Jul 212010

How much food can you grow in a tenth of an acre? In 2010, the Dervaes family grew 7,030 lbs of vegetables, fruit and herbs in urban garden. They raise about 350 different kinds of vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, nuts and other products.

How do they manage to grow so much food in such a small area? The family uses every bit of space they have in both the front and back yard. Their lot is a fifth of an acre. Half is devoted to the garden. Trees and shrubs used to landscape their property bear edible fruit. They garden intensively, spacing plants fairly close together, Vegetables climb up trellises and their homemade arbor. Their animals provide fertilizer.

Animals? Yes, in addition to an extensive garden, the family keep a few chickens and ducks for eggs, bees, a pair of miniature goats named Blackberry and Fairlight and plenty of red wiggler worms. This makes sense. Animals traditionally provided both food and fertilizer for families. In small settings, animals can be tended humanely and their waste is an asset, not a disposal problem. As late as the 1940s, backyard chickens were not uncommon in American cities. It’s great to see this environmentally-friendly practice continue.

The Dervaes family lives in Pasadena, California, which has a twelve-month growing season. However, by using season-extending techniques, many of us can harvest fresh food year-round.

The family’s ingenuity doesn’t stop at raising food. They are working to increase their energy independence. They’ve built a solar shower, a solar oven and solar food dryer. Two years ago, they built a backyard cob oven that cooks food using wood scraps. The Dervaes Family also turn used vegetable oil, collected from local restaurants, into biodiesel to run their car.

With imagination, time and hard work, small spaces can be bountiful.