An Amazing and Prolific Urban Homestead

The common conception of homesteading is that it's a rural activity. But one man in Pasadena, CA and his adult children have created a wildly successful urban homestead on one-tenth of an acre.

| February/March 2009

urban homestead

With perseverance and ingenuity, Jules Dervaes created his urban homestead, an oasis in the middle of urban Pasadena, CA.


Looking back at 1965, the year I entered college, I hardly recognize myself! At 18 I was headed — like everyone I knew — for life in the professional world. My dad was providing for our family by working for Chevron as a district manager of central Florida. For me, class valedictorian at Tampa’s Jesuit High School, the die had been cast to make my living by wearing a white collar. Working at manual labor was never a possibility, never even imagined. Now I live on an urban homestead.

But I’m getting ahead of my story. Marriage in 1970 brought new responsibilities and a sense of urgency regarding the need to consider the long-term future — for years I felt inadequate in handling all of life’s daily requirements, let alone emergencies. I admired people who were able to build or fix things and longed to be as rugged as those who started from scratch by settling new lands.

Intoxicated with the changes of the ’60s and ’70s, some of my generation found peace in the back-to-the-land movement. Others went further, making an exodus from the nation. The convergence of these happenings signaled that it was time; I knew I had to go away. I wanted to live as simply as possible, in harmony with nature, in touch with my basic needs for food, water and shelter. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, I was looking for “old world” stability and a place where family values were still unchanged.

It was 1973 when my wife and I immigrated to a land less traveled, New Zealand was to become for me a new birthplace. I arrived there ready to begin living off the land, taking with me a briefcase packed with the first 13 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine.

The isolated ruggedness of an abandoned gold town (population one, the addition of my wife and me tripling it to three) became the setting of a daily struggle to learn to live a new way. Embarrassed, I felt like a child having to go through — at 26 — the ordeals of growing up. But I soon learned about vegetable gardening, raising farm animals, drinking iron-oxide rainwater, cooking on a woodstove, and using a bucket toilet — among other backwoods scholarship — and ultimately, this “funny” American successfully homesteaded.

By taking one small step after another, I overcame the paralysis of my city-boy-lost-in-the-woods state of mind. In a sweet stroke of fortune, a kind old-timer passed along his beekeeping know-how and handmade equipment to me. Running a one-man bush-honey operation was a lowly genesis; but it was the first time that I had ever felt productive with my hands. I was loving it!

Homesteading in the City

The next 15 years saw a whirlwind of changes: a return to Florida following the birth of our first child, to be closer to our extended families; living on 10 acres; a new business of lawn maintenance; the rearing of home-schooled children; a move to Pasadena, CA; the purchase of a fixer-upper house; the loss of a job; a divorce. Because my plans had failed, I was yearning to go “home” to the land again.

8/24/2013 7:55:11 PM

I, too, would prefer not see articles from people who would trademark "Urban Homestead" and related terms. It is bad enough that we have a legal system that supports such abuses of commonly used terms -- there is no reason why we shouldn't try to reflect higher standards. Perhaps articles by some of the people they try to sue?

8/24/2013 7:08:27 PM

@Urban Homesteader Your comment is just a parrot-like repetition of wrong info I have seen all over the net. Come up with something truly critical and informational. Oh, yeah, you can't because the Dervaes have followed the law and were legally granted the marks due to their high media profile and their early use of the mark superseding all others. They made the term famous so all those imposters can't really use the term to make money. Big deal. Your comment is so old and so flawed it is pathetic. Grow up and YOU go do something constructive for society like the Dervaes have instead of tearing them down. But I guess that is asking too much of you.

Urban Homesteader
2/19/2011 2:46:36 PM

Jules Dervaes and his family have somehow, despite there being almost 100 years of 'prior art, been able to obtain a trademark on the phrase "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading" in 2010. They have been sending threatening letters to organizations, blogs, and individuals who use the term how to use it 'correctly'. They even sent a letter to the Santa Monica Public Library telling them that a seminar the library was going to hold on urban homesteading violated their trademark. The have demanded that Facebook shut down ALL pages that reference or use these terms in their names, regardless of the length of time they have been on Facebook prior to 2010. They have even gone so far to send the authors and publishers of "The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City", by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutsen. It was released June 2008 almost 4 months prior to the Dervaes's submitting their first trademark application (which was initially rejected). The Dervaes's have turned into the very thing that they claim to be fighting against - money and power hungry corporation. They are also incorporated as a non-profit church.

3/5/2009 12:53:21 AM

DUDE! You have done what I have been wanting to do! I was in the same despair! I am also a product of the 50's and have rejected this society. My belief that getting back to nature meant getting back and closer to God. You have given everyone a gift of enlightenment! Though I had a strong desire, I did not know how or where to begin, you just gave me the answer. Not only have you fed the body.. but the mind and soul too. Singlehandedly you have given people an option.. and there is nothing more valuable than that! Thank you!

Nancy Lockwood
3/4/2009 4:02:11 PM

Haven't you run into any problems with Zoning laws? In our urban area, we can not have farm type animals in small yards. You apparently have a duck pond, and a goat?

3/4/2009 1:06:34 PM

Wonderful, just simply wonderful. This man's need to overcome and a family to raise has become his salvation. His salvation will spread to others as it did many years ago with country families needing to feed themselves. I grew up helping my grandfather with his garden and I know the delight of fresh grown food. My grandparents used to leave their food food on the table for lunch the next day as this was possible because of the freshness. None of the food had been modified and was very possibly the very reason we were so healthy. Lots of sun lots of playing and lots of harvesting. Makes a body strong you know. I applaud this gentleman and have placed his every word in my self sufficient folder as I look to and have started to regain my self sufficient soul once again. My garden will be on it's second year and I will be on my 59th year. I wish all health and happiness in their endeavors to overcome all that is wrong in our world today and most definitely for the future of our children and grandchildren. Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food. - Hippocrates May you be blessed with wisdom. Terree Duluth GA

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