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Tess Vigeland: Ah, life on a farm. Getting up early to milk the cows, smelling fresh cut grass and of course, the clamor of car horns, shoppers and public buses. At least, that’s what it’s like when your farm’s located in the city.
On this week’s “A Day in the Work Life,” we visit with a new kind of farmer: the urban kind that Stacey mentioned earlier in the show. He started an agribusiness in his own backyard.
Jules Dervaes: What we have here is we have ground cover strawberries so we can get those luscious strawberries, we have leftover kale from the winter and we’re transitioning here from broccoli that we had and we’re gonna replace it with peppers.
My name is Jules Dervaes. I’m 59 years old and my primary job is that of a gardener. I guess why I call myself a gardener versus calling myself a farmer is that I’m trying to separate myself from people that have the notion that we have fields and that we have equipment and that I’m out there, you know, working the acreage that doesn’t exist in the city. We have a fifth of an acre lot, so I’m trying to make a distinction that we are basically microfarmers or maximum extreme gardener because we have maxed out this place with all the fruits and vegetables we’ve grown.
We sell first to the restaurants and caterers — it’s like they have sort of a standing order every week — and then whatever is left over we offer to the general public. We have so much orders that we don’t even need to go to the farmer’s market. We have several restaurants that will take anything we have. Our problem is not having enough, but having the fields. I’m sure that they would want more if we could give it.
What I like about this job is the sense of fulfillment that it gives me and I feel empowered that I’m able to grow my own food and I feel independent. I’m not tied to somebody else providing me with what I needed for life.
Oh, yes, well, there’s one thing I, I definitely dislike is the insecurity that this job brings. I have to learn that I’m not in charge here. Every time I feel like I’m in charge something happens to let me know that, “hey, you know, you’re just a student here, you’re not the big boss.” It’s nature that makes the call.
Whatever happens, you have to live with. This last year, we were doing great guns on our harvest. We were very proud of going up and up and up and getting, you know, bigger harvest and last year was the worst year ever. We lost 90 percent of our tomato crop. That was kind of scary because that was our cash crop and we only had 10 percent of the normal. That was insecure and we’re waiting on this year and if it doesn’t happen this year, then I’m really gonna be insecure. But, I’ll have to find something to do about it.
At the beginning, it was like any kind of new venture: You’re gonna lose money I think they say for at least the first three years. We’re getting a little bit of profit now, I would say we could make under $20,000 here. That’s gonna be a funny number they’re gonna think that’s low, but we provide food for ourselves. We don’t have many expenses. We don’t have a food bill. We provide our own energy with solar panels. Our utility bill’s practically nothing. So the $20,000, if we had that all every year, that could go a long way because we don’t spend much.
I want to do this until the end of my days. I want to be actively planting and growing things until the last. We think urban farms are great because they’re small and they’re necessary because there’s a lot of land here in the city unused and boy, if you look around, how bleak some of the cities are and we can use a farm here and there.
Vigeland: A Day in the Work Life was reported by Apryl Lundsten.