What is “Little People, Big World”?

“Little People, Big World” premiered on TLC in March 2006 and showed the daily comings and goings of the Roloff family, who lived on a farm in Portland, Oregon. Most episodes focused on parents Matt and Amy and one of their children, Zach: all three have dwarfism. TLC announced in August 2010 that the show’s sixth season would be its last, but plans were later changed, and the Roloff family’s show has now been going strong for a total of 23 seasons and 373 episodes, as of October 2022.

Three specials were aired after the show’s original final season: “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Breaking Down the Walls”, and “Conquering Mount St. Helens”. The spin-off series “Little People, Big World: Wedding Farm” was announced in October 2012, and premiered a month later; it ran for six episodes, and showed Matt and Amy launch their wedding business on the farm.

TLC approached the Roloff family in 2004 or 2005, and convinced them that their proposed show would educate the public about dwarfism. Matt and Amy thought it was a fabulous idea, given the lack of shows or media depicting dwarfism in everyday settings, and said yes.

The show follows Matt, Amy, Zach – Jeremy, Molly and Jacob don’t have dwarfism; interestingly, Zach and Jeremy are fraternal twins, with one coming up to average height, and the other being just 4ft 4 inches or 132cm tall. The family lives on Roloff Farms, originally a 36-acre property on which they harvest and sell pumpkins; Matt converted most of the farm into playground set pieces for his children, as he spent most of his childhood in the hospital and wanted to provide his offspring with a better experience, and whichn is now open to the public.

“Little People, Big World” doesn’t rely on scripted drama, because everyday activities are already challenging enough for some of the Roloffs, due to their height. Shopping, dealing with household finances, or something as simple as playing sports can seem like a gargantuan effort, taking into account that the family patriarchs are each just 4ft 1 inch tall.

The Roloffs – Matt and Amy

Matt Roloff, the family patriarch, is a farmer, author, TV personality, motivational speaker and much more, who was born in California in October 1961, with the degenerative dwarfism condition named diastrophic dysplasia, and needed 15 operations as a child involving lengthy hospital stays, and so missing out on normal experiences enjoyed by others his age.

His parents, Ron and Peggy Roloff, often appear on the show, and are of average height, as is their eldest daughter, Ruth. Matt’s younger brother Sam also suffers from diastrophic dysplasia, and needs crutches to walk, whereas Joshua, the middle brother, died aged 34 in 1999 from a severe heart malformation he was born with.

Matt met Amy in 1987 at a Little People of America convention. After a whirlwind romance, they were engaged and then married by September of the same year. The couple shocked millions of fans after announcing their separation in March 2014, which was followed by a divorce announcement in June of the following year, finalized in spring 2016, but Matt and Amy are believed to remain on cordial terms for the sake of the family, and to co-operate in running their businesses.

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In happier times, the Roloffs purchased their 34-acre farmhouse three years after tying the knot. Roloff Farm now boasts a regulation soccer field, mine shaft, tunnels, volleyball court, a pirate ship on a lake, a tree-story treehouse, and even a full-size medieval castle. Roloff Farm is Matt’s pride and joy, and he’s poured decades of time into the passion project which is currently being enjoyed by the generations that come after him. It also doubles up as a second revenue stream, given that the farm receives around 30,000 visitors a year, especially during pumpkin season. In 2010, the Roloffs also purchased an 80-acre property next to the farm.

Unbeknownst to many, Matt already had some TV experience before being approached by TLC. His film debut was in “Under the Rainbow”, in which he appeared as an extra, and he played an Ewok in the TV movie “Ewoks: The Battle for Endor”. One of his close friends, Martin Klebba, also has dwarfism, and has appeared many times in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.

In the late 1980s, Matt was a computer programmer for Altos Computer Systems, and other prestigious Silicon Valley companies; he also sold systems software to Fortune 500 companies. When Silicon Valley became too stressful, a friend recommended he begin working for Sequent Computer Systems, which had headquarters in Oregon.

happy HAPPY hApPy 23rd Birthday to my twin boys Jeremy & Zachary. You both inspire & make me a better person & Mom…

Posted by Amy Roloff on Friday, May 10, 2013

Matt took his friend’s advice, and relocated to Portland with Amy in 1990, while she was pregnant with Zachary and Jeremy, and they began building a new life together. Currently, the TV star runs Direct Access Solutions, a business he co-founded, and which provides the hospitality industry with accessibility products for little people.

Next up is Amy Jo Roloff, née Knight, who was born in September 1962 in Michigan. The mother-of-four is also a baker, author, motivational speaker and TV star, whose warm personality has garnered hundreds of thousands of fans. Her parents, Gordon and Patricia, worked for the Ford Motor Company and as a housewife respectively; Amy’s siblings are Cyndi, Katherine and Roger.

Amy was born with achondroplasia; she studied at Franklin High School before graduating from Central Michigan University with a business degree. Unlike her ex-husband Matt, she had no prior TV experience when filming for “Little People, Big World” began, but has become something of a celebrity since then, with features in “The View”, “Good Morning America”, “Celebrity Chopped”, “Oprah”, and more.

The baker published her first book, “Short and Simple Family Recipes”, in 2012 with WestWinds Press. The book contained 75 family recipes, all of them 100% original. Her other works include the autobiography “A Little Me”, and “Little People Big Values”. The blonde opened her online bakery, Amy Roloff’s Little Kitchen, in 2016, and sells seasonal baked goods amongst other delicious goodies.

Amy is also a compassionate soul who has used her newfound fame to do good deeds. She established the Amy Roloff Charity Foundation in 2009 – which, sadly, shut down in October 2021 – and focuses on helping disabled people and disadvantaged youth. She also supports homeless shelters and low-income senior housing, and has previously donated to the Dwarf Athletic Association of America.

When not putting her altruistic side to good use, Amy dabbles in motivational speaking. She’s been a keynote speaker for the Women’s Power Launch, a 2010 Lakes Health Conference, a 2015 Empowering Women in Business Conference, and a 2019 Dr. James Borland Convocational Series for Adrian College. As for regular gigs, she is part of the Get Motivated series, which is a business seminar providing useful tips to audiences of all ages.

In 2009, Amy and Matt’s marriage was put to the test with the strain of a lawsuit, when a woman who visited their farm claimed that they had neglected safety procedures. The couple settled the case out of court after a four-year-long legal battle. In the divorce, Matt purchased the farm from Amy, and she bought herself a new place in Oregon. They also owned the pumpkin salsa company Roloff Farms Salsa.

Amy and her long-term boyfriend Chris Marek became engaged in September 2019, and a little under two years later, they married at Roloff Farm in an intimate affair surrounded by friends and loved ones.

The Roloffs – Second Generation

Zach Roloff was born in May 1990, and is one of the world’s most famous little people with millions of followers across various social media platforms. As of 2022, he’s the only Roloff child still on the show; filming began when he was just 15 years old, so some of the trickiest years of his adolescence played out in front of cameras. Despite his siblings making their own way in life, Zach decided to keep the show running – literally – and stay on the family farm.

Zach and his long-time girlfriend Tori, who is of average height, tied the knot in summer 2015. Their children, Jackson and Lilah, were born in May 2017 and November 2019, and both have dwarfism. Tori previously worked as a kindergarten teacher, but is focused on her family these days, juggling her housewife job with an occasional photography gig. Zach helps run the family pumpkin farm, and coaches local youth soccer teams.

His twin brother, Jeremy, is also a social media sensation, thanks to his good looks and approachable personality. After high school, he attended Portland Community College, then transferred to Santa Barbara’s Brooks Institute of Photography in 2011. A year later, he was working for Human Not Hollywood Productions as a camera operator.

From 2012 to 2019, he worked as an operator for Cloudless Weddings, concurrently studying, and  graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in photography. Jeremy’s appearances in “Little People, Big World” became less and less, as he focused on his life ambitions, although it would take him a while to completely step away. As for his personal life, he met Audrey Mirabella Botti in 2010, thanks to a blind date fixed up by mutual friends; they married in September 2014.

The couple welcomed their first child, Ember Jean, three years later to the month; when Ember was one, Jeremy and Audrey left the show. Their second child, Bode James, was born in January 2020. They decided not to buy part of the family farm, and focused on their own business ventures in the creative industry.

In November 2018, the attractive couple launched “Behind The Scenes”, their podcast in which they interview entrepreneurs, discuss their marriage, and much more. They also co-wrote a relationship self-help book, “A Love Letter Life”, which became a New York Times Bestseller. Their second book, “Creative Love: 10 Ways to Build a Fun and Lasting Love”, was published in January 2021.

Little is known about the other two Roloff siblings, as they had no interest in remaining on the show once they formed their own families.

Dwarfism

Any human adult who is under 4ft 10 inches tall (147cm) has dwarfism, although the average height for those with dwarfism is 4ft (122cm). The characteristics of disproportionate dwarfism are short limbs or a short torso, whereas in proportionate dwarfism cases, both the limbs and torso are small. Most people with dwarfism have normal intelligence and life expectancy, and can have children – the Roloffs are proof of that – although pregnancy comes with risks for both mother and child, due to the underlying condition.

Achondroplasia is the most common form of dwarfism and makes up 70% of cases, characterized by diminutive limbs, whereas growth hormone deficiency is responsible for most of the remaining 30% of cases. Treatment differs, depending on the underlying cause of the condition – sometimes, surgery or physical surgery can be used to treat individuals with genetic disorders. If the disorder is hormonal, growth hormone therapy can be used during childhood, before the growth plates fuse.

People with dwarfism typically use specialized furniture and other individual accommodations to make life easier. There are also plenty of support groups to help people with dwarfism navigate through life, meet like-minded people, and stay strong in the face of possible discrimination. It’s important to keep in mind that the condition comes with social and medical aspects such as height discrimination, which includes the use of offensive language such as the word “midget” instead of the commonly accepted “little person”, “person of short stature”, or “dwarf”.

In books and films, dwarfs are often depicted as strange otherworldly creatures, instead of simply very short people. However, dwarfism as a medical condition is now depicted in many series, films, and books such as “The Man with the Golden Gun”, “A Son of the Circus”, “The Littlest Groom”, and “Bad Santa” to name a few.

The series “Pit Boss” features Shorty Rossi, a dwarf actor, and his talent agency Shortywood Productions. Shorty uses his company to fund his pit-bull rescue operation, Shorty’s Rescue; his full-time employees are all aspiring actors with dwarfism, and feature in the series.

The International Dwarf Fashion Show was created by Donnons Leur Une Chance and Creative Business House in 2014, and aims to boost little people’s self-confidence while raising awareness about their condition.

The “Little Women” Lifetime franchise and other reality series also show how people with dwarfism live in the US.

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