Jules picking beans
Q & A with Jules Dervaes

What motivated your interest in your particular field?

After I got married I began to consider how I could best provide for my family. I wanted to make sure that my children would be healthy and strong and that they would be able to live long and happy lives. I believed the only way I could achieve this was to learn how to grow my own food.

When, in your life, did it begin?

When I was 25, I began questioning where our food comes from and I became interested in growing food as a way of life. Mother Earth News magazine gave me inspiration and the hope for a new beginning led me to immigrate in 1973 to New Zealand, where, in an abandoned gold town on the South Island, I began my journey.

What was the moment in which you began to take real action toward making your dream come true?

The “moment” of real action would be one consisting of three parts: 1) In 1973, I immigrated to New Zealand, where I embarked on the path towards self- sufficiency and living off the land.2) In 1990, as a result of a period of severe drought in Southern California, I did away with my moisture-challenged lawn in Pasadena, replacing it with wildflowers, drought-tolerate plants and, eventually, with edible landscaping.3) In 2000. Even though for many years I had been gardening, I hardly relied on these plantings for our “daily bread.” Now, however, I took the radical action of becoming an urban pioneer. In the midst of the urban wilderness of Los Angeles County, I began to turn my city lot into a homestead, fanatically planting every available space to the four corners of our small world. Eventually our property would become a wildlife sanctuary, a home to citified barnyard animals, and a petite paradise where over 400 species of flora have been grown.

What was the moment that you believed that you could be successful?

The defining moment came after New Years Day of 2004 when we tallied up the final figures on our 2003 harvest chart. On that day we tasted the victory of having grown 6,097 pounds of fruits and vegetables in one year from the tiniest of acreage, from a “field” which was only one-tenth of an acre in size.

What was the biggest setback you had to overcome?

In the field of gardening for food, every year is different; and I face each year one or more setbacks of one sort or another. Most setbacks have been of the minor variety, until this year when we experienced such unusual weather here that we had crop failures in heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers (our big cash crops). We are in the midst of our worst year ever, having seen climate change first hand in our own backyard. So, this will be the biggest gardening setback that I will have yet to overcome. “We shall see…”

What did you learn about your strengths and weaknesses?

Undertaking a cause greater than yourself reveals what you are made of. I have found both surprising strengths and weaknesses; and I have learned that, in order to succeed, you have to strive both to work to your particular strength and to shore up your vulnerability. You go boldly forward while you always watch your back.

What is your biggest suggestion or piece of advice for those who attempt a similar endeavor?

You must be prepared to sacrifice to achieve results and, also, to stay the course over the long haul. No dream of any worth can be realized cheaply. The fulfillment of a dream comes only at a cost; so, at every stage of its development, you must be willing to step up and pay the price—whatever it is

How do you define success?

I measure short term success by how much I have improved at what I am doing to make my world a better place. However, I see long term success as being measured by what others have accomplished because of what I have done.

When the specific dream or goal was realized.

Mine is an ongoing journey and I am always adding to my goals and expanding my dreams. Because I am gardening to grow food for my family, I can never rest on last year’s harvest. Every year I face the challenge of a good harvest all over again. On looking back I mark the two years of 2003 and 2004 as having been the times when I realized my specific goal of harvesting three tons of food on my “city lot of dreams.”

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  1. Wildside says:

    Love the very personal Q & A! Will you do this for each member of your household? I might have more questions, but won’t ask, because they are just plain nosy, rather than to the greater good, and you deserve some privacy…

    “I have found both surprising strengths and weaknesses”

    In my previous experimenting with a homegrown, home-based biz, me too… More the surprise is how surprised I was at discovering what things were my strengths and weaknesses… Different than I had thought. And how hypocritical I can be in my choices. For example, I am nowhere near self-sufficient and don’t really aspire to be (though I do aspire to be more so at the same time — how confusing is that?!?).

    “However, I see long term success as being measured by what others have accomplished because of what I have done.”

    Amen to that. You inspire many! And challenge us to rethink some things.

  2. gerry medland says:

    Way to go folks!
    An inspiring piece of close to the heart writing,made me realise more than a few pointers in my own journey,weather conditions have played havoc on this side of the pond also.What have I learned from the Q&A with Jules?,That each year brings its own challenges,that I need to plan more and work through planting to harvesting better in order to inspire not only others but myself also on a daily basis!Continuing evaluation of my personal journey helped by The outstanding back up of PTF’s example is my Manna,I have learned to think more creatively and think more locally/globally within my choices.
    More please PTF(If and when you get time,that is)