In 1985, the Dervaes family bought a circa 1917 craftsman-style home just outside of downtown Los Angeles. Despite moving from a more “country” home, they couldn’t leave that way of life behind. So they transformed their urban plot into a fully functioning permaculture garden that grows about 7,000 pounds of organic produce every year. Now they also keep farm animals for eggs and manure production, maintain honeybees, and power their home via alternative energies.
“We hoped that by documenting our personal experiences we could offer encouragement to those striving to live a simpler, more self-sufficient lifestyle and could help create a new model for urban living,” the family wrote on their website, Urban Homestead. 
Bringing the Country into the City
Jules Dervaes became a full-time farmer on his one-fifth of an acre of land. “When I ended up here in 1985, I brought the country life into the city,” the former teacher said. “I wanted to break free of the supermarkets which were dependent on industrial agriculture, factory farms, everything that’s not natural, and I wanted to be natural and I wanted my kids to have a natural life.”
The farm is a full-family process. Jules, his son, Justin, and his two daughters, Anais and Jordanne, tend to the animals, grow the food, and sell them online and from their front porch. The rise of demand for organic crops leads many people to the Dervaes’s door. “More and more people are becoming aware of where their food comes from and we offer a local organic source for that,” Annais Dervaes said.
Jules had trademarked the phrase “urban homestead” that describes their lifestyle, from the permaculture garden to every aspect of their self-sustainable property. “I thought the students and the children of the next generation should know about this, so now we do some classroom activities — we go out or bring in classes here,” he said in an interview in 2015. 
What is a Permaculture Garden?
In essence, permaculture gardens are self-sustaining. Their gardeners achieve this through several methods, including a diversity of crops with different uses. For instance, one garden could grow food, medical crops, flowers, habitats for wildlife, etc. Attracting wildlife is an important element of the garden, which is one of the reasons pesticides aren’t used. The point is that nothing goes to waste and once the garden is established, it doesn’t require too much care. In simplified terms, gardeners allow nature to take its course to create a stunning and fruitful garden. 
However, the Urban Homestead Project adds some unique elements of its own to the process. This involves composing, re-mineralization, mulching, natural decomposition, mycorrhizae, and effective micro-organisms. Overall, their permaculture garden includes over 50 raised beds, only natural fertilizers, and about 75% of the requirements for the family’s vegetarian diet. Aside from store-purchases like rice, sugar, and wheat, the family bakes their own bread, makes their milk and cheese from scratch, cans their own produce, brews mead, and wine, among other food storage and production activities.
Their farm animals include bees, chickens, goats, ducks, and rabbits. The Dervaes family considers the animals a “vital and integral part of a homesteading operation — city and rural.”
The Urban Homestead Life
However, the key to their lifestyle is “living simply”. The family describes this on their website: “As a modern homesteader, you take power into your own hands to live a better, more self-reliant life no matter where you live or whatever the circumstances. It can be as simple as bringing a cloth bag to the grocery or making a meal at home – and inviting neighbors to join in!”
They add that this simplicity is not deprivation. Instead, a way to create a more fulfilling and satisfying life. And they hope to inspire others to join them.
“The current urban sustainability movement is a positive trend in American society. It has the potential to revitalize families and, thus, towns in our long tradition of self-sufficiency and independence,” said Jules Dervaes. “Homesteading in the city requires responsibility to one’s neighbors and fellow citizens. When it is undertaken with such a foundation, this way of life yields rich rewards of experiencing the rhythms of nature and wonders of animal life.” 
Unfortunately, Jules Dervaes passed away in 2016 at the age of 69 from a pulmonary embolism. His children posted a memorial on their website. There, they added that they will continue his legacy, the Urban Homestead and his permaculture garden. “Although this chapter of Dad’s life has ended, God willing, we intend to carry on the work that he started,” they concluded. 
- “About.” Urban Homestead.
- “Urban Farm Bears Financial Fruit For Pasadena Family.” CBS. February 3, 2015
- “How Permaculture Works.” How Stuff Works. Robert Lamb.
- “The 10 Elements of the Urban Homestead Project.” Urban Homestead.
- In Memory of Jules Dervaes (1947-2016).” Urban Homestead. December 27, 2016