Off-the-Grid Living on only 1/5th of an Acre

by Erich

For you homeowners that think you don’t have enough land to live off the grid, think again…

Dervaes's BackYard - photo ©

Ten years ago, Jules Dervaes along with his three adult children, set out with the goal of becoming completely self-sufficient. Today, these residents of the Pasadena California suburbs have taken their small 1/5th of an acre lot and converted it into a (almost) completely self-sufficient paradise.

They make their own biodiesel and electricity (through solar means) and their 1/10th of an acre garden produces over 6,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables annually! This is more than enough food for four adults. They also sell the surplus to nearby restaurants making about $20,000 a year on the food alone.

Here are a couple of videos featuring the Dervaes family and their home (for my email subscribers you’ll have to view it on the site since the video doesn’t embed in most email servers):


Be sure to check out the Dervaes website, Path to Freedom: Urban Homestead for details into how they accomplished this as well as tips in creating your own homestead.

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Comment by Steven
2010-05-03 01:42:43

Hey Erich,
I’d like some posts that give some strategies for just getting along with other people in emergencies. If somebody freaks out in your party, the doubt and indecision can paralyze the entire operation.
Last summer my hiking party got caught in a surprise rain storm… the situation quickly escalated into into an emergency with the previously climbable rock faces turning in to raging rivers on the way back down. I made it, but I think sheerly by the luck of having a good party member who took the lead.
My problem is that an emergency creates a power vacuum… anybody that goes for it can take control. How do I know I don’t have a crazy idiot taking control? What if I was with strangers whom I didn’t trust? After hurricane Katrina nobody knew how to coordinate without the grid. I want to avoid that happening to me.
An emergency creates the most primitive human political scene possible, and it seems to me like that would be essential to be able to predict these weird emergency politics that people resort to before things get out of hand.
Any practical advice for dealing with this kind of problem?

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2010-05-03 23:31:43


That’s some great thoughts. I’m going to give this some thought and respond on it in an upcoming article. Thanks for the inspiration!

Comment by jim
2012-07-29 22:29:05

Hello…I absolutely love what you’re doing. Can you answer some questions for me? First, there are some white grids of some sort that have been placed over parts of your garden. What are they, and what are they used for? Second, you look to me like you might be using the square foot garden method-just guessing. What did you do to reduce the cost of putting in all those raised beds? How big are they? Did you build up or did you dig soil into the ground? Last-what kind of soil did you use? Im very familiar with compost, vermiculite, and peat moss but Im thinking that you might have used something else to reduce all of that cost. Thank you. Keep up the good work. I found you on “Stumble Upon” and have you marked as favorite so I can find you again. Wow-what a great thing you’ve got going on there…Jim

Comment by Erik
2012-11-04 09:52:56

jim, I don’t know Dervaes, but I can answer some of your question (bear in mind that Dervaes might give different answers).
The white grids are to keep pests off certain plants. They are widely used in organic gardening, and they also take much less energy/oil to make than pesticides. In the UK it’s sold under the brand name enviromesh, which has a mesh size smaller than the carrot root fly.
I would say on a 1/5th acre scale it doesn’t really matter what kind of soil you start out with, because it’s little enough that you can improve it to what you need. The main challenge with lawn are the poisons that are typically put on it, so it can take a while for those to be composted or leached out, otherwise lawn is very good in terms of how much organic matter and nutrients are in there. You can become self-sufficient in nutrients by the simple expedient of installing a composting toilet.
It didn’t look to me like they were growing many carbohydrates, though, which I find consistent with having four adults on 1/5th acre to feed, because I guess it would take more than that even in sunny Pasadena, so I think self-sufficient is overstated. We need to get away from the overstatements of consumer culture.

Comment by Charles
2013-02-20 18:52:36

Yes, there is far too much “overstatement” in most everything these days. Everyone wants to get attention and they think this will work. It’s beginning to not work. Nevertheless, the effort these people are putting into self-sufficiency is admirable.

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