“Growing up, I always wanted a farm.” Jordanne Dervaes says. “We couldn’t get a farm, so we made a farm.”
Dervaes lives on a micro-farm in the middle of Pasadena, where she and her family depend mostly on the land to live. What they have: a chicken coop, dwarf goats, edible landscaping and a front-porch farmstand. With just one-fifth of an acre to work with, she, her siblings and her dad have been able to make a living growing vegetables and hosting workshops. Last year, they produced $60,000 worth of sales on their property.
“The backyard is the most wasted space in America. It’s been a learning process,” Jules Dervaes, the patriarch of the family, says. “To consistently produce a large amount of food for 10 years without depleting the soil has been difficult.”
The operation is called Urban Homestead, and it’s a city farm with an educational focus. Produce is sold on the front porch or online, and workshops, from making bone broth to fermentation, are held inside the house.
A former teacher, Jules started his unique lifestyle in 1986 because he wanted to be self-sufficient. “I wanted to see if I could make it,” he says. “You pick your hardship. You pick your poison. You either have to go on the freeway and chase your business, or do it this way.”
And for the last three decades, the family have taken a normal Pasadena home and changed it to a sustainable machine. There are solar panels on the roof, and the family uses gray water for landscaping. There’s a biodiesel filling station in their garage and a composting toilet. There’s very limited waste. There’s not even a central heating system.
“There’s a wood-burning stove to heat the house. We try to use scrap wood as much as we can,” Jordanne says.
She added: “Pretty much everything has been donated or found on the side of the road.”
In 2011, the family was at the center of controversy, generating a backlash from the urban farming community by trademarking the term Urban Homestead while putting out cease-and-desist letters. The fuss has largely died down and today, the family is focused on workshops and education.
“When I started, one gentlemen helped me become a beekeeper,” Jules said. “You need to be a mentor. You need someone to take the sting out of some of the losses. I want to do what he did for me. Wealth is in the knowledge of the land.”
For more information on Urban Homestead, visit urbanhomestead.org