top of page

Throughout my adult life, I’ve always been conscious about the environment and what we should do to reduce our impact on the earth. One of my motivations was the belief that you may not be able to change the world, but you can at least change your footprints on this earth. ~ Jules Dervaes ~

The Past

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.

His first step took him to the University of Oregon where he enrolled in graduate school as part of his training as a VISTA volunteer. This avenue of service was abruptly terminated when his local draft board refused to grant him a deferment during the Vietnam War. 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, he immigrated to New Zealand, believing that 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 { New Zealand homestead photos }, 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 family’s water supply and lived without most modern conveniences.

However, 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.


Jules credits his father, the late Jules Dervaes Sr., and his ancestors for instilling in him the love of growing plants in his early years and for laying the foundation for his unique growing techniques and methods. In their homeland, Belgium, the Dervaes family owned and operated a well-known nursery and landscape business called "Dervaes Pepiniers" (no longer in existence).

However, ornamentals, roses, and floral plants were the Dervaes specialty, not fruit trees, vegetables, and berries. As a result, Jules ended up knowing and understanding very little about gardening for food production. In addition, as a youth, he was encouraged to pursue a conventional academic path in life to prepare for the corporate world, far away from the Dervaes landscape heritage.

Jules' paternal grandparents, Arthur Dervaes and Rochelle Van Wesepoel immigrated to Florida from Belgium in 1902. Arthur Dervaes had received a degree in Horticulture from the University of Paris and was a landscape specialist for the Tampa Electric Company. Jules' father, a Standard Oil executive, was also an active gardener and his yard in Florida was a lush jungle of tropical ornamentals, oaks, and palms. He was widely regarded for his beautiful crotons which he propagated himself.

And Now

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-maintenace, 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.


However,  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 began recording their progress.

Thus, in 1999, the seeds of Path to Freedom, a public urban homestead model, were germinated. Path to Freedom is breaking new ground every year. The tangible results (tasteful and beautiful, also) are evidence of the remarkable success of Dervaes' simple, practical and sensible philosophy. This project, which began documentation of a single family striving to change their lives, has inspired and changed other peoples' lives around the world. In 2006, Dervaes Institute was founded as a registered California Corporation Sole with 508(c)(1)(A) tax exempt status, dedicated to educating and helping others through outreach and support and is the foundation on which the Dervaes family will build the structure of their future plans. It stands as a living legacy and memorial to Jules C. Dervaes Sr. who lived by his philosophy: "If you cease to learn, you cease to exist."

bottom of page