It’s trendy to go green, grow some vegetables in your back yard, have a few solar panels on the
roof and drive a hybrid car.Ten years ago, before green became the hot new movement,
Jules Dervaes and his family decided to try and become almost fully sustainable.
Dervaes, 62, lives with his three adult children in a 1917 Craftsman house in North Pasadena
that he purchased in 1984. A bit reminiscent of “The Little House on the Prairie,” the mini farm
of sorts is a stone’s throw from the 210 freeway.
Eco-pioneers, the family is driven by an old-fashioned lifestyle in harmony with nature.
Jules refers to the place as an urban homestead and the project as the Path to Freedom.
“It’s a journey toward self-sufficiency
Anais Dervaes puts orange peels into a pot of marmalade that she is cooking with the help of her sister Jordanne. Jules Dervaes and his children have transformed a Pasadena Craftsman into an urban farm. They grow all of their own food, make their own fuel, and try to do as much as they can to be self-sustaining. Pasadena, CA 4/1/2010. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer) (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)
in the city,” he says. “In the last 10 years, we’ve gone from 10 percent self-suffciency to 60 to 70 percent now.
Our main dependency is on water, transportation, gas.”
Jules cultivates one-tenth of an acre on his one-fifth of an acre property.
Last year he grew 5,300 pounds of 350 different kinds of organic vegetables and fruits.
Among them are broccoli, carrots, assorted greens, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers,
daikon radishes and more, grown mostly from seeds, in the jam-packed raised beds in the back yard.
“We try to be gardeners in the city and live off the land. We have spring, summer and fall/winter gardens.
“I started a small vegetable garden for personal use in 1985,” – and it’s been multiplying ever since,
says Jules who had a lawn maintenance business for several years.
In 1990, because of the drought, he turned his front yard into edible landscaping, planting wild flowers.
Shortly thereafter, he launched a small edible flower business – “it was a new craze at the time” -
selling flowers to a handful of local restaurants until 1999. “Until 2000 I was a hobby gardener.”
But a decade ago he became much more serious about feeding not only his family but others.
“It came in stages.”
His daughter Anais, 35, manages the kitchen while Jordanne, 26, oversees care of the animals -
eight chickens, five ducks and two goats. Justin, 31, gardens, waters and makes
30 gallons of biodiesel (green fuel) a month from waste vegetable oil collected from local restaurants.
It is used to run the family’s two diesel cars.
Jules, the manager, does a little bit of everything, including replanting the beds and picking
the greens and produce sold to local restaurants.
Their 15-year-old business, Dervaes Gardens, grosses about $20,000 yearly in sales of organic
produce and edible flowers to local restaurants, caterers and individuals. Among their clients
are Marston’s restaurant, Elements Cafe and Kitchen and Kitchen for Exploring Foods, all in Pasadena.
Jim McCardy, owner/chef of Marston’s, began buying produce from the Dervaes family
about six years ago when “they came to my back door at the restaurant and gave me samples
of some lettuces which were incredible.” Now “I get baby greens from them two or three times a week”
in addition to other in-season produce including Meyer lemons, different types of Swiss chard,
heirloom tomatoes and herbs.
“The things I get from them are used in the dinner menus” (the restaurant is open
Wednesday through Saturday for dinner). Among the creations he makes with the produce
are crispy goat cheese salad with pesto vinaigrette; grapefruit and avocado salad; tempura scallop salad
with asparagus and peanut coconut dressing; heirloom tomatoes with greens, fresh mozzarella and
pine nut lemon vinaigrette; swiss chard with roasted chicken; and sea scallops with Meyer lemon and
chive sauce. A couple of the salads on the menu credit the Dervaes organic greens.
“The baby greens have a much more pronounced fresher flavor and more vibrant color as they
have been in the ground a couple of hours before.”
The family also makes money (for necessities) from products/seeds sold at their
We freeze things, too (mostly berries and some tomatoes, peppers and zucchini) and dry herbs.”
Anais keeps a simple pantry – with flour, rice, sugar, oats and pasta – and shops once a week.
“I don’t tire of cooking three meals a day (in a very small kitchen),” she says, adding, “taste the food —
it is dynamite and speaks for itself.”
Although they don’t use small electric appliances like a food processor or blender
(they opt for hand-cranked models), they do have an energy-efficient refrigerator with freezer and
a washing machine that run on green power. They use gas stove-top burners for cooking but a solar oven
instead of a conventional one for baking dishes, which take twice as long, notes Anais.
They’ve had 12 solar panels since 2004 that provide two-thirds of their energy (power) from the sun.
The balance comes from green power they buy from the city of Pasadena
(from a wind farm near Palm Springs), says Jules. “We’re 100 percent green wind and solar.”
Their green power electricity bill runs $12 a month, the gas bill $15 and the phone bill $80 to $100.
The water bill is $600 a year (the family showers once a week).
“We wear second-hand clothes from thrift stores, eBay or castoffs from friends,” says Anais.
The household has a dual personality – embracing both low- and high-tech simultaneously.
They have computers, a television (no cable) and subscribe to Netflix. “It’s The Waltons meet The Jetsons,
says Jules, chuckling.
Their goal is to have “as little impact on the environment as possible while living in the city,” says Jordanne.
The family happily shares its expertise. Children enrolled at the New Horizon School often tour the
Dervaes gardens next door.
“Farmer D’s (that’s how the school affectionately refers to Jules Dervaes) urban homestead is a living
laboratory for the school,
” says Kim Budge, one of the school’s director. “He’s been an example to all of us as to how we
can live a more eco-friendly life in an urban environment.”
With the school trying to have a green focus and teach the children about the importance of
caring for the Earth, classes visit the animals, garden, blender on the bicycle and solar oven at different times.
“The children’s interest has sparked parent interest,” adds Budge. “The Dervaes family has
actually inspired us as a school to hold a community-wide eco-fair in spring 2011
(each grade will have an eco-friendly project to promote sustainability).
And at the school’s open house this May, each class will also have an eco-project on display.”
“This lifestyle is difficult,” admits Jules. “My attitude is survivalist backed up with stubbornness.
I’m not saying that this lifestyle is for everybody. (But) some of it is for everybody.”
These are some of the recipes Anais Dervaes cooks for the family. They are from various sources as noted.
PASTA WITH LEMON CREAM SAUCE AND PEAS
8 ounces uncooked long fusilli (twisted spaghetti)
1 cup fresh green peas, thawed
1 tablespoon butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup organic vegetable broth
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Dash ground red pepper
ChivesCook pasta according to package directions without any salt and fat. Place peas in a colander.
Drain pasta mixture over peas; set aside.
Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic to pan; saut 1 minute. Combine broth and
cornstarch in a small bowl; stir until well blended. Add broth mixture to pan; bring to a boil.
Cook 1 minute or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in cream, lemon juice,
salt, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and red pepper. Add pasta/pea mixture to broth mixture;
toss gently to coat. Garnish with coarsely ground black pepper and chives. Serve immediately.
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup Dijon mustard
2/3 cup honey
2 cups vegetable oil
Salt to tasteWhisk together vinegar and mustard. For a less tart dressing, slightly reduce vinegar and
increase mustard. Whisk in honey and then oil, drizzling in both until well-blended. Add salt to taste.
Cover and refrigerate (dressing will keep a long time). Use amount desired to dress a variety of salads. Makes 1 quart.
From “Moosewood Restaurant Cooks for a Crowd” cookbook.”
4 to 6 very large leaves of kale, rinsed and spun dry
1 garlic clove, peeled and pressed through a garlic press
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 of a lemon)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (OR half as much table salt)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnutsStrip ruffly leaves off kale’s stems by grasping bottom of
each stem and pulling your hand up it forcefully. That sounds all wrong, but you’ll see. It’s easy.
OR simply cut leaves off stems with a knife. Discard stems. Stack and bunch leaves together,
then use a large, very sharp knife to sliver them.
Stir together garlic, lemon juice, oil and salt in a large bowl, then add kale and toss.
Taste and add more lemon, oil or salt as needed to make flavors bright and balanced.
Toss in cheese and walnuts and serve as a side dish or salad course. Makes 4 servings.
NOTE: The kale has to be very fresh; you have to sliver it very fine and make sure it’s lemony,
garlicky and salty enough. The walnuts and Parmesan are nice additions but not crucial.
SPRING SALAD WITH STRAWBERRIES AND CREAMY ORANGE-AVOCADO DRESSING
3 green onions, trimmed
1/2 avocado, peeled and pitted
1/2 cup orange juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 ounces spring greens OR mesclun mix
1 cup sliced fresh strawberriesPuree green onions, avocado, orange juice and salt and
pepper in a blender or food processor until smooth to make a dressing. In a large bowl,
toss greens and strawberries together. Transfer to plates, drizzle with 1/2 of dressing and serve.
Extra dressing will keep refrigerated 1 day. Makes 2 servings.
1 grapefruit (red preferred) OR 2 tangerines
3 oranges (try Blood oranges OR Honeybell tangelos)
3 Meyer lemons
5 cups sugar
1/2 tablespoon butterPeel skin off fruit in as big pieces as you can. Cut most of white pith off
peels by scraping away with a paring knife. If lots of pith is stuck to the fruit, you must pick it off.
It’s OK if you don’t get all the pith off fruit and rind.
Cut the rinds from 2 lemons and 1 orange into little matchsticks. You should have about 1 cup.
Discard remaining rinds. (You may want to reserve some rind to use as a garnish.)
Remove seeds from fruit. (Leaving the seeds in will give the marmalade a bitter taste not unpleasant,
but rather like Scottish-style orange marmalade.) To remove seeds, cut fruit in half along
equator and pop seeds out with tip of a paring knife. Grind fruit in a food processor to a chunky pulp.
There should be about 5 cups. But measure pulp you have, as there can be some variation in the
amount of pulp a piece of fruit produces, and you will have to adjust the amount of sugar you add accordingly:
1 cup of sugar for every 1 cup of pulp.
In a medium-sized pot add rinds and 3 cups water. Cook over a medium heat until rinds are tender,
about 25 minutes. Cool, then add pulp and let rest 2 hours, covered, in fridge.
In a large, wide heavy-bottomed pot add pulp, rinds and their cooking water, sugar and butter.
(The butter helps keep the marmalade from foaming up. Nonetheless it will foam up some.
The marmalade will thicken quicker in a wide pot than a deep one. Be sure the pot is not
filled more than halfway, to lessen the opportunity of a messy foam-up.) Cook over a medium-low heat
about 30 minutes. Remove foam as it builds up and stir marmalade down. The temperature needs to
reach 220 degrees F for marmalade to jell. Place a candy thermometer with a clip in hot marmalade against side of pot.
Cover pot with a lid, get a reading on thermometer; cook to 220 degrees, until marmalade darkens to an amber color.
You can do a set test by putting a bit of marmalade on a spoon and allowing it to cool.
If the marmalade wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it is ready to can.
This is a loose marmalade, but if it comes out stiff, don’t worry. Just warm it up before using it in recipes.
Bring four (1/2-pint) jars, their bands and new lids to a boil in a large pot of water with a fitted rack.
Boil 10 minutes. Remove jars with tongs (tongs don’t need to be sterilized). When jars are dry but still hot,
pour in marmalade, leaving about 1 inch headroom at the top of each jar. Wipe rims,
place on lids and screw on the bands fingertip tight.
Place marmalade in a pot with a rack deep enough to cover jars with 2 to 3 inches of water.
Bring water to a boil over a high heat. Process marmalade 10 minutes. Turn off heat and, after a few minutes,
remove jars. The marmalade will seem runny at first. It’s OK. It will thicken up as it cools.
You will hear a popping noise as the vacuum is created in the jars. Allow jars to sit, untouched, 6 to 8 hours.
When they are cool, test seals. (by unscrewing band and lifting jar by the edges of the lid.
If you can lift the jar, the seal is good. If the lid comes off, the seal has failed and you must reprocess
the jars with new lids. Don’t worry though; failure rate is really quite low.) Store in a cool,
dark place up to 1 year. Refrigerate after opening. Makes 4 (pint) jars.