Fairlight playfully pulls on Blackberry fur – come down off of the chair!

independence [noun]

definition: 1. freedom from control or influence of another or others

Dervaes farm’s quixotic ecological goal {SF GATE}

On a small lot in suburban Pasadena, there lives a family of farmers who are walking the talk of green living. The Dervaeses – a father and his three adult children – have turned their property into what they call an “urban homestead.”

Problem with message

While most of us are guilty to some extent of only talking the green talk and not walking enough of the walk, I think the Dervaeses might have the opposite problem: They are taking the right actions but sending the wrong message.

“Self-sufficiency,” “independence” and “off-grid” living are ideas rooted in the 1960s, when “dropping out” was considered an antidote to living in a hopelessly corrupt, materialistic and environmentally destructive society. Many people did indeed drop out by homesteading in remote areas or moving to rural communes to begin life anew. But the vast majority of the dropouts from the ’60s have long since reintegrated themselves into mainstream society to take advantage of its knowledge base, tools (should we all make our own steel?), modern medicine and so on.

In it together

Does that mean that the Dervaeses’ experiment has failed? Hardly. But their success would be a more useful model for the rest of us if they recognized that interdependence, not independence, is the path to salvation in our era of environmental degradation.

The Dervaeses work from sunup to sundown, six days a week, for their bounty. Yet in many ways they remain as interdependent and vulnerable to environmental collapse as the rest of us.

Learn from the Dervaeses, but think about the inescapable relationship between your ecological house and the planet when creating your own home ecosystem.

Read complete article

Thanks to one of our readers, we became aware of this most recent article. Unfortunately, the writer never contacted us for any input as he sought no explanation or clarification of our “message.” So, is this a news article or a commentary?

Mr. Dervaes described this project as a journey for a definite reason, knowing that it would involve passing through transitional stages. He promotes independence as necessary to counter the inordinate dependence built into the system we live in. Americans celebrate their independence on July 4th, while our nation has, year after year, only gotten grossly dependent on more and more outside sources and resources.

Anyone who truly lives off the land knows full well that the one, all-encompassing principle is dependence on nature. Anyone living in a society obviously experiences the overriding reality of human existence—interdependence. The new reality is that our interdependence now extends so directly and immediately to a global scale.

Care to weigh in?

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  1. Tami says:

    Wow! I get that in some ways we are dependant on others for things such as tools or the people who make steel or even the people who put my car together. Does that mean that I’m confused when I say I want to live a free life? A self-sustainable life? No. I can however do all that is within my power to live self sufficiently. I garden with my 2 and 3 year old right along side of me. Are they always interested. Nope but sometimes they are. Sometimes they get down in the dirt and examine the worms or touch the “pretties” (flowers) with me. Sometimes they’ll help me plant the seeds and sometimes they just scatter them. Then they get to help me harvest. They help me make a meal. When we walk outside our front door my 3 year old will ask if we can walk instead of drive. I’m showing them how to begin fending for themselves if you will. How to be a steward of what we have. How to become a little less dependent on everyone else.

    Thank you so much for all you guys do. For the inspiration. My husband is not as “green” as I although I see it changing little by little. I’m not near as self sufficient as I would like. Everytime I mention something about self sufficiency he normally listens have heartedly and lets whatever my ideas may be roll right out the door.
    I did however mention you guys to him and he came in here and read a few articles. He even watched with interest the Nightline segmant last week. He appreciates that you do live your talk and yet you don’t “cram” it down everyones throats. He appreciates the way in which you are working for a change in America.

  2. Kerr says:

    Independence and interdependence are not actually opposites, they only sound like it.

    Independence as I see it means freedom from control by others, or by systems that one cannot change. Interdependence means mutual support. You can be (and should be!) in relationships of mutual support while not being controlled by those relationships.

  3. Frank says:

    I think the author Philip Wenz just needs to walk the walk more instead of just talking the talk. Not knowing him I can just make a commentary (like he did) that he seams to be a little too in his head much like the intellectual that knows all but hasn’t done anything. I visited his web-site and he has some good thoughts on Eco home building for the less adventures.

    I just wanted to say thanks for sharing what your doing as it is truly inspiring and that point in itself makes Wenz’s point mute as you are truly making an inter-dependant world.

    I’ve got my family to make small changes which I catorgorize as “Home Grown/Made Food”. I like to bring up at meals “how many things did we grow or make in this meal”. I’ve just started an experiment to see if I can use the waste water from my home wine-making hobby to grow rice.

    Keep up the GREAT work and have a NICE day

  4. Di says:

    Hmmm regardless of society even the most indepent people living completely off the grid are going to be interdependant. Whether by swapping seeds, exchanging goods with neighbors or selling extra food/supplies so I really don’t see his point? Even totally self sufficient people bargain and barter with others.

    Keep up the great work!!!

  5. Debbie says:

    Hmmm, definitely commentary and not a news article. It would have been more useful if the author had included some specific examples of what he means by ‘interdependence”. Of course we are all interdependent…I’m not sure he said enough to convince me that there’s a difference in what you are doing and what he thinks you/we should be doing. It seems to me he could have used this as a ‘teaching moment’ if he had bothered to contact you.

  6. Simply.Belinda says:

    Well all I can say is that I think the article is interesting… but they missed the message that you attempt to convey. If their research was adequately encompassed with the total of the TWO quotes they included I can see how that may have happened. The quotes don’t support what he is saying but read in a certain mindset they could be confronting.

    Independence is about having a choice not about being separate. Wonder if he would consider a childs burgeoning independence in such a negative light. Does he believe that the child’s increasing independence is a threat to the entire cohesiveness of the family unit.

    Self reliance by the same token is simply an expression of maturity in the form of the ability to take care of oneself. From his writing he seems to truly believe that our current juvenile co dependence to a system that only cares about us as consumers is the healthiest way to go.
    It may be the easiest on each individual because it drastically reduces feelings of responsibility but certainly not the healthiest…

    There is no such thing as an island and you guys are no different. More importantly you have never made any claims otherwise. He is kidding himself though if he truly believes that you guys are as vulnerable as those that are not working toward independence. If crisis happens you will have a lot less “problems” that you will be looking for solutions for than someone less prepared… and a whole lot more practiced at finding solutions.

    Kind Regards

  7. Hannah says:

    All i can say is it’s obvious they are commenting on something they’ve read and they don’t actually know you at all.

    You depend on the earth, the weather, the restaurants that buy what you produce, the food co-op you shop from, your community, your local law enforcement, your volunteers, need I go on?

  8. Kristie says:

    On the Resources page of their Web site (, the Dervaeses state that their homestead experiment is “about becoming independent, self-reliant” to “help you and your family re-establish control over your day to day lives.”

    This is the point that I think he did not quite catch. This paragraph alone discounts everything negative he said in the article. He is trying to say that you are preaching self-sufficiency and complete independence, but I have never once (in two years of following) heard or read anything from you that spoke of complete self-suficiency or complete independence. Self-reliance is different from self-sufficiency, very different. It is not becoming a hermit who never interacts with society and provides every single thing yourself.
    I have always seen PTF as encouraging people to be MORE indepenent, not completely independent, MORE self-reliant not completely self-sufficient.
    This guy should have contacted you. He’s way off.

  9. Debbie says:

    There will always be nay sayers for every step you take in life. Being negative is a way of life for some people.

    I’m just glad that you guys are showing what positive things we can do to improve our own individual self-sufficiency. Not everyone can ever hope to achieve the level to which you guys have and are still striving towards, but you allow us to freely use you as a model of how it could be.

    Keep up the good work and just brush those nagative comments aside. As my mom always told me, the nay sayers are, as a rule, just jealous and/or lazy.

  10. Kevin says:

    I have only recently found your blog and actually posted about you all on my blog yesterday.

    (Just FYI … a reader of my blog posted on his blog about you all in Furlan, which is the native language of Friuli in northeastern Italy and is spoken throughout the world by members of the Friulan diaspora.)

    My wife and I were immediately huge fans.

    The article from SFGate is not journalism at all. It is an opinion piece. And, it is obvious that this author has an axe to grind. The piece is not well researched and completely mischaracterizes you all.

    It is very obvious to me that you all recognize your interdependence to nature and to society. Why else would you have a website, blog, store, etc.? If you were “off the grid” as the author suggests, you would have (or need) none of these things.

    What is most troubling about the article is that it casts you and everyone else who is trying to bring sanity to our broken system as ’60s idealists who didn’t get the message that “flower power” is dead.

    The author does a terrible disservice to those of us seeking real solutions and real change. Instead, the piece is a rallying cry for the status quo.

    You all are great and I am glad that I can share your experience online.

  11. Kory says:

    there is no better way to diminish an idea or movement than to declare it an irrelevant throwback.

    I would reject any notion that self empowerment in any form is unnecessary or excessive. We are interdependent, but until we begin to focus on our own capabilities and abilitiy to contribute, we will continue to wallow in dependence. Until we recognize that we have the power to be the change we will continue to sit around and wait for someone else to save us.

  12. Cindy says:

    When I first came across your website I was completely intrigued. I have always grown vegetables in my back yard, but your project made me rethink how I was doing some things. Your website inspired me to look into things like organic methods, companion planting, sheet mulching and permaculture, which was something I’d never heard of. It set me in the right direction to make some heathly changes.

    I will say that in the research I did as a result, I did run across some proponents of permaculture and self sufficiency who take the process to such an extreme, they are distainful of anyone who doesn’t treat it with the same almost religious militance that they do. Except when it comes to selling their concept. Their book was $89 used. A self guided tour of their permaculture farm was over $300. The guided tour with the author for 2 hours was $1,000. I can tell you right now that had I found their website before yours, I likely would not have explored any further. I know hypocrisy when I see it. I’m all for free enterprise, but when you are charging more to learn to be free of coporate farming control than the culprits you are trying to quell are, you aren’t going to recruit many people to your way of thinking. Keep doing what you are doing. Even if half of us did 1/4 of what you are doing, think how much better off we’d all be.

  13. Nuno says:

    Spent a lot of tonight reading through the site and I must say I’m fascinated by your own sort of self-sufficient militance.

    Other examples I’ve found tend to associate themselves with some sort of radical spiritualism, arrogance and even exploitation like Cindy says.

    The main “sin” however is that most of the examples know are deeply rooted in isolationist ideas and pessimism towards society in general and urban centers in particular.

    Reading this article I’m surprised that the journalist merely lumped you together with the other folks I mentioned- which most people do when I mention this type of lifestyles.

    Your example is way more valuable and balanced and so far its the only one that seems encouraging and viable.
    You are integrated in a society, are useful and interact with your neighbours (we should all have useful skills for our immediate community) and you don’t dismiss confort or some objects just because you deemed them “evil”.

    Some things are useful others are not its just a matter of using them responsibly and not wasting resources.

    Thank Your for making your work available to all.

  14. Lynn says:

    As I have visited blogs, groups and various websites belonging to people who have begun a homesteading lifestyle, I see that they do it for a number of reasons. Some feel that we are consuming too much energy and the abundance of fuels will come to an end. Some people live the life to be as toxin free as possible. Some people want to live close to the earth and leave as small a footprint as possible. Some come from farming families and it has been their way of life from birth. So many are working their plots for many different reasons.

    I feel this “movement” for lack of a better word right now is more of a Divine intervention. I feel an urgency to learn the old ways and not depend on other people to take care of my needs. I wasn’t raised this way so I have a lot to learn. I want to take care of my family. Plus it’s just so good for body, soul and spirit! It’s what I’ve always thought was the American dream.

    I’ve begun to learn about herbs and medicinal folk remedies and am happy to say I did not get sick this winter! I used elderberry syrup and ginger tea all season. I’m making and drinking stinging nettle water. I’ve also eaten large quantities of garlic :D. My family still needs some time to get used to these things.

    Please continue to show us how you do it….I really need ideas and I get a lot of encouragement from you!!!

    • Anais says:

      @Lynn: For us stuck here in the city, urban homesteading is the way to get back to basics, take a step backwards and journey towards self reliant living. I agree with your assessments. It’s time for folks to start taking care of themselves! Good for you! I love herbs and folk remedies, they’ve been my passion since I was a teenager. Will do, I hope to post more HOW TO’s so stay tuned. Thanks again for commenting, all the best on your journey

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