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Could You Grow Food Like this Family?

March 08, 2011

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The Dervaes family has created a modern suburban homestead that has yielded an entirely new, revolutionary alternative lifestyle.

What the Dervaes family has done is truly very impressive.They have turned their one-tenth acre Pasadena home into a compact urban farmthat sustains a family of four.

Although it obviously isn't practical for most people toquit their jobs today and convert over to this lifestyle overnight, the Dervaesdemonstrate an alternative lifestyle we can all aspire to and incorporate, atleast to some degree.

Their notoriety has not come without a price, however.

The Dervaes family recently trademarked the term "urbanhomestead" and has been engaged in a sizeable legal battle with others who areusing, or have used the term, but who failed to take the additional step oftrademarking it.

This legal wrangling has caused the family to come upagainst afair amount of criticism, arguing their claims have damaged some reputableorganizations and individuals who support and promote the idea of urbanhomesteading. Regardless of which side of the controversy you're on, theDervaes cannot be faulted for showing us what IS possible on a little plot ofurban land.

Benefits of Eating Locally Grown Foods

It is the best of all worlds to grow as much of your ownfood as possible. I have a small, manageable backyardgarden and orchard myself!

But most of us who aren't full-time farmers will have toobtain some of our foods from others, and the next best thing to growing ityourself is buying it from a reputable local source.

Eating locally grown foods offers abounty of benefits for you and the planet.

Foods are fresher, tastier, and more nutritious becausethey are usually picked within the last day or two. Produce rapidly losesnutrients once removed from the vine.

Here are six more reasons to eat locally grown food:

  • Local food is more likely to be free of GMOs, added growth hormones, antibiotics and other drugs
  • Local food supports farming families in your area and builds a stronger community
  • Local food is more sustainable, supports a clean environment, benefits wildlife, and decreases reliance on CAFOs
  • Eating local food lowers your “carbon footprint”
  • Local farming preserves open land
  • Supporting local growers helps keep your taxes in check

Remember, food grown locally is not always organic. Though it may be grown just down the roadand sold at your local farm stand, it may still be doused in pesticides andchemical fertilizers, and tended by workers being paid unfair wages.

At the same time,the organic certification process established by the federal government isexpensive, and some small farmers cannot afford it. This means some local foodsare grown according to organic standards but are not "certified organic."

The only way toknow for sure is to become "friendly' with your farmer, so that you can learnabout his practices.

Is a Food Revolution Stirring in America?

The food system in the United States is in desperate needof an overhaul.

Thanks to the hard work of food giants like MichaelPollan, Joel Salatinand others who are getting the word out through books and media, or are workingright in the field to grow food in balance with nature, the tide may finally beturning.

Many folks are realizing that the bulk of the packaged,processed foods found in supermarkets are not real "food" at all, butcollections of excessively subsidized farm crops and chemicals manipulated totaste and look edible.

In many parts of the United States, the small farmers whoonce prided themselves on supplying wholesome foods to neighboring towns havelong since closed their doors, replaced by giant CAFOs—ConcentratedAnimal Feeding Operations—and vast fields of geneticallymodified corn, cotton, soy, and canola.

Why are these crops making up themajority of U.S. farmland? Because the government subsidizes junk food. Current industry and governmental practices arean enormous factor in the growing epidemic of chronic illness.

In order to effect change, actionmust come from the ground up, and that is precisely what's attracting"food movements" such as the locavores and the slow food movement—a love for real, pure food, and the community itbuilds along with it.

Food expert and author Michael Pollan writes:

"It makes sense that foodand farming should become a locus of attention for Americans disenchanted withconsumer capitalism. Food is the place in daily life where corporatization canbe most vividly felt: think about the homogenization of taste and experiencerepresented by fast food.

By the same token, food offersus one of the shortest, most appealing paths out of the corporate labyrinth,and into the sheer diversity of local flavors, varieties, and characters onoffer at the farmers' market."

Urban Gardening Can Drastically Reduce Your FoodBill

Organic foods sometimes (but not always) cost more. The "certifiedorganic" seal comes with a higher price tag for several reasons.  Rules imposed by the USDA make it moreexpensive for farmers—especially smaller growers—to produce their food.

According to environmental activist and beyond-organicfarmer JoelSalatin (who was featured in Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma):

"Many local and real food advocates chafe under commonly higher prices,not realizing that in fact, much of this higher price does not end up in thefarmer's pocket. It is rather siphoned off as regulatory expense to comply withasinine government regulations that either do not scale down to smallerproducers and producers, or are outright capricious and inapplicable."

And then, there are market-drivenfactors.

Natural fertilizers, such aschicken manure, cost more than synthetic fertilizers.Sustainable agriculture is more labor-intensive, requiring methods like flame weeding to control pests.

Organically farmed crops are lessprolific (but produce a higher quality product), so the cost per pound ishigher, making it even more challenging for smaller farms that have no choice,other than to raise their prices.

However, I think it's importantto realize that the "price" you pay for organic food is not just about the priceyou pay at the checkout counter, but also what you save down the road in reducedhealth care costs.

One way to lower your food bill is to buy localproduce in bulk while it's in seasonand most likely to be on sale.Purchase directly from the farmer when possible.

You will also benefit fromknowing which conventionally grown items are lowest in pesticides, since thiscan save you money by helping you prioritize which foods are worth spending theextra money on to buy "organic." The EnvironmentalWorking Group's 2010 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides is a great tool for this.

But the number one way to lower your food bill is tobecome a backyard gardener.

"Rediscovering Your Kitchen"

The expense of organic commercial produce is a good reasonto learn how to growas much of your own food as you can. Start small. I'll warn you, backyardgardening can be addictive!

In aninterview posted on, Joel Salatin discussed the importanceof people to "discovering their kitchens again."

Salatin said:

"Chances are in the distant if not near future our food system will bemore decentralized, localized, and in-home prepared than it is right now. Andthat looks a lot more like the food system of 1800 than the one of 2009."

What's old is becoming new, in terms of how we eat.Localizing food is the way it will have to be in the coming years, if we aregoing to sustain our rising population on a planet with limited land andresources.

Salatin does not participate in any government program,including organic certification. But his practices are far BEYOND organic.Obviously not a fan of government regulation, he says:

"Organic is a non-comprehensive term–it does not define manyvariables…. I don't trust the government as far as I can throw a bull by thetail–and that's not very far. Why in the world would people who spent alifetime castigating the USDA for its unabashed promotion of industrial foodgive it the authority to regulate honest food? This is called intellectualschizophrenia."

When you put "organic" labeling in the hands of hugeagribusiness, abuses such as cutting corners and taking advantage of regulatoryloopholes begin to appear, just like in the conventional food industry.

The "organic" food industry has quickly become BIGbusiness—and wroughtwith corporate abuses. The organic label does not assure your food islocally grown, humanely raised, unprocessed, or free of chemical additives.

So how do you make sure your food does meet thesestandards?

You must shift your focus to smaller local farms andbackyard gardeners who are directly accountable to you for the food theyprovide. You'll have far more control over your food's quality if you can touchit, smell it, see it growing, or pick it yourself.

Starting an Urban Garden? A Few Legal Hurdles toWatch Out For

So, if you are now all fired up to replace your rosebushes with an asparagus patch, a goat and a chicken coop, know that you mightrun into some legal obstacles, depending on where you live.

Some cities have ordinances and codes governing urban"farming," especially related to noises and smells. As a backyard farmer,you'll have to deal with squealing piglets or the rooster's early morningcalls, for example. You might even run into complaints about the smell of yourcomposting pile of chicken poo.

And if you want to sell your extra produce, realize thatmany cities prohibit selling produce from a residential property you don't own.

These are just a few of the widely varying legal issuesyou could encounter.

Some cities are friendlier to urban gardeners than areothers. The best thing to do is check with your local government to find outwhat's allowed and what isn't.

It used to be that no one would bat an eye if chickensroamed your yard or you had a vegetable garden out front, instead of a hedge.But modern day priorities are different, with more of a focus on outwardappearances than on conservation or health.

There is evidence this is changing, albeit slowly. Moreand more cities are becoming friendlier and more accommodating to urbangardeners, thanks to the growing pressure from the locavore movement and other organizationspromoting sustainable agriculture.

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge truly IS power, and the more people becomeinformed, the faster you will see real change. Knowledge is the first step in arevolution—even a food revolution!  Fortips on starting up a home garden or becoming involved with a community garden,here are a few on-line resources:

Below are several wonderful movies that will give you anexcellent overview of the problems with modern agriculture and our ailing foodsystem. I highly recommend you watch them—andshare them with your friends and family:

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