Summertime garden


By Deborah Geering

For the Journal-Constitution

Thursday, April 02, 2009

When I walked into the Urban Homesteading workshop at the Georgia Organics annual conference a couple of weeks ago, I was expecting a speaker who was —- well —- a little nutty. After all, what kind of person does it take to turn a 1/5-acre suburban lot into a self-sustaining homestead for four?

It takes a person who may be a lot saner than the rest of us, it turns out. Jules Dervaes grew disgusted with our wasteful culture and decided to do what he could to stop contributing to and being held hostage by it. He and three of his adult children raise their own food, produce their own biodiesel fuel, rely almost entirely on solar energy and support themselves by running various enterprises related to their adventure.

In a small yard in Pasadena, Calif., they grow up to 6,000 pounds of produce a year and raise chickens and ducks for their eggs and goats for milk. Dervaes leads their efforts with a great deal of thoughtfulness, humility and humor. (After trying for several years to grow blueberries, he presented his children with his first crop: two berries. “I told my daughters, eat hearty, because those blueberries are worth $100 each.”)

Dervaes’ talk was downright inspiring. And that was the whole point. “Over a 20-year journey, I’ve learned that the No. 1 lesson is, start something now with what you do have,” he said. “Whether it’s a pot on the balcony or a community garden, most people have what they need to start.”

If this guy could figure out how to turn a small space into a productive farm, then certainly I can grow a pot of herbs, a few tomato plants, maybe some lettuce or okra. And who knows where it might lead? “You don’t just do organic in one area of your life,” Dervaes said. “You keep going, and you see what else needs to be changed.”

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