With headlines about rising food costs, soaring gas prices, and skyrocketing foreclosure rates that reach directly into everyone’s wallets, as well as sobering reports about the state of the earth’s environment, there is mounting pressure for some relief. The question arises: How can an individual or one family cope in such trying times?

When I was confronted with the anxieties of living in the turbulent years of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I started searching for a way out by looking at alternative answers for how best to provide for my family. My desire was for us to be healthy and strong and to be able to live long and happy lives. I believed the only way to achieve this was to learn how to grow my own food and to live a simple lifestyle. This belief would take me on a lifelong journey. From Louisiana to New Zealand, to Florida, and then to Southern California, it was a long, winding, and difficult road.

In 2000, GMOs were introduced into the food chain by large corporations. Perceiving this to be a crisis threatening the health and survival of my family, I reacted radically. To ensure that my food supply was safe, I took matters into my own hands, trying to grow as much of my own food as possible. This project became my “Path to Freedom.”

In the midst of the urban wilderness of Los Angeles County, in downtown Pasadena, with the help of my adult children, I continued to turn my city lot into an urban homestead, fanatically planting every available space to the four corners of our small world. After much manual labor, my property would be transformed into a wildlife sanctuary, a home to citified barnyard animals, and a petite paradise where over 400 species of flora have been grown.

During the summer, up to 90 percent of my family’s vegetarian diet comes from our garden. Not only do we have the assurance of knowing where our food comes from and the satisfaction of having grown it ourselves, we enjoy produce that is unbeatably healthful and tasty. The days of having others sow, grow, harvest, and deliver to the grocery store our family’s food were gone, at least for a large percentage of our diet.

Later, we would further push for more freedom by tackling our energy usage on a variety of fronts. From simple steps such as installing CFLs, using only energy efficient/Energy Star appliances, and not using a clothes dryer, to more radical steps of forgoing electrical appliances altogether and installing solar panels, we reduced our average daily usage from 10.6 kwh to 6.0 kwh and produce much of that energy through our solar panels.

We addressed the transportation energy problem by owning only one car (a 1988 diesel Suburban) for a family of four adults; cutting back on the number of trips made; and learning how to brew biodiesel in our garage from waste vegetable oil. Our fuel costs about $1.00 per gallon. A future step planned is to cut back further on water usage.

What we have accomplished and the freedom we have gained was by way of manageable stages, along with incremental steps, because there is no quick fix. Path to Freedom has taken the vanguard position in order to incite change and to be an example of the possibilities. Today, more and more green options are widely available for the average person. Because not everyone can employ all these extreme measures at once, the question narrows down to: What can you do, where you are, with what you have, right now?

We must start by building on foundational principles in order to construct a bright future out of bleak conditions. A prerequisite principle is that of sacrifice. We must be prepared to sacrifice to achieve results and, also, to stay the course over the long haul, because no dream of any worth can be realized cheaply.

Given the bad news coming from both scientists and economists, a new direction is required, that of living lightly on the earth. We must be willing to cut back—cut back on the amount and type of travel we do; lower the amount of energy we use to heat or cool our houses; and reduce the number of single-use items we buy. Practice thrift: use it up, wear it out, or make it do. In the end, we might just have to do without. By making small sacrifices now, we will be much better prepared to face any difficult circumstances later.

Another principle, worth bringing back from bygone eras, is that of self-reliance or “do-it-yourself.” One of the reasons I started growing my own food was that I wanted the benefits of eating organic vegetables and fruit, but I couldn’t afford to buy them in the grocery store. People searching for true stability can find it in the empowerment and fulfillment that comes from learning the basic skills of providing for oneself. The future depends on our developing the old-fashioned virtue of independence and exercising faith in the power of the “common man.”

These principles, in order to be implemented, must be backed by passion—the passion of truly, deeply caring for our families and for our home, earth. Because, let’s face it. Our world is in deep, deep trouble and we are the “troublemakers.” We have to make real, difficult changes yesterday. Despite the obvious benefits, we are not going to recycle, compost, or talk our way out of this. Our leaders, being politicians, are not leaders at all but are bound to be followers, who just won’t be there for us in a crisis. So, it’s up to me and you to make the choice of becoming responsible stewards of the earth.

Let’s turn the world right side up. Join us on our journey towards a sustainable present and future. Let’s walk the path to freedom!

© Jules Dervaes 2008. All Rights Reserved

Published in July Issue of 31tenMagazine.com