By attempting to reduce humanity’s impact on earth’s natural resources, sustainable living and urban farming are rapidly becoming the way of the future. Cities like Boston, Seattle, and Portland have been fostering urban farming for decades, while others like Los Angeles are swiftly working to catch up.
One family, living a short jaunt outside of downtown Los Angeles in Pasadena, California, has built their very own backyard fruit and veggie empire. It is a powerful example of just how much humans can accomplish when they put their minds to it, not only making an art out of urban farming, but a science as well, utilizing space, knowledge and time to maximize results.
With just 1/10 of an acre to work with, the Dervaes family of four remarkably harvests 6,000 pounds of organic produce each year. The farm boasts of edible landscaping, dwarf goats, chickens, honeybees, and a front porch farmstand. Educational workshops are held inside the house, where you can learn about things like fermentation, gardening, and making bone-broth.
Jules Dervaes, father and founder of the Urban Homestead, began his lifestyle of self-sufficiency while experimenting with beekeeping in New Zealand, and then later in Florida. In 1985, Dervaes and his family moved from Florida to their current home in Pasadena, and took on the challenge of converting their small backyard into the urban farming masterpiece that it is today.
To address space constraints, the Dervaes family grow vertically as much as possible. “We have pole-beans and grape vines on fence-lines and arbors,” Jules explains. “We also use container gardening to incorporate spaces that would otherwise be considered barren, like on top of concrete.”
Diversifying their crops is also necessary in addressing limited space.
“We practice a very quick rotation of crops,” Jules expands. “The climate here is arid, but allows for 365 days of gardening. This constant gardening is good, but it is also exhausting for workers and for the soil. We have to use all of our waste materials to keep our soil from being depleted.”
Justin Dervaes maintains the watering system for the entire urban farming project, keeping meticulous track of what to water, how much, and how often; Jordanne Dervaes runs the Urban Homestead website, and Anais Dervaes bags the produce for the farmstand.
The family utilizes every inch of their urban plot, organically growing hundreds of plants without chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
“It’s a challenge to grow things organically,” says Jules. “Sometimes we just have to let nature be, and if the crops are too infested, we’ll just pull out the crop and plant another batch.”
With 60% of the crop consumed by the Dervaes, 10% is repurposed as animal feed, and 30% is sold to individuals and local establishments through their front porch farmstand. From fresh picked greens, to heirloom seeds, raw honey, and seasonal preserves, the farmstand offers produce and products from the Dervaes farm, as well as from other organic urban farming projects and local food artisans. Community supported farm boxes are also available for pick-up on a weekly or biweekly basis.
You may think farm boxes and a farmstand full of fresh local products would be enough sustainability for one family, but not so. Emboldened by their success in urban farming, the Dervaes began powering their home with alternative energies. Twelve solar panels were installed in 2004, and major appliances such as a washing machine and refrigerator were switched over to energy efficient models.
The house has no air conditioning, no clothes dryer (they hang clothes on a line), no microwave, no hair dryers, electric shavers, or blenders (they use a hand-crank). A solar oven sits in the backyard, and they have a wastewater reclamation system, a composting toilet, and a dual flush toilet. They even home-brew biodiesel for their car using waste vegetable oil, all in the name of energy conservation.
What’s your impact?
“Whether you live in an apartment, suburb, or on 10 acres, our mission is to connect with folks who yearn to take back their food and live a more sustainable and conscious lifestyle,” said Jules. “We can all take small steps that collectively have a big impact. Even if it’s planting a window of herbs or supporting your local farmers market.”
The example of sustainable living set by the Dervaes family’s Urban Homestead is inspiring, to say the least. We may not all have a green thumb or an affinity for creating our own biodiesel, but it’s a safe bet that each of us could stand to live more sustainably. Whether it’s by using energy efficient appliances, shepherding sheep around your yard, or growing carrots as good as grandmas, there are options for everyone.
How do you reduce your carbon footprint on this earth? What are you growing in your backyard? If you haven’t started, there’s no time like the present. Urban Farmer is an online retailer selling seeds and planting supplies, making it easier than ever to get started with your own garden or urban farming project. You can’t buy happiness like the Dervaes family has. So why not create your own?