“HomeGrown” is a documentary about a family running an urban organic farm that holds a twofold fascination: The amazing process by which the Dervaes clan reaps such a bountiful harvest from a miniscule piece of land, and the way living in tune with nature binds them together as a family.
Jules is the father, an ex-hippie with three adult children. He raised them on his own after his divorce, and they’re still living with him in their 30s. They all work on the farm — if you can call a standard home plot on one-fifth of an acre a stone’s throw from the highway a farm. They do, and it most certainly is.
The Dervaes raise nearly all their own food themselves, relying on cooperatives for refined things like flour and rice. There are no electrically powered cooking appliances in their kitchen; everything is ground, or mixed, or cooked by hand. Their crops are intricately arrayed around the yard, with just enough room for a person to pass between the rows. They even have a few chickens, ducks and a pair of goats. Jordanne calls the goats “mobile composting machines.”
It may sound like a crazy lark, but the Dervaes are virtually self-sufficient. They grow enough food — an astonishing 6,000 pounds of produce per year — to eat themselves and sell to a few local restaurants who appreciate fresh fruits and vegetables raised without pesticides or other modern additives. Sometimes they go weeks between visiting the grocery store. They also use old vegetable oil from the restaurants to fuel their biodiesel SUV. There are solar panels on their house and the shower is heated by the sun as well.
All this is interesting enough on its own, but the real story is the family themselves. Some may find it odd that adult children are still living at home with their father, and the kids — son Justin and daughters Anaïs and Jordanne — talk openly about eventually going off on their own, and starting their own “urban homestead,” as they refer to the family farm.
There are conflicts. Even die-hard vegans get tired of eating the same meals over and over again. The children have a hard time finding suitable mates, since they find it unthinkable to give up the hardscrabble independence they’ve carved. (Jordanne says she will not abide a man whose hands are not as rough and scarred as her brother’s.) Jules feels like his daughters spend more time running their Web site than working on the farm.
Money has become an issue. Justin reveals that they’ve received an offer to put advertising on their Web site that will bring in $10,000 a month. But Jules refuses out of principle. This despite the fact that they have no health or homeowners insurance. He understands and accepts that he’s getting older and his children are slowly taking over the operation.
“It’s funny. In a life cycle, the parent is the engine. But maybe at the end he’s the caboose.”
Even their friends are dismayed at the prospect of the children striking out on their own, since they see the Dervaes as living an old-fashioned prairie ideal that has become a model again in a modern world with increasingly scarce resources.
Director/producer/editor Robert McFalls delivers this meaty (but vegetarian) message in a lean 50 minute runtime. Its environmental message, and the dynamics of a real family that epitomizes its, is well worth chewing over.