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O, pioneers in Pasadena

Joe Robinson, LA Times
One family unplugs from technology and lives off the land. Even the blender is pedal-powered.
JULES DERVAES can’t help it. He’s afflicted by a condition for which there is no known cure or even a 12-step program, an uncontrollable urge to change his residential surroundings. He is a serial remodeler, his mind a malarial fever of future projects. But unlike other compulsive home improvers, Dervaes is not obsessed with new or wired makeovers. It’s the old-fashioned and nonelectric that drive him – and a determined bid to go off the grid in the middle of Pasadena that has won him followers in more than 100 countries.

“We even bought this ridiculous hand washer,” says the silver-haired, self-described urban homesteader. Dervaes is grinning as he shows off a tin tub on his back porch that comes complete with handle for human-powered agitating. It’s a recent addition to a stable of Rube Goldberg-like devices – including a bike that makes smoothies in a blender on the back fender – designed to help wean his family off electric sockets. His daughter Anaïs, 32, demonstrates the action. Kenmore executives need not panic.

The upper-arm workout continues in the kitchen, where there’s a hand-cranked blender and peanut butter maker. It’s a nippy pre-dawn inside the 1917 Craftsman bungalow because last year Dervaes and his three adult children, Anaïs, Justin, 28, and Jordanne, 23, switched to burning scrap wood in their chimney for central heating. But the most ambitious DIY display is the result of Dervaes’ restless tinkering with soil – a micro-farm sprouting from every arable inch of their front and back yards, where they grow more than 300 kinds of produce.

“We believe that a step backward is progress,” says Dervaes, a former beekeeper, teacher and constant gardener trapped in the wrong century. “Some people might feel we’re regressing, but I feel we’re progressing to a better life. We’ve lost that independence and the things that make us truly happy. The people that got us here must have done something right. We want to repeat that for the next generation.”

IN his reverse remodeling process, the interior of the house, which could use a coat of paint and a visit from Ding Masters, is secondary to what’s going on outside. The goal is self-sufficiency and sustainability, and the Dervaes family is well on its way. In a good year, they can harvest an impressive 6,000 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, broccoli, berries, peaches, red mustard, guavas and dozens of other veggies, garnishes and edible flowers – from only a tenth of an acre of usable land. On a quiet residential block where “Leave It to Beaver” lawns rule, the family can provide 80% of its food needs in the summer and about 50% in winter. At a time when large family farms are shuttering, they’ve managed to support themselves for 10 years from home micro-agriculture, mostly from sales of salad greens and edible flowers to local restaurants and caterers.
(25 Jan 2007)
Sympathetic article to urban homesteading. Sidebar: Novice’s guide to an urban homestead.

Academic predicts rising oil prices will prompt a local food renaissance

Jane King, Farmers Weekly
A renaissance in local food for local communities is coming and the UK will need a huge increase in the agricultural workforce to deliver it.

Speaking at the Soil Association Conference in Cardiff, on 26 January, American author Richard Heinberg said the peak oil theory where production plateaus and prices sky rocket could force dramatic changes on UK and world farming.

Dr Heinberg, an expert on the economies of oil, suggested that the increase seen in the agricultural workforce of Cuba, which has been starved of oil by American sanctions, could act as a model for the UK.

Based on this model he estimated that in 20-30 years a 16-fold increase in the UK agricultural workforce, or between 8m–10m people would have to be involved in farming and associated industries.

Dr Heinberg offered his solution to too much dependency on fossil fuels, growing populations and climate change.

He said there would need to be a significant shift to moving people back into rural areas producing food for local people.
(26 Jan 2007)
PO coverage by a farming journal. I wonder if there will be more mainstream coverage, since both the Soil Association conference in England and the Eco-Farm conference this month in California are highlighting peak oil.

Going ape

Claire Heald, BBC
What if humans cast aside processed foods and saturated fats in favour of the sort of diet our ape-like ancestors once ate? Nine volunteers gave it a go… and were glad they did so.

Being locked in the zoo and offered bananas to eat is the kind of extreme diet scenario to wake some of us screaming in the night. But that was how a group of volunteers opted to try to cut their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

They set up home in a tented enclosure at Paignton Zoo, Devon, next to the ape house, in an experiment filmed for TV. The idea, says Jill Fullerton-Smith, who helped organise the trial, was that modern diets, often dominated by processed foods and saturated fats, cause costly health problems.

For example, nearly half Britain’s 117,000 annual deaths from coronary heart disease are linked to high cholesterol, according to the British Heart Foundation. And while the government urges everyone to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day, obesity is still rising.

…[Nutritionist and dietician] Ms Garton looked for inspiration to the plant-based diet of our closest relatives, the apes, and devised a three-day rotating menu of fruit, vegetables, nuts and honey.

…With so much food bulk and plenty of calories the subjects did not go hungry – indeed most failed to finish their daily ration. And once they were over the withdrawal from caffeinated drinks and some foods, says Ms Garton, they enjoyed good energy levels and mood.

So the “moments of unhappiness and grumpiness” that the TV crew was primed to capture failed to happen. The proved to be a motivated group, although the one odorous side-effect from all that roughage couldn’t be ignored.

Overall, the cholesterol levels dropped 23%, an amount usually achieved only through anti-cholesterol drugs statins.
(11 Jan 2007)

Brit’s Eye View: British supermarkets are going green

Peter Madden, Gristmill
British supermarkets are now competing to go green. Two big retailers have just launched initiatives to tackle climate change.

Marks & Spencer, which sells food and clothing to Britain’s middle classes, promised this month to cut waste, sell fair-trade products, and make the company carbon neutral within five years. Environmentalists praised its 100-point “eco-plan.” Greenpeace U.K. said, “If every retailer in Britain followed Marks & Spencer’s lead, it would be a major step forward in meeting the challenge of creating a sustainable society.”

Later the same week, Tesco, one of the top five retailers in the world, set out its own stall on climate change. As the giant of British supermarkets — one in every eight dollars spent in British shops goes into its tills — Tesco is in a similar position to Wal-Mart in the U.S., and faces many of the same criticisms.
(25 Jan 2007)
The developments have been the subject of uncharacteristic enthusiastm by George Monbiot Clark Williams-Derry has also commented: “Look For The Onion Label.”

Deconstructing Dinner: Thought for Food

Jon Steinman, CJLY via GPM
Global supplies of grain at dangerously low levels. Biofuels. The farm income crisis. Corporate consolidation in the agriculture and food sectors. Absurd amounts of wasted food. Freeganism. Dumpster Diving. Food Miles. Is local food the most environmentally friendly food? A potluck of ideas to explore on this broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner. Inspired by the “Thought for Food” issue of the University of Waterloo’s Alternatives Journal.
(18 Jan 2007)

Eat To Live: Food or fuel in future?

Julia Watson, UPI
Oxfam, an international famine relief charity, has predicted that global warming could put 30 million more people at risk of starvation.

A Green Party member of the European Parliament has charged that dwindling oil stocks and European Union trade and energy policies could make the United Kingdom vulnerable to food shortages.

In Germany, organic farmers are finding it impossible to keep up with growing demand as consumers seek out food they can trust to be good for them and for the environment.

Times they are a’changing at an astonishing rate in the food business.
(24 Jan 2007)
Peak oil is mentioned later in the article. Julia Watson is a food writer for UPI.