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Revolutionary Family Shows True Meaning of Self-Reliance

Food
Revolutionary Family Shows True Meaning of Self-Reliance

Think you can't grow much food in an urban area? Think again. One family's 4,000 square foot farm in Pasadena, California "not only feeds a family but revolutionizes the idea of what can be done in a very unlikely place—the middle of a city." KCET reporter Val Zavala gives us a glimpse into the Dervaes family's Path to Freedom Urban Homestead. "I brought the country to the city rather than having to go out to the country," said Jules Dervaes, who created the farm with his three adult children, Justin, Anais and Jordanne.

This urban homestead produces 6,000 pounds of food a year.

They grow almost all of the food they need. Ninety percent of their all-organic, vegetarian diet comes from their garden. The operation involves 400 varieties of vegetables, fruits and edible flowers, which is 6,000 pounds of food a year. They raise eight chickens, four ducks and two goats, which provide them with eggs and milk. Chefs from high-end restaurants come directly to their house to buy their excess.

When asked if he had any doubts in the beginning, Jules admits he did. "I kept thinking this place was too small. There's no way that we are going to be able to feed ourselves, plus I never thought we'd be able to grow the vegetables for the market," he said. Dervaes decided to embark on this endeavor because he was concerned about what was in his and his children's food. He wanted them to eat organic, GMO-free food, and he knew the best way to ensure that was to grow it himself.

The Dervaes' say they love their homesteading lifestyle and couldn't imagine it any other way.

The family has a solar panel on the roof that provides all of their electricity. Not that they use much. Most of their "gizmos," says Anais, "are hand-powered" like their hand-crank smoothie maker. That puts their electricity bill at about $12 per month. Their car runs on biodiesel, which they make from vegetable waste that restaurants drop off at their house for free. These people have all the hook ups.

But it's not all sunshine and flowers (though they have plenty of both). The Dervaes' work very hard, make roughly $20,000 a year and have to deal with weather-related disasters, pests, disease and now climate change. Justin said, "we've been gardening so long that you can sense things are off. We have this little bug, the Junebug, that comes out in June, but now it doesn't come out until July, August and September—so something is off." Water is also a serious issue. With the drought in California, Jules has relied on clay pot irrigation, an ancient form of irrigation, to conserve water.

All that hard work is well worth it when the family sits down to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

By growing all of their food themselves, except staples such as wheat, rice and oats, they are able to eat fresh and delicious, organic food for $2 a day per person. They have attracted a lot of attention since they began homesteading in the mid 1980s. Many homesteaders have emulated their model. They offer workshops and events on their farm, and they even have a blog. They are proof of the bounty you can grow on one-tenth of an acre.

Watch here as KCET's Zavala reports on this revolutionary family:

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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