This month, we had the distinct pleasure of welcoming Anais and Jordanne Dervaes of the Urban Homestead, a family-operated city micro farm and sustainable living resource center. The Dervaes sisters generously spent their evening enlightening us on the growing urban homesteading movement and providing a glimpse into their lifelong journey toward self-sufficiency.
Start of a Homegrown Revolution
In the mid-1980s, Jules Dervaes moved his family into a circa 1917 craftsman-style house in Pasadena with the dream of one day returning to a simpler way of life in the country. As the years passed, it became clear that the Dervaes family was meant to stay put and blaze their own path. Instead of waiting for favorable circumstances, they forged ahead in their quest to achieve food independence and a sustainable lifestyle.
In the award-winning 2009 short film Homegrown Revolution, the family retraces the steps they took to transform a weedy lawn with hard chalky soil into the lush edible landscape it is today. One of the first steps was covering their lawn with six inches of mulch during the drought of the early 1990s. When Jules Dervaes learned of GMOs entering the food supply in 2001, he got serious about growing food. The corner hobby garden expanded to cover every available square inch of their 66 x 132 foot lot.
My garden had become my Alamo.
After 20 years of mulch and compost, the Urban Homestead now rests on beautiful nitrogen-rich soil and produces over 7,000 pounds of organic produce on one tenth of an acre annually. The nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables sustain their health and provide income for the family. Thanks to their front porch farmstand open 6 days a week and online sales on Good Eggs, Urban Homestead’s bounty lands on dinner tables all over the greater Los Angeles area.
Small steps have the biggest impact
Anais and Jordanne had great advice to share from over 25 years of hard work, trial and error, and fearless experimentation. Aspiring homesteaders eager to begin but overwhelmed by the amount of planning and effort needed often ask the Dervaeses how to start.
Their advice is simple: just start with what you have, and start small. It can be as simple as riding your bike, shopping at the farmers market, getting involved in a local group like the Weston A. Price Foundation, growing a single tomato plant, or just staying at home.
The Dervaeses are now reaping the harvest of small, consistent investments of effort over time. The Urban Homestead blog is 13 years old – older than Google, YouTube, and Facebook. The City of Pasadena has given them three awards: two for their sustainability recycling practices, and the 2013 Historic Preservation Award.
Appreciate how your food gets to the table
“People think food magically appears on the table,” remarked Anais during the presentation. A big part of a sustainable lifestyle is being a conscientious consumer. Do you know your farmer personally? The sisters encouraged us to celebrate the seasons and appreciate what it takes to grow food and get it to the table, especially in light of the current drought.
To save water, the Urban Homestead uses an ancient irrigation technique known as the clay pot or ollas method. When filled with water and buried in the ground, the capillary action of the clay pot slowly allows water to seep out as needed. Since employing this method seven years ago, the Urban Homestead has cut their water usage in half while maintaining the same level of production. Made-in-USA lead-free clay pots are available for sale at the Urban Homestead Supply & Farmstand.
Learn skills of the past for a healthier future
As more people are turning to healthy eating as the main solution to serious and chronic illness, learning traditional food preparation and preservation methods has become foundational for optimal health. Skills such as fermenting, sprouting, brewing, canning, and making minimally-processed foods like raw butter are more essential and relevant than ever.
Progress starts with envisioning a new yet old lifestyle with home as essential to all aspects of life: work, leisure, food, energy. Real progress means bringing the food economy home again.
The Urban Homestead has been practicing and teaching vital “skills of the past” for years. Their skill-share workshops provide hands-on experience with prescientific food processing such as canning fruit preserves, pickling vegetables, brewing kombucha, and fermenting yogurt and kefir. Beyond food, they also teach knitting, crocheting, sewing, mending, and raising holistic backyard ducks and chickens.
Classes are held at the Homestead Hub, a new meeting space for affordable workshops and community enrichment just steps from the Dervaes home. Students use fresh ingredients from the Urban Homestead garden and are provided jars and other necessary materials. The best part: you get to take your delicious creations home!
A model of conscious innovation
What sets the Urban Homestead apart from others who have attempted self-sufficiency is their meticulous documentation. They have charts, diagrams, and stats for everything – from what grows and dies in the garden to how many gallons of biodiesel were brewed. Their blog serves as a public journal of their struggles and victories.
Another distinction is the Dervaes family’s inclusiveness and community involvement. In the summer, their weekly Sunday Social and Hootenanny brings people together to enjoy food and music. As good neighbors with giving spirits, they recently did a canning workshop for 50 low-income kids in a Pasadena City summer club.
From traveling the world with their popular Homegrown Revolution film to the day-to-day running of several successful home businesses, the Dervaes family brings a passionate energy to everything they do. Through courageous transparency, they lead by example and inspire others to get back to basics with a home-based and family-centered way of life.
In our society growing food yourself has become the most radical of acts. It is truly the only effective protest, one that can – and will – overturn the corporate powers that be.
By the process of directly working in harmony with nature, we do the one thing most essential to change the world … we change ourselves!
Your next steps
What will you do next on your “path to freedom”? How has the Urban Homestead inspired you? Leave a comment below!