WESTON A PRICE: Preserving a Homegrown Way of Life

This month, we (Weston A Price Pasadena Chapter) 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.

“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.”

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.  ~Jules Dervaes

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.

Before the presentation, we feasted on grassfed beef, pastured eggs, organic kale salad, raw veggies, homemade kimchi, gazpacho, cornbread, falafel, and quinoa.
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.

We were treated to a viewing of Urban Homestead’s 2009 Award-Winning Short Film Homegrown Revolution and an inspirational message from Anais on how we can start our own homesteads.

“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.

    ~Jules Dervaes

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!

The Dervaes family keeps meticulous records on their home’s transformation from ordinary city lot to working micro farm.

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! ~Jules Dervaes

Your next steps

What will you do next on your “path to freedom”? How has the Urban Homestead inspired you? Leave a comment below!




Comments(3)

  1. Nebraska Dave says

    Anais, another great article to encourage folks to start growing their own food right where they are. Your family’s inspiration is a huge step to teach others about the food system in general. The more we can learn now, the easier it will be in the future when we just might have to know these things to survive. The Victory gardens of past generations have been lost. During World War II, it’s been estimated that 1/3 of the vegetables were grown in small backyard gardens. In Britain, it was even higher. Because of the Germany blockade, the Brits were forced to grow all their own food and supply the food for the soldiers in war as well. We live in a time when food is taken for granted and expect it will always be there. I’m not sure that’s going to be the case. History tells us that food shortages happen.

    Have a great garden inspirational teaching day.

  2. Deanna says

    I just wanted to say I have been following your website for about six years now. Things have moved slowly on our little plot of land. Your short film really made an impact on my family’s life. We have all done our part and taken time to learn basic skills. I am now at a point where people are asking me for advice. When I started I didn’t know how to garden, understand foraging, animal husbandry etc. I appreciate what your family has demonstrated over the years. It is certainly making an impact. I expect that we will be able to grow a sufficient amount of food this year. I know that we just do a little bit at a time and it starts to accumulate. It is my hope that we will be able to pull of the grid in the city over the next few years. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. OggieR says

    Discovered your family’s SOCAL documentary just the other night and I must say, I’m inspired by what your family has done. It’s like putting into practice what I have been dreaming half of my life — a microfarm right in the city. Someday I will realize it with YHWH’s help but it’s true what was said here, start with what we have right now in return to a simpler way of life. I’ve learned a lot, been inspired a lot by your story and keep on the awesome green work! God bless!

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