GREENING LA

It’s kind of easy being green

By Susan Carpenter, Times Staff Writer

Take a look at Jules Dervaes. A few years ago, he drove a VW van and lived in a standard Pasadena bungalow ringed with thirsty St. Augustine grass. Today the grass is gone, and in its place is a leafy, aromatic paradise overflowing with basil, thyme and tarragon, onions, beans and eggplants, strawberries and even coffee — altogether the yard produces 6,000 pounds of food each year.

Five chickens and a couple of ducks are busy cranking out eggs. He’s traded the van for a 1988 Chevy Suburban that he converted to biodiesel and fuels with recycled vegetable oil. The house is partly solar-powered, including a solar oven that he keeps parked in the garage.

“A hundred years ago this was considered normal,” he says.

Actually, it’s not so odd today, either.

Dervaes, 57, and his family are on the leading edge of L.A.’s green movement — part of the growing impulse to take the old “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra to a higher level. The green movement tends to ebb and flow with the economy and political climate, and right now, it has plenty of steam: The Iraq war and a down economy have a lot of people contemplating the benefits of the self-sustaining, renewable-resource lifestyle (it’s called “permaculture” these days), and trying to figure out how to make it part of their disposable, go-cup existence.

An amalgamation of the words “permanent” and “agriculture,” permaculture is a 30-year-old Australian term that’s only now coming into vogue — a sort of shorthand for closed-loop systems that take advantage of natural cycles, using the waste products from one cycle to fuel another. Think composting food waste into garden mulch, catching “gray water” from the kitchen to irrigate outdoor plants, converting discarded cooking oil into biodiesel to fuel cars.

But in L.A., the question is: How green can you be?

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