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