As we celebrate our 8th anniversary of blogging online and 36 years of a simple, homesteading (24 of which in the city) life, it’s amazing to see the growth of the urban homesteading movement this last year.
Yes, that’s right. Homesteading. Does that word conjure images of Laura Ingalls Wilder, rumbling across the plains in her covered wagon, searching for the next piece of land for Ma and Pa to tame? Joni Mitchell warbling about getting back to the garden? The back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and 70s that transformed flower power into farming?
“From 2001, when we founded this urban homestead, it was like outer space,” says father Jules Dervaes in a recent phone interview. “There wasn’t much interest in it.”
“Now, there is plenty of interest—mainly from young people,” he says. For a while, the Dervaes family would go to festivals to promote their lifestyle, “and the crowd was old hippies,” he says. “We called it ‘the graying of the green.’ Now I’ve been invited to speak at colleges.”
As a self-described hippie in the 1960s, Dervaes saw homesteading as a safe haven against the political, social and violent upheaval of the day. But then, global economy and global warming weren’t buzzwords. Dervaes’ early natural living experiments didn’t carry the weight of carbon footprints or avoiding a toxic food supply.
“It’s way worse now,” he says. In his early homesteading experiments, it felt grassroots, local; “global economy” and “global warming” weren’t buzzwords yet, and nobody talked about carbon footprints or widespread recalls in the food supply. “Now we’re all in it,” he says. “It’s way serious in terms of the health of the planet.”
Dervaes looks to the youth to “right the ship,” he says.
Dervaes had his four children steeped in old-time chores. Three of them still work and live with him on their tenth of an acre, making around $25,000 by selling their food to nearby restaurants.
“It’s a blessing,” he says. “If you have to work, this is the way to work. You can see your child grow up and develop; you get to see it, share it….It’s mutually beneficial to everyone. When you all see the success of the family, it goes down to the littlest child who does what he can do to make himself feel worthwhile. He can see the work of his hands. There’s strength in the unity of a family working together.”
These days, his children are “kind of taking over,” and “I have a hard time telling my kids to stop working,” he says. “They love this stuff. It’s not a chore, a drudgery.”
Dervaes says that thinking about the environment, food security and other modern problems “can really make you depressed.” But feeling awful about something can be the spark to motivate you to change your life, he adds. What other choice is there?
“That’s the key,” he says. “Otherwise, why would you wake up in the morning? What are your options? You’re not going to let this thing go by on your watch.”
That outrage should remind parents that they have a moral responsibility to do something about it, “at least for your own children. Think about other children, the global perspective.”
Dervaes says that he’d like to see more homesteading communities, in which members can trade, work together and teach each other crafts that are rapidly becoming lost. (Dervaes and his son have experimented with leather crafting, but they’ve had to teach themselves, with varying results.)
“Some people stop at a certain level and say, ‘That’s it,’ but homesteading is forever,” he says. “If this generation does not save handcrafts, where are you going to find that information from a person? There’s nothing like learning from a master…I worry how this can carry on.”
Dervaes quotes an Iroquois law that says, “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”
“I think the seventh generation is great,” he says, “but I’m worried about the first generation.”