imagine they're probably feeling like a lot of the same anxiety. And even though like the ways that they're acting out or like behaviors that are totally hurtful and bullying. But like, I don't think anyone at that age is free from that source laying Zaidi. Oh, no. And I also probably did the same thing to other girls. You know, I think no one is like the food gutless. Yeah. It's all about survival and being accepted. So you'll sometimes do whatever it takes. There's not a lot of heroic acts in middle school. I think. Yeah. And we talked about welcome to the Dollhouse by Todd salons a lot. And how that character, you know, the bullied becomes the bully, and that's very common. Even if it's just in a moment, you know, you're flexing this muscle that you see is keeping other people safe. And maybe it'll. Keep you safer. And so, yeah, we we wanted to show that as well. I guess so just a warning to parents here. The next section. We're gonna be talking non graphically about sexual feelings. But one of the episodes is about my discovery masturbation. And it's it's a great example of how these characters are teetering like between childhood and adult hood. So she's like sitting in a room and she's playing with her. My little pony toys. And then she like has them start kissing, and then she starts like mashing them together. And then she starts feeling these urges which she acts on after that experience. She becomes obsessed with that. And like everything she sees triggers sexually like like in the classroom. She can't concentrate because she's distracted by like a kid's ear or like a pencil razor like someone's eyebrow. She finds like well rounded sand dunes really hot like, it's it's hilarious. And it feels very honest. So how did you come up with that idea? Well, they still on my real experience. I mean, I sexuality at that age is really bewildering and confusing, and it doesn't make sense. I was turned on by like what you said sand dunes. I don't why apple cores real brought rotten apple cores and sand dunes for some reason came into my head once and I was left to the races off off, you know. I don't know what the connection is. But the point that that abstract things can turn you on at that age. And what we really wanted to explore was the shame around it. And how you're never told about it, you kids don't talk about it. I thought I was a complete pervert I thought I was going to go to jail. I thought I was a monster. I had no no knowledge of what I was doing. And yet I instinctually knew how to do it. And so that release and sexually felt wrong about it. Yes. And and so the idea in the episode maya's grandpa haunts her above her bed every time she's about to we were playing on the idea of someone's watching and disapproving. And if I'm under these covers than it's okay? And I would like Lady Macbeth, you know, wash my hands. Religiously like out damn spot of of this. What I? Like, I. Real america. I think that's the great part about this episode is like you're you deal with that feeling of shame like for while maya's not telling and what she's doing like because she's making a lot of time for herself to have free time. Let's just say that right? And so she's kind of lined in about what she's doing an Anna finally confronts her and Maya says something like I'm like a boy, but I'm only grocer because I'm a girl, and I think that's a really great line. Because it could knowledge is like this double standard that exists. There's some sort of tacit acceptance at, you know, we'll, of course, boys are going to do that. But you know, girls doing that. And and you know, there there were movies back then where talked about boys acting that way into kind of normalize dependent not really for girls. No, not at all. And I think too, you know, going back to the icebox Rimmer that went around about me. I mean, there's a monster feeling with it. I mean, they're strenuous for. Me. And I think that there's also an interesting juxtaposition of of experience that Mayan I have had this leg in in Yang thing of I was a super late bloomer sexually with myself. And yet there was this outward public reputation around me that was the opposite. And then you kept this secret an outwardly showed kind of a younger, right? Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. I was very I was a very late bloomer with boys. But by myself, I was you know, level ten experience. How much do you feel like either viewers still carrying around the middle school version of yourself? She's always there. I think and she's a big part of who. I am. And it's I guess about learning to take care of her. What that means? Now, you know, and I have tools now to help her out and get through that moment. Ray? I think a lot of mind securities came from that time. So anytime, I'm dealing with any of those insecurities or anytime, I'm dealing with any conflict with anyone I have to ask myself o. What is twelve year old Maya really want from this moment? What is twelve year old Maya really need? Oh, it's love or it's security or knowing she's okay or notion, she's smart enough, or it's, you know, a lot of it's just being able to tell your child self your enough. Yeah. Which I have to do constantly. Well myers. Can thanks so much for being here today? Thank you for having thinki- so much my Erskine, an Anaconda of the creators and stars of the series Penn. Fifteen all of season one is streaming on Hulu is just been renewed. For season two they spoke with fresh air producer Sam brigger after a break. We'll hear from John and Molly Chester who gave up city life to start an organic farm and faced one horrible obstacle after another John directed. A new film documenting their experiences called the biggest little farm. This is fresh air support for this NPR podcast and the following message. Come from the United States postal service every day innovative companies are reinventing the way business happens. But none of that is possible without the right people people who get packages to over a hundred and fifty million delivery points affordably and on time with the latest technology and expertise who can help you deliver the future of calm. The United States postal service. See why they deliver more ecommerce packages to homes than anyone in the country at USPS dot com slash future day after day you wake up with a long to do list. You can get one thing marked off with short podcast up. I gives you the latest news in about ten minutes. So you feel caught up on the world, even as you're catching up on your life. And don't forget to walk the dog. Listen to up I every morning from NPR news, many people have dreamed of leaving the city for the country to live in a way that would reflect their concerns about the environment. Our next guest, John and Molly Chester or a couple who did just that. They left their home in Los Angeles and started and organic farm, but they soon learned about the many ways nature can turn against you. No matter how noble your intentions, the Chester's tried to turn a dry and soil depleted two hundred acre parcel into a lush organic farm. They would determine to tend fruit orchards and raise cows. Pigs and chickens in harmony with nature drought pests windstorms and fire threatened to end the venture. But after eight years their farm apricot lane farms is thriving John Chester who was a filmmaker before he tried farming directed a new documentary called the biggest little farm about the obstacles. He and Molly a. Former private chef faced and overcame, and what their experiences can tell us about the relationship between humans and our environment. The biggest little farm has won several awards at film festivals. And will be in theaters this Friday, Molly, and John Chester spoke with fresh Air's Dave Davies, John Chester, Molly, Chester, welcome to fresh air. Did either of you have an experienced farm? I grew up in my twenties, I worked on a couple of family farms, but they were you know, industrial sort of commercial monocrop operations growing corn soy for essentially Perdue chickens, but no understanding of soil or the importance of biodiversity or how the whole ecosystem went together. In fact, it was all about suppressing the ecosystem, and controlling it and fighting it. So there wasn't really an understanding beyond just driving a tractor building fences and weed whacking. So somehow you manage to find investors and put this thing together. And by a couple hundred acres north of Los Angeles. What was the land? Like when you saw it. It was invention. Run lemon farm monocrop, more or less. There is some avocados as well. But it had been extractive -ly farmed for forty five years, meaning that in order to grow the food cheaply, they were taking out the nutrients from the soil and not regenerating them, and that, you know, that's kind of the basis for conventional hag, it's not looking at the whole system, it's not regenerating soil necessarily. So we essentially had just convinced our partners to purchase a bankrupt piece of land. And we had to figure out a way to jump start that flywheel system of the soil through these regenerative practices. It looks pretty dry ugly in the Phil. We thought it was beautiful at the time. I thought it was the most beautiful place I've ever seen and it felt so magical at that time and looking back at totally was desert. But it's amazing. What happens when you start to think your happiness is in front of you as something it just shields all of the the realities, right? And there's a there's a guy who sort of at the heart of the story. I mean, the muse the Merlin the, you know, the this guy Alan York, who's was an adviser to the project gives us an idea of some of the early advice. He gave us one of the first things he said, you should do Allen was he was big picture. And so he was looking at what do we need to take out to put in what should more naturally grow in this region and to add to that many his goal for us was to maximize the biological diversity of our farm, you know, through the use of plants animals wildlife. And the restoration of wildlife habitat. So he wanted to basically he was encouraging us to start a ten ring circus. We we should note that this wasn't just the two of you on the farm with some advice from Alan you manage to recruit volunteers from all around the world come in help, which was of course, critical. There was a lot of work you brought animals, and and I should just say for the audience. I mean, this is just a beautifully photographed film, and it is just absorbing to watch. But you bring animals, I mean, you bring ducks and you bring chickens and you buy a bull at auction. And then that kind of changes the mix of what's happening, so stuff grows the trees grow. And then you discover various pests like to eat the fruit on your trees, everything we everything we did to improve the land calls that another problem. Right. You know, we grew cover crops the snails love cover crop in the Snell's. You know, eat the the leaves of our citrus trees, and we grew cover crop. And we created the worst gopher problem in probably Ventura County, if someone could tell me what I could do with gophers. We we. We would we would be in the black a lot sooner. So we were really creating new problems with every solution. And so really required a commitment to go a lot deeper than we thought we were going to have to go. You had all kinds of problems with pests helping themselves to the crops that you're raising including the these delicious fruit trees that you had among them gophers which were attracted by the cover soil that you put their which holds nutrients and holds water, and you got a lot of gophers. And they they eat the roots of the trees and kill them. Right. Yeah. I mean gophers in small quantities can be good. They're killing your soil. They're they're actually helping transfer and inoculate various funguses that are important to soil health and bacteria, but you know, too many and they start eating the roots. So we tried to fight the gopher problem with manpower. You know, and spent you know, thousands and thousands of dollars trapping gophers. But it wasn't until you're five that we realized that there is things in the ecosystem that manage gophers like Barnes. So we started put we spent probably six hundred bucks seven hundred bucks on Barnaul boxes and by year seven we had about eighty seven barn. Owls come through the farm having multiple clutches in each box. You know, and they ate an estimated fifteen to thirty thousand gophers, which was way more than three men fulltime could do in a year. And so knowing those kinds of things is what makes this way of farming more forcible. We've lost our we've lost the connection to the Laura and we've stopped innovating, you know. And this innovation in this type of experimentation is something that, you know, ultimately will make this type of farming, you know, not only ecologically sustainable, but financially sustainable, limit just reintroduce you. Then we'll take a break and talk some more. We're speaking with Molly and John Chester who seven year effort to clear land and create a two hundred acre organic farm is the subject of the new documentary. The biggest little farm. We will talk some more after short break. This is fresh air support for this podcast and the following message. Come from mayo clinic when you're searching for answers that no one else has been able to find and the most important person in your life needs the right diagnosis, you know, where to go mayoclinic, find out more. At mayo clinic dot org slash answers, dollar stores thrived during the recession. But what happened after the economy recovered, the indicator from planet money finds out and goes on a little shopping trip. It's a package of six Groucho. Marx knows last night with the mustache and everything six of them for a dollar, this is fresher. And we're speaking with John and Molly Chester whose remarkable effort to create a two hundred acre biodynamic farm battling droughts pests and fire is the subject of the new documentary directed by John called the biggest little farm while you were still struggling to get the fruit crops going you you had a lot of chickens, and they laid a lot of eggs, and you were able to sell those. So that was really working. But there was a problem with coyotes eating the chickens hadn't you try and address that while they the coyotes ate about three hundred and fifty of our chickens, and you know, we we refuse to shoot the Coyote because we wanted to find a way to collaborate. But you know, ultimately, I succumb to it. And I kill a Coyote. And I think it's a really important moment in the film because there's something that happens after that that has a profound effect on the way I look at the Kyrie's role. The Coyote also happens to eat gophers in rabbits, another passed on the farm if we kill all the coyotes. We're gonna make that problem worse. And that forced us to find a solution. It is quite a moment at the film when you shoot the coyotes. He's he's trapped trying to get through a fence, and we can see you level. The looks like a shotgun. What were you thinking? Then what we feel emotionally? In shooting. The one carry the thing that was weighing on me. The most was that. I knew this wasn't the only Coyote I was going to have to Blida rate every Coyote that crossed our path, and we were the farm that had animals like that they were eating we, you know, we were creating a food system for coyotes. So it was going to be an endless battle of constantly killing coyotes. And I think that's the thing that scared me the most was that it felt like an incredibly slippery slope. That is a really good point at John. I think too because anytime we slip into a space where a radicalization is the answer we are almost always in a losing battle. And then you found a way that the coyotes became helpful. How did that happen? Well after we had shot, the one kite. There was a Coyote that ran into the fence at the garden, and it'd paralyzed itself, and I had to actually now, you know, use the nicest Coyote, it was still alive, but it couldn't move. But when I asked why is this Coyote in the garden, I looked around and he'd been digging holes in the garden, it was eating gophers who's chasing rabbits, who's actually helping to balance another problem. And so I thought there's gotta be another way. And we finally found one of our guardian dogs didn't eat chickens. The only one her name was rosy and rosy became the guardian dog of our flock and knock on wood. We've not lost. And he chickens since then, so yeah, the coyotes are the Kennedys are busy eating gophers rabbits. Wow. So the gophers were eating the roots of the fruit trees that was the problem now right at the coyotes can't get the chickens at goes for. The gophers which is a big help to you nature nature. Is there simple opportunists, and you just need to make it slightly harder on one side. So that they go the other direction at sometimes doesn't require as much effort as you think. But yeah, you're I look at is like you're kind of used kind of modern fanatic. It's like you're hacking into, you know, the engine of of of your of your ecosystem, you're hacking into methods of bio mimicry, you know, and trying not to influence it in a way that you know, causes a collateral damage, but just enough that you can live alongside of it. We know it's going to see the process unfold in the movie is is really beautiful and we've had a couple of interviews on the show lately about climate change. And while you know, it's advocates for change. Do see some signs of hope it can be pretty dispiriting. And I think this film is as inspirational as that can be discouraging in a way, and it almost makes it hard for me to ask kind of the hard questions which had. I do wonder about like, Ken this scale. I mean, Ken farming this way feed a planet. You know, because we had the green revolution in the sixties with all the hybrid seeds, and then the mono culture agriculture that does a lot of harm. But produces an awful lot of cheap food. I mean, I don't know if you think about it on these terms, but it is so way to the feed the planet and change kennison's. The way way we grow food and eat it. I think the other way to ask that question is if we don't start working with our land in a more regenerative way can the planet feed us, you know, in the just in the last two hundred sixty years, we've destroyed more than a third of the top soil. We've deforested forty six percent of the trees, we've doubled CO two from two sixty two four hundred parts per million. We are an incredible. Force of nature humans and we've done all of that unconsciously and just imagine. With consciousness for the infinite possibilities of collaboration with nature. Imagine what we could do with that. I think that that charge of a farm to feed the world, you know, comes like from post World War Two. It's not the job of a farm to feed the world. It's the job of a farm to feed its community. And the loss of just that understanding is how we got here. Our goal is to feed, you know, the area around us, and yes is it is economically possible. Sure. I mean, not our way specifically is not the way for every farm, but there's farms that are working in regenerative way that are are economically sustainable. Absolutely. And it's just a decision, you know, an act in an understanding of the kinds of farms. You're going to support you know, that that that's probably going to give us the best chance at a change. Molly, Chester, John, Chester. Thank you so much for spending some time with us. Good luck with the farm and congratulations on the film. Thank you so much, John and Molly Chester spoke with fresh Air's. Dave Davies the new documentary about their farm, which John directed is called the biggest little farm. It begins. Opening in theaters Friday tomorrow on fresh air. My guest will be journalist. Rachel Louise, Snyder, author of a new book about domestic violence and Suzanne debuts who runs a crisis center for victims of domestic violence, including a program designed to identify when a woman is at risk of being murdered and help prevent that. From happening Dubuche was a victim of abuse in her first marriage. I hope you'll join us fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly seavy nesper. Roberta shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry gross.

Coming up next