A Family Farm in the Midst of Suburbia

Is it neat, or is it slightly odd that in this Los Angeles community -- it's called Pasadena -- a suburban mix of nice restaurants and well-tended front lawns, there is a home wedged in with the other houses where the entire front yard is edible?

It's true. At 631 Cypress Avenue, there is not one thing that cannot be eaten. Nothing. Kale, chives, pepper, pinapple, guava, Swiss chard, even edible flowers along the side of the house, and into the back yard.

It is Jules Dervaes' fifth of an acre. His little family farm, in the midst of American suburbia, his way of breaking free without really going anywhere.

"We eat rich, I'm telling you," said Dervaes. "And the way we live, it just seems like something you would dream of."


The "we" he speaks of are his kids, who grew up on the farm. Three out of four of them have stayed on into their 20's and 30's, and they don't have other jobs either because what they don't eat, they sell.

Neighbors: 'What's Up With Your Dad?'

Not that it was easy for them when they were little, and their dad, to save money, stopped watering the front lawn and started preparing to plant crops there.

"We had a rough go in the neighborhood," said Dervaes, chuckling. "My children had issues with other children wanting to know, what's up with your dad?"

He is able to laugh now partly because his property became quite beautiful, but also perhaps because of the independence it gives him.

"The world has become more dependent on supermarkets, on corporations, on the gasoline station, on government, and we're just trying to do it ourselves," said Dervaes. "We're trying to make ends meet -- we're trying to put food on our table just like pioneers did in the old-fashioned west not so long ago."

Dervaes isn't an anarchist. And he doesn't hate money. What he hates is working 9 to 5 for someone else and being a slave to paying bills.

"Growing your own food is recession-proof," said Dervaes. "You don't have to worry about the prices. When you depend on other people, you become powerless. You get a pink slip. Now what do you do? You know, where are you going to get a job? You get high gas prices and you can't afford it, what do you do now? So we figured this was the answer, just to see how much we could do ourselves."

It's something he aspired to most of his life, as a beekeeper in New Zealand, a small-scale farmer in Florida, and always something of a free spirit seeking independence.

Second-hand Clothes, 'Inherited' Furniture

But food is only one small part of it. Practically anything that the typical Americans spends money on, Dervaes and his kids figure out a way to either, make borrow, or buy cheaply.

For their clothes, "we go to the stores like the thrift stores that we can," said Dervaes. "We like second-hand goods. They're well-made and we can make good use of them."

Most of the furniture in the house was inherited, so to speak. Some was lifted from various curbsides before the garbage truck got there.

Then there's the question of heat and light. For that, the Dervaes' have solar panels on the roof and outdoor showers where the water's warmed by direct sunlight.

"The water goes into irrigating the fig tree and the banana and all the flowers around here," said Dervaes. "It doesn't ever go into the sewer." And in the kitchen, which has no electrical appliances except for the refrigerator, there's even a hand-cranked blender

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