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path to freedom project

January 12, 2008

zora naki

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.

path to freedom projectIn 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?

Well no. They also run the Dervaes Institute to spread their message, sell goods at their online store, the Peddler’s Wagon, and blog extensively at their website.

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:

Path to Freedom website
Path to Freedom YouTube videos


Post a comment
  1. Jane #
    April 16, 2008

    I used to love reading the Path to Freedom journal. Then, when trying to research more about the family, I discovered that Jules Dervaes is a very religious man. In the late 90’s he was disfellowshipped from the Worldwide Church of God – he firmly believed that wives should submit to their husbands in all matters and never question them. This mindset may have contributed to his divorce. He also believed in not treating his sick children with medicine. It’s a pretty radical mindset, and it’s changed the way I perceive the family – and I especially feel kind of bad for the two daughters. Here are some fascinating links from Jules’ website describing the family’s interactions with the church in the late 1990’s.

  2. April 17, 2008

    Thanks for the links and the comment. I had read a bit of this earlier and I am never sure how to reconcile someone’s beliefs with how you view their accomplishments.
    Does a religious motivation or outlook, regardless of whether or not I agree with them, take away from the magnitude of what they’ve managed to do? Their beliefs do seem to significantly constrain their lifestyle. Do they use their public profile to promote their religious beliefs?
    It’s all a bit strange…

  3. Anonymous #
    November 30, 2008

    I don’t think a religious outlook need necessarily tarnish the accomplishments of the man and his family, but as within, so without. One can strive to treat the Earth well and do the right thing as far as ecological sustainability is concerned, but if someone isn’t treating the ones closest to him or her well and relationships within the family unit are not healthy, something is definitely imbalanced. The social experiment the project represents is not holistically sustainable as something that can be replicated elsewhere because it is not socially just or authentically loving. Jeremy left for valid reasons that I will not divulge. I suggest that you bear in mind that abuse and self-serving manipulation is often rationalized by religious extremism of all stripes and colors.

  4. JS #
    November 9, 2009

    Mental, Physical and even sexual abuse certainly has been condoned by such religious fanatics. Jules Dervaes’s writings have been likened to those of David Koresh. Need I say more?

  5. ladybug #
    March 8, 2010

    I am personally aware of the divisive and troubling nature of the Dervaes family. Although I admire what they are doing with respect to homesteading, I believe the only reason they are successful is because of the domination of Jules over the entire family.

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