Could You Grow Food Like this Family?

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

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

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

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

Their notoriety has not come without a price, however.

The Dervaes family recently trademarked the term "urban homestead" and has been engaged in a sizeable legal battle with others who are using, or have used the term, but who failed to take the additional step of trademarking it.

This legal wrangling has caused the family to come up against a fair amount of criticism, arguing their claims have damaged some reputable organizations and individuals who support and promote the idea of urban homesteading. Regardless of which side of the controversy you're on, the Dervaes cannot be faulted for showing us what IS possible on a little plot of urban land.

Benefits of Eating Locally Grown Foods

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

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

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

Foods are fresher, tastier, and more nutritious because they are usually picked within the last day or two. Produce rapidly loses nutrients 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 road and sold at your local farm stand, it may still be doused in pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and tended by workers being paid unfair wages.

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

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

Is a Food Revolution Stirring in America?

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

Thanks to the hard work of food giants like Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin and others who are getting the word out through books and media, or are working right in the field to grow food in balance with nature, the tide may finally be turning.

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

In many parts of the United States, the small farmers who once prided themselves on supplying wholesome foods to neighboring towns have long since closed their doors, replaced by giant CAFOs—Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations—and vast fields of genetically modified corn, cotton, soy, and canola.

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

In order to effect change, action must 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 it builds along with it.

Food expert and author Michael Pollan writes:

"It makes sense that food and farming should become a locus of attention for Americans disenchanted with consumer capitalism. Food is the place in daily life where corporatization can be most vividly felt: think about the homogenization of taste and experience represented by fast food.

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

Urban Gardening Can Drastically Reduce Your Food Bill

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

According to environmental activist and beyond-organic farmer Joel Salatin (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 the farmer's pocket. It is rather siphoned off as regulatory expense to comply with asinine government regulations that either do not scale down to smaller producers and producers, or are outright capricious and inapplicable."

And then, there are market-driven factors.

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

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

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

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

You will also benefit from knowing which conventionally grown items are lowest in pesticides, since this can save you money by helping you prioritize which foods are worth spending the extra money on to buy "organic." The Environmental Working 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 to become a backyard gardener.

"Rediscovering Your Kitchen"

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

In an interview posted on, Joel Salatin discussed the importance of people to "discovering their kitchens again."

Salatin said:

"Chances are in the distant if not near future our food system will be more decentralized, localized, and in-home prepared than it is right now. And that 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 are going to sustain our rising population on a planet with limited land and resources.

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 many variables…. I don't trust the government as far as I can throw a bull by the tail–and that's not very far. Why in the world would people who spent a lifetime castigating the USDA for its unabashed promotion of industrial food give it the authority to regulate honest food? This is called intellectual schizophrenia."

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

The "organic" food industry has quickly become BIG business—and wrought with corporate abuses. The organic label does not assure your food is locally grown, humanely raised, unprocessed, or free of chemical additives.

So how do you make sure your food does meet these standards?

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

Starting an Urban Garden? A Few Legal Hurdles to Watch Out For

So, if you are now all fired up to replace your rose bushes with an asparagus patch, a goat and a chicken coop, know that you might run 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 morning calls, for example. You might even run into complaints about the smell of your composting pile of chicken poo.

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

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

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

It used to be that no one would bat an eye if chickens roamed 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 outward appearances than on conservation or health.

There is evidence this is changing, albeit slowly. More and more cities are becoming friendlier and more accommodating to urban gardeners, thanks to the growing pressure from the locavore movement and other organizations promoting sustainable agriculture.

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge truly IS power, and the more people become informed, the faster you will see real change. Knowledge is the first step in a revolution—even a food revolution!  For tips 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 an excellent overview of the problems with modern agriculture and our ailing food system. I highly recommend you watch them—and share them with your friends and family:

+ Sources and References