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April 14, 2010

Living off the grid, urban-homesteading style (Daily News)

Posted by Anais Dervaes

On newsstand today - TWO articles in the Daily News featuring the urban homestead.

Photos courtesy the Daily News John McCoy/Staff Photographer

Farm living in the city with the Dervaes

By Natalie Haughton, Food Editor

It's trendy to go green, grow some vegetables in your back yard, have a few solar panels on the roof and drive a hybrid car.

Ten years ago, before green became the hot new movement, Jules Dervaes and his family decided to try and become almost fully sustainable.

Dervaes, 62, lives with his three adult children in a 1917 Craftsman house in North Pasadena that he purchased in 1984. A bit reminiscent of "The Little House on the Prairie," the mini farm of sorts is a stone's throw from the 210 freeway.

Eco-pioneers, the family is driven by an old-fashioned lifestyle in harmony with nature.

Jules refers to the place as an urban homestead and the project as the Path to Freedom.

"It's a journey toward self-sufficiency

Jules Dervaes and his children have transformed a Pasadena Craftsman into an urban farm. They grow all of their own food, make their own fuel, and try to do as much as they can to be self-sustaining in the city," he says. "In the last 10 years, we've gone from 10 percent self-suffciency to 60 to 70 percent now. Our main dependency is on water, transportation, gas."

Jules cultivates one-tenth of an acre on his one-fifth of an acre property. Last year he grew 5,300 pounds of 350 different kinds of organic vegetables and fruits. Among them are broccoli, carrots, assorted greens, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, daikon radishes and more, grown mostly from seeds, in the jam-packed raised beds in the back yard.

"We try to be gardeners in the city and live off the land. We have spring, summer and fall/winter gardens.

"I started a small vegetable garden for personal use in 1985," - and it's been multiplying ever since, says Jules who had a lawn maintenance business for several years.

In 1990, because of the drought, he turned his front yard into edible landscaping, planting wild flowers. Shortly thereafter, he launched a small edible flower business - "it was a new craze at the time" - selling flowers to a handful of local restaurants until 1999. "Until 2000 I was a hobby gardener."

But a decade ago he became much more serious about feeding not only his family but others. "It came in stages."

His daughter Anais, 35, manages the kitchen while Jordanne, 26, oversees care of the animals - eight chickens, five ducks and two goats. Justin, 31, gardens, waters and makes 30 gallons of biodiesel (green fuel) a month from waste vegetable oil collected from local restaurants. It is used to run the family's two diesel cars.

Jules, the manager, does a little bit of everything, including replanting the beds and picking the greens and produce sold to local restaurants.

Their 15-year-old business, Dervaes Gardens, grosses about $20,000 yearly in sales of organic produce and edible flowers to local restaurants, caterers and individuals. Among their clients are Marston's restaurant, Elements Cafe and Kitchen and Kitchen for Exploring Foods, all in Pasadena.

Jim McCardy, owner/chef of Marston's, began buying produce from the Dervaes family about six years ago when "they came to my back door at the restaurant and gave me samples of some lettuces which were incredible." Now "I get baby greens from them two or three times a week" in addition to other in-season produce including Meyer lemons, different types of Swiss chard, heirloom tomatoes and herbs.

"The things I get from them are used in the dinner menus" (the restaurant is open Wednesday through Saturday for dinner). Among the creations he makes with the produce are crispy goat cheese salad with pesto vinaigrette; grapefruit and avocado salad; tempura scallop salad with asparagus and peanut coconut dressing; heirloom tomatoes with greens, fresh mozzarella and pine nut lemon vinaigrette; swiss chard with roasted chicken; and sea scallops with Meyer lemon and chive sauce. A couple of the salads on the menu credit the Dervaes organic greens.

"The baby greens have a much more pronounced fresher flavor and more vibrant color as they have been in the ground a couple of hours before."

The family also makes money (for necessities) from products/seeds sold at their online stores www.peddlerswagon.com and www.freedomseeds.org.

"Almost every day we have some surplus produce (sign up at www.dervaesgardens.com to find out about it or check the list at www.localharvest.org) that individuals can purchase," says Anais.

Last year the chicken and ducks produced 1,780 eggs, three-quarters of which were sold as well.

"During the summer, 90 percent of their meals come from food they grow while in the winter it's more like 60 percent," notes Jules. Sometimes they trade produce, barter or pick up extra food items in bulk at a co-op or shop at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods or Vons.

Following a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, the family eats mainly vegetables along with eggs, milk and cheese. Occasionally, they will eat fish. About "30 percent of what we eat in winter meals is my canned goods," says Anais, - "tomatoes, beans, fruits, garlic, peppers, squash, apples, figs, jalapeno jelly, pickles, apple butter, jams (blueberry, strawberry, fig, guava). We freeze things, too (mostly berries and some tomatoes, peppers and zucchini) and dry herbs."

Anais keeps a simple pantry - with flour, rice, sugar, oats and pasta - and shops once a week. "I don't tire of cooking three meals a day (in a very small kitchen)," she says, adding, "taste the food — it is dynamite and speaks for itself."

Although they don't use small electric appliances like a food processor or blender (they opt for hand-cranked models), they do have an energy-efficient refrigerator with freezer and a washing machine that run on green power. They use gas stove-top burners for cooking but a solar oven instead of a conventional one for baking dishes, which take twice as long, notes Anais.

They've had 12 solar panels since 2004 that provide two-thirds of their energy (power) from the sun. The balance comes from green power they buy from the city of Pasadena (from a wind farm near Palm Springs), says Jules. "We're 100 percent green wind and solar."

Their green power electricity bill runs $12 a month, the gas bill $15 and the phone bill $80 to $100. The water bill is $600 a year (the family showers once a week).

"We wear second-hand clothes from thrift stores, eBay or castoffs from friends," says Anais.

The household has a dual personality - embracing both low- and high-tech simultaneously. They have computers, a television (no cable) and subscribe to Netflix. "It's The Waltons meet The Jetsons," says Jules, chuckling.

Their goal is to have "as little impact on the environment as possible while living in the city," says Jordanne.

The family happily shares its expertise. Children enrolled at the New Horizon School often tour the Dervaes gardens next door.

"Farmer D's (that's how the school affectionately refers to Jules Dervaes) urban homestead is a living laboratory for the school," says Kim Budge, one of the school's director. "He's been an example to all of us as to how we can live a more eco-friendly life in an urban environment."

With the school trying to have a green focus and teach the children about the importance of caring for the Earth, classes visit the animals, garden, blender on the bicycle and solar oven at different times.

"The children's interest has sparked parent interest," adds Budge. "The Dervaes family has actually inspired us as a school to hold a community-wide eco-fair in spring 2011 (each grade will have an eco-friendly project to promote sustainability). And at the school's open house this May, each class will also have an eco-project on display."

"This lifestyle is difficult," admits Jules. "My attitude is survivalist backed up with stubbornness. I'm not saying that this lifestyle is for everybody. (But) some of it is for everybody."

These are some of the recipes Anais Dervaes cooks for the family. They are from various sources as noted.

Click here for Full Recipes

Dervaes help 'Private Chefs of Beverly Hills' get back to the land on Food Network

By Natalie Haughton, Food Editor

To get a glimpse of Jules Dervaes' family homestead in Pasadena, tune in to "Private Chefs of Beverly Hills" at 10 p.m. May 7 on the Food Network.

Chefs Brian Hill and Manouschka Guerrier were challenged to design a menu on the spot one Sunday around the Dervaes' family produce and ingredients in their pantry. It was no easy task.

"We cooked five or six hours," says Hills. "It seemed like forever."

For an appetizer, the chefs offered Oven Roasted Winter Squash Soup With Goat's Milk. Entrees included Cuban Style Black Beans and Rice, Vegan Non-Lasagne and Mixed Green Salad and a Mini Casserole With Fried Duck Egg and Apple Butter. Dessert was Lemon Rosemary Muffins With Candied Pansies.

Each course was served as it was completed to the guests assembled at a table in the back yard.

Hill, a resident of Santa Monica, who competed on the first season of Bravo's "Top Chef" and just recently started a comfort food truck in Los Angeles, notes the experience "was off the grid. I had no idea what I was in for." (To use a blender, you had to get on a bicycle and pedal for power, he says.)

"As crazy as it sounds, it was so much fun." He was determined to make the fresh ingredients the Dervaeses had grown shine.

His vegetable non-lasagne had no meat or cheese, just the family's canned tomato sauce, vegetables and lasagne noodles. He had to cook it in a clay oven, which took an hour and a half (it was overcast outside). He
also prepared a layered tower of simmered Swiss chard and collard greens, topped with sun-dried tomatoes, an over-easy duck egg and apple butter. "It was yummy and looked beautiful."

"The two chefs were under extreme pressure," says Dervaes. "They were shocked by how much they had to do by hand."

Some creations were well received and tasted great while others were not as successful.

For the recipes, available after the show airs, go to www.foodnetwork.com/privatechefs.


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10 Comments: "Living off the grid, urban-homesteading style (Daily News)" »

  1. Another great interview with pictures and recipes!! Oh, I wish there was a cookbook...

  2. Such a hip and cool dad with a beautiful vision, and walking the walk- brought tears to my eyes-You guys are wonderful

  3. I really enjoyed this article. I've been reading on and off for several years and it's the first time I've seen the percentages of how much of what you eat comes from your garden. I think I will keep back to this as we become more sustainable as well.

  4. It's amazing to me that the "chefs" had a hard time coming up with a meal! With all that you have in your cupboards and in your gardens, you would have had to STOP me because I would have wanted to just keep on making things! In the summer (here in Indiana), when we are able to eat straight from the garden, there is no end to things that we can make SIMPLY from what is ready to harvest at that time!

    I guess if you don't grow up, or aren't taught with that sort of "luxury" (a full garden and home canned items, plus basic essentials), you don't know HOW MUCH you can really make!

    Great pictures!

  5. I got a little tickled at the photo captions in the photo album for their article on their site. What they called string beans sure looks like peas to me.

    Great article and great pictures!

  6. Anais do you really shop once a week like this article said? I thought you guys relied on once a month shopping and co-op deliveries...

  7. I loved it!!! What a challenge to the "outside world". I can't wait to watch that episode when it airs!

  8. Too bad Anais and Jordanne didn't show the Top Chef "how it's done". I'm still dreaming about recreating the pasta with peapods, meyer lemon butter over whole wheat pasta you recently featured in your weekly meal wrap-up once my peapods come to harvest in late May/early June! Admittedly, I'll have to buy the meyer lemons here in NE (my luxury item), but I just must try that recipe!

    Thanks for the links to the recipes in the other posts!
    Can't wait to see this episode!

    Prayer still out to Amy and the Homestead "family".
    To quote Farmer D "we must remain positive".

  9. PS.. My peapods are from my order with you at freedomseeds.org. I planted them on St. Patrick's Day (traditional here in NE). Shortly after, we had torrential rains that you may have seen on the news a few weeks back. Those babies germinated even with the heavy rains. I had to push the seeds and sprouts back in the ground after the rain, with some light mulch and they are doing fantastic! Couldn't be more thrilled as other fellow OG gardeners have commented how difficult it is to grow peapods on Cape Cod.

    Freedom Seeds ROCK!

  10. I always love seeing the pictures of your "homestead."

    I thought the comment where Jules was calling himself a survivalist was funny. We've had lots of discussions about labels on my blog, and we've finally decided that we're "thrivalists." I think your family fits that label, too ;) .

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