URBAN MICRO FARMING

Before and after. Radical transformation! Backyard plot in 1985 organically transformed early 1990’s to an urban micro farm producing over 6,000 lbs of vegetables, fruit and herbs. Small is beautiful and productive.

The recent NY Times video piece focused on our family’s urban farming and homesteading lifestyle. It was seven years ago that we first published our journey towards urban self sufficiency online and have seen in the last year or so a growing movement of city folks who are starting to rip out lawns and grow food.

“Cultivators of the earth are the most virtuous and independant citizens.” – Thomas Jefferson

In 1995 Dervaes Gardens was born out of Jules Dervaes’ commitment in growing his families food with additional income to boot. Taking skills and knowledge he acquired in a rural setting with an urban twist and what better occupation than to till the earth and right here in the city.

It all started back in the early 1990’s when Jules Dervaes was fed up with caring for a front lawn that he thought to be a waste of time and money. From that radical act a homegrown business sprouted and is still growing strong. Our small urban plot provides us not only with produce but income and with that we consider that we are directly and indirectly self sufficient. The crops that we can’t grow are purchased with the money received from the produce we sell. The NY Times video reported that our .10 (1/10th) acre plot provides our family with an average income of $25,000. Not a fortune, but enough. And “enough” is enough.

We don’t spend much (well, expect for the procuring PTF expenses — website, outreach, etc). Our food bill is drastically reduced by all the fresh produce, fruit and herbs that we grow with a monthly bill of about ~$500 for a family of four and volunteers. The household utility bills are less than $40 month (including taxes and user fees) and we are careful about conserving our resources. Also, we are blessed with home ownership (traded 10 acres in Florida for this fixer upper in 1985) and for our daily needs we live relatively simply – second hand clothes, making do or doing without. We are not want of much and by pooling our resources we are able to live a comfortable life. We like to think of our project as “the little homestead that could – doing more with less”

Homegrown goodness. Fresh from our garden to his table

Now back to our homegrown business aspect of the urban homestead. One of our clients is featuring our homegrown salad mix and homeraised eggs on the menu!

We all were very pleased to see our name in print. Chef Onil says that the salad greens and eggs are a huge hit (of course, we aren’t surprised) – the customers can’t get over the incredible taste. He normally orders once a week. But within a few days he called up, asking for more because customers liked it so much that he had run out.

TODAY’S SPECIAL (sample from menu)

Salad

Onion and gruyere tart with house dried cherry tomatoes, anchovies, Nicoise olives, and Dervaes garden greens…$13 (Salads served with white balsamic vinaigrette and foccacia roll)

Organic Egg Salad

With Dervaes’ chicken and duck eggs, house dried cherry tomatoes on EuroPane rye bread…$10

For over a decade we have slowly transformed our urban plot into a viable (& beautiful) working micro farm. Proving that one no need to move to the country to be self sufficient. We’ve shown by doing that urbanites can grow their own food and turn traditional gardens into market gardens not only to feed themselves but to provide a substantial income.

Comments(4)

  1. Lori says:

    Hello, Anais,

    First of all, big-time kudos to you and your family for being such a fantastic example of self-sufficiency.

    I have been reading many of the articles on your Website and have been inspired to turn more of our lawn (we have about the same amount available as you) into land for growing food. So far, in the past year, I’ve been growing some vegetables in containers on our porch and some greens and herbs among the already existing flower beds. I’m ready to kick it up to at least another level.

    My questions are:

    1) Did your family convert the land from lawn to garden all in one go? Or, was it in stages?
    2) If you staged the transition, how did you prioritize it? In other words, what did you decide to plant first?
    3) What kind of overhead/expenses did you have for the conversion in general?
    4) Also, with the goats and chickens, how hard was it to convince your city that these were only pets? Did you have to apply for a variance?

    Like your dad, Jules, my husband is sick of wasting money and energy in mowing the lawn and supports my idea for using the land in a smarter, more sustainable way.

    Thanks so much for the help and inspiration!

    Lori

  2. Jasmine Reese says:

    This is really wonderful. It just goes to show that each individual has the power to make better decisions for their families and the environment. I liked how you gave figures on how much it costs as well. I think it takes extremely acute business sense.

    I have a question:

    Is a farm grown in the city really organic?

    Given the more densely polluted environment of the city, I would think produce grown in an urban environment is not as shielded from “air and soil” chemicals as maybe rural produce. Is there some truth to what I am saying?

  3. john says:

    Farm grown in the city organic?? Well as organic as the materials used to produce the crops. I think you will find more chemicals in the vast majority of conglomerate farm crops due to the chemical fertilizers used. Large operations may have issues with run off from animal waste in the water supply, alot of seeds are genetically modified. Not all rural farm are like this but the grocery chains produce supply is seriously effected by this type of farming, unless you seek out places that obtain tightly controlled farming sources.

    In the city however, you are very aware of pollutants in soil and will bring in your own if needed. Water is another example where you are more aware of what you are using. Air quality depends on the city, alot of city gardens utilize green houses. If anything urban growing is more organic because you are so aware that you will be eating the tomato that is in your backyard.. if it was my food I would be nurturing it to obtain the best plant possible.

    Its also much more rewarding and more work to have a self sustaining mini eco system in an urban environment, you really have to create or provide/introduce the good elements needed for organic food, at least initially

    Rural areas have some awesome organic farms that are much smaller in comparison to huge chemical operations so it depends

    my thought is the food is as organic as the materials used to grow it

  4. 5 Reasons to Grow Your Own Food says:

    […] It seems intuitive that in order to grow your own food, you need a big patch of land. But you might be surprised by how much you can grow in a relatively small space. (Here’s one example of a family that grows more than 6,000 pounds of vegetables on just .10 acr…) […]

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