An Urban Homestead

April 28, 2008

That’s right. Urban homestead.

Via the Pasadena Weekly comes a story of the Dervaes family, a foursome of folks who’ve turned their 1/5-acre lot alongside the Foothill Freeway in Pasadena, Calif., into a green (and Green) oasis, complete with a vegetable and fruit garden, a solar powered outdoor oven, and a biodiesel-guzzling ’88 Chevy Suburban.

According to Weekly reporter April Caires, the metrofarm grows approximately 6,000 pounds of produce per year — more than enough to sustain patriarch Jules Dervaes and his three adult children, all of whom help run the little farm in the city. The remainder of the produce is sold to nearby restaurants, netting the family’s $25K/year income. Son Justin distills biofuel for the family SUV. Daughter Jordanne runs the family website, Path to Freedom, which has been sharing the Dervaes message with the world since 2001.

That message, which boils down to “baby steps to sustainability,” guides the quartet’s day-to-day: from raising chickens to raking duck- and goat-derived fertilizer; from watering crop beds with outdoor-shower water runoff to whirring fresh-picked meal ingredients in the hand-crank blender. All of these moves toward a low-carbon lifestyle didn’t come at once; the family adopted them processually: one thing led to another, so to speak. Now, the Dervaeses operate almost completely off the grid, all within the bustle of Pasadena

What to see the family in action? Check out the NY Times Mag‘s five-minute vid.

So. Is it reasonable to think that all of us could do this? Live Small, sustainably? Certainly, there isn’t enough arable land to go around; even at 20 percent of an acre per family, we’d quickly run out of space. Of course, if it’s possible to produce three tons of fruits and veggies on each tiny-farm tract, there could be enough food to go around. Right?

Granted, loads of U.S. cultural givens get in the way of this Thoreau-ean method: lawns, for one thing. Meat lobbies, for another. Climate, for yet another. Economy, wealth obsession, disconnection from food, the high price of leisure.

But how many potatoes could I grow in front of my house? How many strawberries? How much spinach? Instead, there is lamb’s ear. A climbing rose. A blighty tree and boxwoods.

Truly: How could I farm out here, at the heart of Seattle? Around my tiny house?

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7 Responses to “An Urban Homestead”

  1. Justin The Man said

    I totally went to see this house while I was living in Pasadena. It truly is an amazing testament to what we all COULD be doing with the resources we literally pour into our lawns.

    If you’re ever in So Cal (God help you!), definitely make a point to swing by this house.

  2. I was wondering if you’d been there… I’d love to go. Sounds pretty awesome.

  3. Sandra said

    I love this! I have plans to finally do something similiar on a much smaller scale. Although I am in the high desert of California I have high hope for a beautiful small garden by the end of this year.

  4. Sounds good, Sandra! Can you grow Meyer lemons?

  5. […] 12, 2009 After all my waxing and whining about growing our own food, the Smallers have taken a size-appropriate step: tomatoes […]

  6. What a feel good story, truly amazing. Thanks for sharing it, I am really enjoying this blog with all these different stories.

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