A divorced father struggling to make ends meet, Jules Dervaes decided to grow fruits and vegetables to save money.
The family planted every available space surrounding their cottage-style home, located 13 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, and was shocked when the total harvest weighed 2,300 pounds after the first year, in 2001.
Now, Dervaes and three of his four grown children work tilling the urban garden full time. The garden produces about 6,000 pounds of food a year -- enough to feed the family, its menagerie of ducks, chickens and bunnies, and even some diners seeking organic meals at local restaurants.
"I got into this for me and my family," Dervaes, 57, said. "It just so happens you can make a living doing this."
His family is at the forefront of a small but growing number of city dwellers who are ripping out lawns and replacing them with vegetable beds and fruit trees.
Beyond the back-to-basics appeal of growing their own food, many backyard farmers say they are also developing a green thumb out of fear that commercially grown food found at supermarkets may not be safe.
"It's scary what they're doing to food. You don't know what's really in it," said Dervaes, who has become increasingly alarmed at the prospect of eating genetically engineered food. "So we aimed to get as much food for our dinner table as we could possibly grow ourselves."
Scott Meyer, editor of Organic Magazine, said hippie types are not the only people involved in the back-to-the-earth movement.
"The people who are buying plants and asking 'How do I grow this?' are suburbanites, women who are childbearing or have young kids," Meyer said.
Tony Kienitz, author of "The Year I Ate My Yard," said having an edible yard makes sense in Southern California, where plants thrive in the year-round sunshine.
"You can grow so much without having to spray pesticides, which can be expensive," said Kienitz, who lives in Pasadena. "It's not that wacky to do these kinds of things because the benefits are huge. It's the best health insurance, in a way."
Others say they created edible gardens because they are worried about the U.S. dependence on oil and soaring gas prices.
"Most of the produce we get in the supermarket travel for miles and miles by the time it reaches our plates," said Julia Russell, 69, who started her edible garden in Los Angeles in the early 1980s.
"I thought, gee, that's costly. We have to find another way to supply our urban areas with food. So I decided to see what I could do to create a sustainable lifestyle for myself and my children."
Russell's once barren yard now has 28 varieties of fruit and nut trees, and a vegetable garden of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Most of the year, 60 percent of her food comes from her garden, she said.
Russell and Dervaes say the lifestyle is not for everyone, adding that they are surprised to see the growing interest in organic home gardening.
Some who have toured Dervaes's home garden have started gardens of their own.
"I knew very little about growing food, but I tried it and was able to grow delicious food," said Dermot O'Connor, 36, an animator who took up gardening a year ago. "Watering the plants went from being a chore to pleasure once I realized it's easy to make your own food."