Episode 143: The Urban Homesteading Path to Freedom with Jules Dervaes
Host Sean Daily talks with Jules Dervaes of Path to Freedom. Path to Freedom is a family-operated urban homestead established in 2001 in Pasadena, California by Jules Dervaes. The family also runs a successful business providing fresh produce to local restaurants.
Sean Daily: Hey everyone, this is Sean Daily with Green Talk Radio. Welcome back to another episode. We are talking about urban homesteading today. And you know, there is a lot of interest these days in the idea of living in a Green Home that’s for example, resource efficient and using sustainably source than manufactured materials but why stop there? Imagine having not just a Green Home but a completely self sustaining eco-friendly homestead when that provides you self sufficiency not only in terms of things like generating your own energy and your -- growing your own food but also manufacturing your own bio-diesel fuel and generating all of your income from the things that you produce on the homestead. Well my guest today has done just that but and perhaps the most interesting twist in the story, has done all of it in the middle of the a major U.S. city. Jules Dervaes, the founder of Path of Freedom. It’s a family operated viable urban homestead project established in 2001 to promote a simpler and more fulfilling lifestyle and to so what they call a homegrown revolution against the corporate powers that they feel are control of the food supply. Since the mid 1980s Mr. Dervaes has three adult children, Anise, Justine and Jordan, has steadily worked to transforming their ordinary city lot and passing into California into a thriving organic organ, the supplies in the food, all you around. These eco-pioneers also run a successful business providing fresh produce to local restaurants. They have been featured in the New York Times and the Los Angles Times and were recently featured on ABC’s Nightline and CNN. They also blog about their homestead life and experiences at www.pathtofreedom.com. Jules welcome to the program.
Jules Dervaes: Oh, Sean thanks for having me on.
Sean Daily: Oh, it is our pleasure to have you on today. I want to hear about the story from the beginning. Where did this all start for you both, you know your family and yourself personally the idea of doing this or maybe even take us back to the beginning sort of the -- the seeds of -- no, pun intended. And that takes it forward.
Jules Dervaes: No, that’s good, that’s good. That’s good. Yes. Whether the seeds are right and they were -- I think they were planted back in my college days when there was a Vietnam was raging, you know across the Pacific there and we were, you know mired in -- in some pollution problems and economic problems. So we -- so I thought about what my teacher would be in the United States and I just was part of the Back to the Land Movement that was going on back then that people were looking for another – another way, a different way and I got so fed up that I immigrated to New Zealand in the ‘70s. I just wanted to start something in a new place and -- and new lifestyle and I became a homesteader at the country in New Zealand on the South Island a little homestead in the abandoned Gold Town I had settled in.
Sean Daily: Well what’s the name of the town in New Zealand that you were nearest?
Jules Dervaes: Well the nearest was Hokitika in the South Island but this one had -- had a -- was a little town, just had a couple of shops left over, to go rush at, come through there and left a couple of building standing and I -- I made a home in one of them.
Sean Daily: Interesting. So now you are in New Zealand and so you are an ex-patriot in New Zealand homesteading. What then recalls you and brings you back to the U.S.?
Jules Dervaes: Well I did -- I went over there married but I -- when I got over there, I had my -- I had my first daughter Anise and it was like, you know, New Zealand is so far away from Los Angles but I was from camp of Florida. So you are talking about crossing time zones like in international date line time zone.
Sean Daily: Yes.
Jules Dervaes: It was so far -- it was so far away that I couldn’t -- I couldn’t bear to -- to see my -- my parents not having their grandchild, you know have any experience with their grandchild. So I -- I really came back to be with family.
Sean Daily: I see. What year was that?
Jules Dervaes: That was in ’74.
Sean Daily: ’74, OK. So -- so then bring us forward -- so how the things go? You get back, it must have been a culture shock?
Jules Dervaes: Right. That -- that was our statement. That place was so backwards that -- that you know going, it was not just time zones but there was -- there was eras there. We were living in a different era almost and coming back with a shock and I realized how different things were and you can -- just say we want but it’s something good about going to where things were simpler, times were simpler.
Sean Daily: And I think that’s a lot of where people were craving these days and that I know personally I am and -- and you know, I --I thought we were really cool having chickens in our backyard.
Jules Dervaes: Yes, that’s good, that’s good.
Sean Daily: Sore panels but it’s -- it’s a start but I -- I mean I feel the poulters and I know a lot of the -- the listeners on this show and visitors to the greenlivingideas.com website are interested in this topic. So a fascinate to hear more about this story.
Jules Dervaes: But you mentioned the word poul and that’s exactly what I felt too. I mean there is a poul of -- to a more simpler lifestyle where you can -- you can be more in control than in -- than things are going out of -- out of the control here so -- so fast and so furious that you want you -- you want to say stop, you know. So there is a poul that go back to old fashion ways, yes.
Sean Daily: Yes. There -- there definitely is and that’s -- that’s a huge movement and I think that a lot of people -- this is an aspiring story of what you guys have a compulsion for those listening and definitely check out pathtofreedom.com even if you are listening at a computer right now. I encourage you to do that as you are listening to the interview but what -- it’s inspiring you because I think a lot of people feel very non-empowered to make this ---
Jules Dervaes: Right.
Sean Daily: --- happen. It’s like, OK, certain things are -- are sort of within reach, you know you can get the solar panels if you can afford them or wind power or -- or you know whatever, so you know simply -- you know doing hydro, dual thermal, what have you. But there is other things were sort of the line gets drawn, this gets really -- really difficult, not to go to whole foods or, you know not to get -- not to buy the things that we just consider necessary and that it’s not so easy to do that in an urban homestead environment. Can you tell us about some of the other things that you guy have accomplished there at your home that maybe, you know most people have -- have not been able to do and how you did it?
Jules Dervaes: OK. Well we -- what we ended up doing is been basically frightened about what the future would be when -- when the GMOs have entered the food chain and back in the -- in the ‘90s and it had gone into a Talk a Bell show that we were purchasing at the local grocery store and I thought that hey, this is not -- this is not fair, you know there is something wrong here that I can’t even protect my children that this is just taken to -- what it’s supposed to be in the food chain and then -- and nobody was watching over it obviously because it had gone out. And I thought hey, I can’t do that do I -- I read about trying step by step to grow my own food. I just thought that that was the only way I could protect myself. So we took a fifth of an acre here and I made it into a, you know, veritable paradise like I actually want to call that. gardening vegetables, fruits, everything you can think of to -- to put diet -- put a diet on our table.
Sean Daily: So Jules it was -- so it was the genetically modified aspect when genetically food started entering the -- the food supply that -- that was really the tipping point for you to start doing this?
Jules Dervaes: That’s correct. I mean that was -- that was so shocking that -- that it was -- it was like a wake up call, you know someone slapping you across the face and saying, do you know what just happened? And -- and I thought hey, you know I can’t let this stand. I just, you know -- you know you give up some control but I couldn’t let, I just couldn’t be an experiment. So I -- I said that was it, you know, last straw, you know could -- could just gardening for hobby and -- and I took it full times, you know. People can’t do that but I was scared enough that I had a -- I had some little land here, I mean we have a fifth of an acre, some people live in town homes but I had some land so I thought well let me see what I could do, I mean why not? Why not try something different and -- and boy, it took off and we were shocked ourselves but we started with, you know growing the first year was 2,300 pounds and then by the third or fourth year in the business of doing that, you know we call it a business because it was not a hobby anymore. We had produced over 6,000 pounds of foods and vegetables and we knew we are onto something good.
Sean Daily: Now you are doing all this on a fifth of an acre?
Jules Dervaes: Um-hm.
Sean Daily: Wow.
Jules Dervaes: In the city, yes. So There is no -- no possible expansion, no.
Sean Daily: Well that -- yes, exactly without buying more land. So ---
Jules Dervaes: Right.
Sean Daily: What -- what -- were you -- was the original intention in doing that to just grow enough food for your family or did you always have the intension to also sell the rest, the remaining food if there was anything extra?
Jules Dervaes: Yes. Well we -- we weren’t sure we could do the extra yet. When -- when it came in, we -- we knew we had -- we were blessed so I thought hey, you know, Pasadena, California and all the restaurants that here, people go out ate all the time. They are looking for this, so we just made a couple of calls and we went business, you know because people want this and -- and it was so -- it was so unusual because we are, you know send out like a truck farm or some faraway place it was -- it reminded us of like in a village. We could actually walk our products to the restaurants and -- and handed over to them in person. Their chefs can came over and walk the garden and -- and look at it and it’s -- it’s felt good, it felt real, it felt like, you know I had just gone to a couple of time works or something.
Sean Daily: And in the -- then the restaurant in turn can be featuring that they get all of their produce, you know from an organic family farm which is a -- it would be a huge and -- and my estimation it would be a huge benefit to any restaurant.
Jules Dervaes: Right. I mean and -- and you know cut throat business of restaurants, you know where they come and go, you have to have the edge and they found this. It’s been going around and this Eight Local Movement and then the Fresh Organic Movement but we -- we took it a step further. We just -- we are just -- we hand off personally to the chef, you know to our -- we don’t have this, no middleman or anything. So with all the scares with food, you know this happens every year with e-coli and salmonella, we have -- I think just added the food -- food security plus how -- how good it tastes, the restaurants are way, you know loving it. They are loving it, what we do.
Sean Daily: Now Jules you mentioned that the first yield was about a ton and then the further yields were more like three tons.
Jules Dervaes: Right.
Sean Daily: What are you currently producing?
Jules Dervaes: Yes, well we thought we would go for 10,000 pounds this year but we got s wake up call and that global warming had something to say about it. We are such a wacky --well, spring summer and fall, all the weathers upside down. Either too hot or too cold, too dry, we haven’t been -- we haven’t begin too wet yet but we are too dry here and so we are roughly going to probably come in around 6,000 anyway even though we tried for something more. It looks like nature has the last word on that.
Sean Daily: Now can you give us an example of some of the things that you are growing?
Jules Dervaes: OK. In the summer time we are doing a lot of heirloom vegetables but it’ this, you know the typical summer crops but we heirloom tomatoes. We have peppers egg plants, cucumbers beans and plus a lot of little salad mixes but that’s -- that‘s summer supply. And then in the winter time, we just basically go to a mesclun salad mix because we can’t that summer heat so we have to just go greens, just basically salad greens.
Sean Daily: Now is that enough -- just that mix of produce is enough to sustain you for all your food needs for the property, are you then also having to go out and get or trade with other people to get other things?
Jules Dervaes: Yes. We are again to definitely to wider. We -- we would love to trade with people but it’s right now is we are trying to establish our self as a viable business. So we are -- we are trying to -- improve on our -- our productivity is because we have so many restaurants and we don’t want to turn them down so we are basically trying to be a viable homestead not just, you know a tourist staying or -- or look at what they are doing is cute. We want to -- we want to stand on our two feet but -- but we found out that -- that the outreach that we do and we get them doing outreach for a long time especially with -- with school children and everything but we have an outreach on the web and outreach in person. That -- that took out lot of our time and took out a lot of our income to just support that. So I ended up starting an online store that -- that brings in extra income when the garden doesn’t do so well.
Sean Daily: So some of the harvest -- the harvest are sort of hit or miss, I guess as with all ---
Jules Dervaes: Yes.
Sean Daily: --- farmers that’s -- yes. So and I was going to say because you know the idea and it certainly I think any percentage of income that you can generate to help offset this is good, it doesn’t have to be, you know a 100 percent but ---
Jules Dervaes: Right.
Sean Daily: --- 100 percent is something to shoot for. Sao right now, is -- is your primary -- are your primary sources of income the -- selling for restaurants and then the online store income? Is that -- is that pretty much doing it for you and able to give you enough money to support the homestead?
Jules Dervaes: Yes. That’s -- we -- we get that and then -- and if we have to, we have a events on our place here. We -- we call in some documentary screenings and we are kind of supplementary income with -- with the people who want to, you know have donations or anything or help us out on online but yes, that would take, I am trying to do it all by myself and not -- not have to have a outside -- outside income, we are not deepening on that. So I -- I really want to show them that we can do this. We -- we also had -- a long time ago, we had a craft store that we had in -- in a place O Town and -- and that OK but it just -- it was too, you know people don’t -- they want to go for the -- not the handmade things, they want to go for the manufactured things, the, you know Chinese -- Chinese things. So it’s -- it was -- that’s still there but it just didn’t give us anything so we -- we hold onto it but it’s not enough, you know it’s just -- it’s so -- we are just kind of nickel and dime in some of this stuff. But that’s how we do it in -- in pieces, you know, we are not there all -- all. It’s that one thing all the way, it’s just wherever you can get some income and my daughters can go out and -- and waitress at one of the restaurants that we service and they can -- they can add extra income that way.
Sean Daily: Sir, that make sense but I -- I notice too that, you know dramatically you are keeping it within the community and that’s what really makes a lot of sense in getting back to, you know if we are talking about getting back to roost then ---
Jules Dervaes: Right.
Sean Daily: --- that’s -- part of it is keeping it within the local community for that locality and you know people talk about, you know being a local war but we can also ---
Jules Dervaes: Yes.
Sean Daily: --- but we can also extend that to, you know where you have your job or if you -- if you don’t have the good fortune to able to tell and communicate things like that.
Jules Dervaes: Right.
Sean Daily: Yes. Yes. Just well, we are going to take a quick break here Jules. Fascinated by the discussion, I want to hear more about this story and the project and -- well, it’s not a project, though it’s your life. I want to hear more about your life and the homestead. We will be right back on Green Talk Radio after this brief forward from our sponsor, this is Sean Daily, hang on everybody. This is Sean Daily talking today on Urban Homesteading with Jules Dervaes. He is the founder of Path to Freedom and an urban homesteader. Path to Freedom is a family operator viable urban homestead project established in 2001 to promote a simpler and more fulfilling lifestyle and to sow a homegrown revolution against the corporate powers that control the food supply. Jules we were talking before the break about your history and what led you to being an urban homesteader and some of the specifics about the property, the produce you generate and how you sort of work with the local economy and as a family to make this work. I want to hear a little bit about --- the website that you run. I know you spend a lot of time blogging about your experiences and giving tips to other people?
Jules Dervaes: Well, when we started it. I -- wanted to just have something for my family to paying on to for their survival. I was thinking just locally. I mean so local that I was just thinking my – children -- my children were here my main concern. And I said I don’t even know if this was going to work. So, I put you know, I put this to a test to see if it would work and I didn’t know it. So, I couldn’t really brag about it or talk about it because it was because it was still didn’t worked. And then when it started hitting and we started getting some success and building on it. I said hey why don’t you share it on the internet but then; we weren’t -- I wasn’t an internet person but my kids were. They were starting to find the internet in the blogging, blogosphere. And they were you know, looking for something to reach out --- to a broader community. And I said -- I said go and tell them what we were doing. You know, go and say hey we are growing this and that and we have made this successful turn away from the regular system. And they – it got so successful that people started calling us and asking us questions and then one call came in with a garden call from a high-school in the area; and they wanted a tour, and then I thought oh wow. I mean, I -- if this -- is the future generation and it is; and we are looking at children changing children minds, then surely I want to do this. And so we opened it up --- homestead for tours. So, we did go -- kind of wild. And we went you know, my -- my – children loved the interests in terms of connecting and so they are -- they are in charge of that. They like --- they like sharing and giving – you know, being able to help people with their questions because that’s what we found out. We were in that -- in that position first and – and we had to ask questions. And when you ask questions to somebody and somebody helps you, you feel that he maybe better paid, that will be --- pay that back and so become people that could answer questions for others.
Sean Daily: Yes, that’s really cool and I have to say it’s -- it’s neat because I think some people might hear about this project from the outside and assume that you guys might be some sort of you know, Luddites or anti-technology or anti-establishment but the truth is you are living in the middle of a major metropolitan area and you know.
Jules Dervaes: Yes, we’re wired here, you know, we’re wired to the earth. I mean, it started out I mean it gives a shock to people because you know, they have taken they are going to see one thing; but there is like a split here. There is -- the outside is so old and homey and everything and – it looks like you know a ancient village somewhere you have been you know, going back in time. And then you step into this room and we have you know, three computers and the whole work here going full-time everyday. So, it’s a whole different style.
Sean Daily: Yes, technology is essentially augmenting the ability to do this. I suppose to it being sort of the enemy. So, I think that is really cool.
Jules Dervaes: Yes, we are using it, yes.
Sean Daily: Yes, yes. That’s – that’s neat. So, why do you think that this lifestyle this urban homesteading lifestyle for which you guys are serving as a model is more important today then it ever has been before?
Jules Dervaes: Yes, well, if you read the newspapers or get a load of anything that’s coming across the airwaves, or even on the internet, and it’s scary out there. You could see daily things are not, not what they should be and we haven’t seen the likes of this and I think in our lifetime maybe you have to go like to like bank failure of the Great Depression this -- this is -- this is --- this is where the roots are and this is where people, we had people come here and say hey my mom did this long time ago. My grandparents live this way and we have had foreigners come over and they said hey this is -- this is just like we lived back home. We are not --- we are not that strange. The world went off into on its own course and now I guess there is a course correction. And we are looking this ritual thing is real. My model was to step back which is progress; because the other thing look like progress but it’s --- it’s not it isn’t -- if you if you just look at what’s happening to the money situation. This is security you know, growing own food. When you go in the backyard and you pick your meal and its like hey where did that come from? Well, I didn’t have to bother. I didn’t have to go to the bank. I didn’t have to go to the grocery store. It was purely empowerment and it was – it was that search for independence that we I think the, you know, United States was founded on was this independence lifestyle; and we think this as patriotic as you can get in terms of being free.
Sean Daily: I’m curious to hear for people like myself and I’m sure many other is out there who are looking to do this to whatever degree. To take these steps, what are some of the things having been through the school of hard knocks that I’m sure you have been through in doing this that you would recommend to people like sort of talk tips or you know, baby steps to take towards this lifestyle, things to watch out for?
Jules Dervaes: That’s a good question. One of the hardest things people have getting around to it --- and I’m talking from experience is you know, where to start, you know, and have been confronting the negativity like the organists do, you know, this is too small, you know, doesn’t -- it’s not going to add up, it’s like a matter. Well, then – then – then we are really in trouble; because the first thing I would recommend to people is just to start something. Now, you can’t do what I’m doing here; because we have a different take on it; and we have a different location; and all that we are blessed with different -- unique opportunities but some --- where ever you are you can start something.
Sean Daily: Yes, you are in Southern California which is certainly know for being --
Jules Dervaes: Yes.
Sean Daily: You are able to grow a lot of things there and I’m wondering if this equally applicable to people that are maybe in the north -- northern parts of the country where its colder and you don’t have as many you know, the warm seasons as long and things like that. Do you think, that’s its viable anywhere or is it only because you are in California?
Jules Dervaes: You know, I believe it’s a part of it. Like you have to --- you have to start where you find yourself. And if you are up north this -- this some of this you can do. Not all this all around but what I would do on the free time is I would and I have done here. I would crap businesses or home based businesses. I will find something that I could do or make a product or offer a service that is home based. That --- that you don’t have to go away from your home and that’s -- that’s -- that’s the cottage industry, that’s old time hill. So, you have a lot of --- a long winter period then you would instead of growing you would probably making something.
Sean Daily: Will tell us --- you can tell us little bit more specifically about the bio-diesel the machine that helps you process the fuel?
Jules Dervaes: Yes, so we get plans off the internet, they were free and it was a collaborative efforts with some friends here and we didn’t know what we were getting into; but it just seem like a risk we were taking and that’s what the other thing, I would think I would ask -- add to a tip was it looks like --- it looks like a risk but --- but every the life out there is a risk. You know, it’s a risk going to the bank you know, so putting your money in the bank so.
Sean Daily: As the last few weeks have shown us, yes.
Jules Dervaes: Right. So, this is a risk and I just thought it was worth it for my children, for my future, for their future and I said well lets try it. So, it would jerry-rig homemade thing out of a water heater; but it just seem so logical, not to waste --- waste, waste oil. You know, they had already fried it. They had already used it they were dumping it. So, we were in contact with the restaurant. We said hey you know, can we have it, they said yes, you know that’s a smart idea. So, we, we you know, slowly but surely but my son loves it now because when he goes out there he is the -- he is the man he is the --- he is the filling station man. He is the service station man. He just – he feels like well, we don’t need this way and that was just a start. So, it’s like – it’s like one thing lead to another and that’s what if you don’t start it --- and we read it with growing food; but we went to slower panels, we went into to buy diesel and that way we are into water recommendation using greywater and things like that, it just --- it just keeps on growing and we have -- we have to it’s a working progress and we have to stick with it.
Sean Daily: I was going to ask you about the greywater because this has come up recently in the news that you know, in some places they don’t allow you to actually reclaim greywater legally which is unbelievable to me.
Jules Dervaes: Yes, it is unbelievable.
Sean Daily: They consider that they own it. The municipality owns it rather than the home onto which it falls anyway have you run into any --- have you run into any issues with that?
Jules Dervaes: Yes, we are – we are talking little craziness there but you know, a long time ago that’s what people did. They had greywater --- I can understand the concerns but you have to be, you have to be you know, self sufficient you have take matters and responsibilities in your own hands and I just think, its goanna have to be something done in the future, about that. The water situation is even worse than the oil situation. Oil you maybe even walk to the store and you can go public transportation but without water I mean, if its peak water we are in trouble, you know, because I’m in trouble.
Sean Daily: Yes.
Jules Dervaes: With peak water. So, we want to depend on the rain. So, we have, you know, it works in the way that we harvest the rain water. We collect a rain water and greywater I mean, if it’s underground and that’s the safe part, if it’s under ground, you put it underground where nobody can get out it expect the roots of the trees and what they’re afraid of is it being used wrongly and that’s, that’s --- case you know, it’s like you have – you can’t have a car but you can’t have a car used wrongly. You know, you have --- you can have anything that’s used one way --- another person can use it wrongly. It’s just -- its just regulation and they – I don’t think they don’t know what to do it yet. You know, it’s just really strange because some of the people are head of the curve and they are pushing envelope and other people may need the codes and everything else, haven’t really figured out what to do with it. So, people take it in their own hands.
Sean Daily: Yes, well, that’s why I certainly appreciate people like yourselves, your family being out there on the bleeding edge of this making you know, making the powers that we think about this and hopefully gaining some attention towards these issues because I think they are going, they are important now they are going to continue to be important moving forward.
Jules Dervaes: Yes, and its --- I mean its dangerous to think this way – some people might think that this is -- so you know, rare you are going to cause trouble but the problem is this is -- this is norm back 200 years ago. You know, we are not --- we are not we are just we are trying to be like the old timers and its and its dangerous to the corporations because we are trying to be free of that. We don’t we say thank you but no thank you; we don’t want to be part of your system. This is what --- we stake our lives on this kind of way of living that our ancestors did and that’s freedom.
Sean Daily: Yes, yes and I think a few years ago or even six months ago maybe even three months ago people might have thought you know, oh that’s cute. It’s optional if you --- if you an ego crunchy, Granola crunching tree hugger than this is something for you; but when we see the major banks in the country failing and people see that you know, that what you consider secure you have always taken for granted is now gone and not perhaps reliable. It changes people thinking and so this like as you said I think it really does provide the ability to have a little bit more independence and buffer from that, regardless of what happens you don’t have to be doomsayer, this isn’t about negativity and in fact to me its about its very positive.
Jules Dervaes: Right.
Sean Daily: Because what you are doing is you know, you are really taking the family union and extending it an ecologically centric way; and you are also embracing the community and so it has a lot of positive aspect irrespective of any financial buffering. So yes really cool on well, I could I could talk to all day about this but I don’t want to take too much of your time, I know you probably need back to managing the website in homestead and everything else you are doing. I have to ask you though you guys are you coming out with a book or anything to teach us how to do this?
Jules Dervaes: Well, we have -- we have been asked that for many years why can’t we do that; but it’s really hard to separate living this way and then and then separate yourself and then writing a book.
Sean Daily: Yes.
Jules Dervaes: So, one person has observation he said your website is your book. I mean we --- it so expensive and it goes back so long back to 2001 that we feel it its online and we can help people its through the internet right now.
Sean Daily: OK, well – then the website is the major source of information. And you --- you know, you might want to think about compiling the information from the website into a book because I know, that there are many organizations who that. And it would be another form for you to get word out because we really you know, appreciate the information is great everybody should definitely visit the website, its pathtofreedom.com or www.pathtofreedom.com. It has got great information in. In whatever form you chose to disseminate that we certainly appreciate it. OK, well my guest today has been Jules Dervaes he is an eco-pioneer and homesteader and the founder of Path to Freedom a family operated viable urban homestead project established in 2001 to promote a simpler and more fulfilling lifestyle and to sow a homegrown revolution. I want to thank you again for being on the program with us today. We would love to have you back again in the future.
Jules Dervaes: Thank you, Sean and I would love to be back too.