January 12, 2008
The Path to Freedom project is the Big Kahuna of sustainable homesteading. The Dervaes family in Pasadena, California have transformed their 1/5 acre city lot to an organic gardening oasis. They grow more than 350 varieties of edible plants and produce a staggering 6,000 pounds of produce annually. Imagine a giant scale with three cars on one side – how many carrots would it take to balance? The mind boggles.
In addition to gardening, the family gardeners, currently comprised of dad Jules Dervaes, and offspring Anaïs (32), Justin (28), and Jordanne (23), run a home business supplying local restaurants with fresh produce, incorporate earth-friendly technologies such as solar panels and a cob oven, run their vehicle on home-brewed biodiesel, and keep a small flock of animals including goats, ducks and chickens. Is that all?
This project is such a fabulous mix of contrasts. The Dervaes live a rural lifestyle in an urban setting. They practice a back-to-basics lifestyle of self-sufficiency (hand-cranked washing machine), and yet they are incredibly savvy about utilizing the Internet and web technology to promote their cause. Their press kit and Youtube collection are professional and comprehensive in scope, which gives the casual reader a great introduction to bio-intensive, permaculture farming on a small, and impressively productive scale. Through hard-earned experience, they have a lot to teach the rest of us wannabe urban homesteaders.
The family has bravely opened their garden up to public consumption, offering us an ongoing glimpse over the fence into their lives. Inevitably, perhaps, in the face of the unrelentingly positive comments and profiles that flood the blogosphere, you start to wonder about the failures and fallout from four adults living and working in a small space on a daily basis. What happened to the other son – Jeremy Dervaes – who, as of 2004, apparently moved out and moved on from the homestead? How much of the family’s faith has influenced their lifestyle decisions? What do the neighbours think? Does biodiesel smell like french fries? Do the offspring have plans to move out onto their own homesteads at some point?
What we can all take away from this ambitious project, is the idea of possibility. We can all do something. The question is, how much? If it takes 4 adults working full-time (?) to produce 3 tons of food, how much can one person realistically produce, fitting it in around regular life? What are the limitations for gardeners who don’t live in Southern California? How can I incorporate bio-intensive farming into my plans? How do you build a cob oven? There is a lot of information to digest and ideas to consider.
The most important thing that I came away with after reading about the Path to Freedom project, is the passionate commitment to their goals the Dervaes family practices. Let me be so willing to put my spade where my mouth is!
More info on Path to Freedom: