Jules Dervaes urban homestead and its motley array of off-grid projects have turned into something of an obsession for the entire family. So far their achievements include a homemade solar oven, solar pv panels, home-reared animals, biodiesel-brewing for their car, and a vegetable garden growing a sizable percentage of their own food.
Situated on a 66’ X 132’ city lot (1/5 acre), with approximately 1/10 acre under cultivation, including 1,300 sq. ft of container gardening, they have integrated a blend of organic edible landscaping, permaculture and bio-intensive gardening methods to achieve maximum productivity. Their garden amazingly produced over 3 tons (6,097lbs) of fruits and vegetables in 2003 and 2004. Jules calls his project Path to Freedom.
“Self-reliance and growing your own food doesn’t have to involve a move to the country,” he says. “Its about helping you and your family re-establish control over your day-to-day lives.”
“This project evolved from our commitment and conviction to live a simple, self-sufficient and holistic lifestyle. It is an entire life’s journey and we have many more miles to go–we are proving that we can attain our goal if we advance in stages whatever the circumstances. Our hope is that by documenting our personal experiences we can offer encouragement to those who are on the same journey towards a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle whether they are in the city or country.
Dervaes was born in Tampa, Florida. His family had owned and operated a well-known nursery and landscape business in Belgium and he became interested in growing food as a way of life.
When water conservation became an overriding issue in the 1990s as California was going through a severe drought period, he did away with his moisture-challenged lawn, replacing it with wildflowers, drought-tolerate plants and, eventually, with edible landscaping.
“In the fall of 2000 I had an angry reaction when I heard that US biotech corporations were bent on introducing GMOs into the food supply. Not wanting to be GM’ed myself, I knew I had to protect my family from this mad experiment. I was being cornered because I had no other convenient (cheap) way of getting genuine food anymore. Even though for many years I had been gardening, I hardly relied on these plantings for our “daily bread.” My family was tied, as we always had been, to the supermarket. Because of this threat to the very seeds of life of our home, I turned radical. I aimed to get as much food for our dinner table as we could possibly grow ourselves. We decided to make a go of it on the one-fifth acre we had.
“With lines drawn in the dirt, we proceeded to fanatically plant, trying to use every available space in the four corners of our small world. And, after the first year in 2001 of gardening for real, were we ever shocked when the final tally showed the harvest coming in at over 2,300 pounds. I knew we could do more for we had only scratched the surface of our anemic, worm-challenged soil. And, as I began to look around, something incredible was happening. My small place was growing larger right before my eyes. Last year, our harvest expanded to over 6,000 pounds.”
Three of his four children are currently working with Jules on the project. It’s been difficult for them, especially early on, since this was a different lifestyle which brought about some isolation in the city of Pasadena where they live.
We will be bringing regular updates from the Dervaes family diaries.