Originally from Tampa, Florida, Jules Dervaes (Dur-VAYS) graduated from Jesuit High School as valedictorian and was awarded a full academic scholarship to Loyola University in New Orleans in 1965. While studying there, he became increasingly disillusioned with the American way of life. After graduating in 1969 with a B. S. in Math and a minor in Computer Science, he began a search for a more meaningful and service-oriented lifestyle.
As a conscientious objector, he decided to serve others through teaching. Ultimately, this career choice gave him keener insight into the futility of America's future and its inability to nurture the human spirit. As a teacher, he saw first-hand the lack of character development in some students who were to be our country's next generation of parents.
Convinced that there must be a better society and more humane way of life somewhere, Jules backpacked through Europe as he considered the future course for his life. In 1973, with a briefcase whose only contents were the first 13 issues of Mother Earth News, he immigrated to New Zealand, believing that such an isolated, egalitarian society could assist him and his family in living a more integrated, meaningful life.
In a "backwards" region on the west coast of New Zealand's rural South Island, Jules embarked on the path towards self-sufficiency and began his homesteading journey.
He became a beekeeper, grew his own food, kept chickens, ducks and goats, collected rain water for his familyâ€™s water supply and lived without most modern conveniences.
But through a series of events, circumstances eventually brought Jules and his young family back to Tampa in 1975, where they lived on 10 acres in the country surrounded by pastures and orange groves. In this new location, Jules re-established his beekeeping business, started a lawn maintenance business and resumed gardening, while sometimes teaching at local schools.
In 1984, the family made another move, this time to Pasadena, California, where Jules re-entered college and achieved an additional degree in theology. While residing in Pasadena, he continued hobby gardening and beekeeping in varying degrees over the years.
Meanwhile, even while working self-employed in lawn-maintenance, Jules began to develop leather craftsmanship skills. He soon progressed from patterns and kits to designing and creating. Together with his two sons, Jules created a unique line of quality products which were featured in various Old Towne Pasadena stores and in other establishments throughout the area.
Nonetheless, Jules still longed for the simpler life and the dependence on the land he had in New Zealand. He planned to "one day" return to that lifestyle and recreate what he had lost. Acquiring the acreage to rebuild that dream proved to be difficult, however. Circumstances, situations, and distractions continually thwarted attempts of a return to country life. And so, Jules and his family continued to dream of "one day" finding "freedom" by returning to the land.
But the Y2K alert and the growing threat of GMO foods was the final spark that propelled Jules to strive to become self-reliant where he presently lived. Not waiting for those dreams of acreage to become reality, Jules' and his family's goal was to incorporate sustainable skills and practices in an urban environment and to challenge themselves to push the limits with back-to-basic innovation. It was with the thought of "just how self-sufficient can we become in an urban environment?" that Jules and his family named their urban farming project the "Urban Homestead" and began recording their progress of what they called Urban Homesteading on the web in 2001.
This impromptu journal on their website, Urban Homestead.org, became the first, largest, and most comprehensive urban farming website. Through the family's adventures in growing and preserving their own food, installing a solar power system, home-brewing biodiesel for fuel, raising backyard farm animals, and learning back-to-basics skills, these modern-day pioneers have revived the old-fashioned spirit of self-reliance and resourcefulness. By documenting and freely sharing the steps they have taken towards a self-sufficient life, the Dervaeses have inspired millions of readers to pursue a sustainable future and have generated a 21st century urban sustainability movement.
Jules, his family and the Urban Homestead,sup® have been the subject of numerous articles in newspapers and magazines worldwide, including The New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Mother Earth News, Telegraph Magazine (U.K.), The Times of India and FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), and have been featured on ABC's Nightline, CNN, Sundance Channel, Food Network and Radio New Zealand.
Jules is a sought-after speaker on a wide variety of topics and classes related to his lifestyle of Urban Homesteading and his deep concern for pressing environmental issues.