Thursday, February 17, 2011

Holy Urban Homesteading Hurricane

If you've been asleep or off the computer for the last 24 hours, you've been missing one hell of a soap opera in our little urban homesteading community. A real firestorm of outrage has ignited amongst our ilk due to a well known family in Pasadena having trademarked the terms "URBAN HOMESTEAD" and "URBAN HOMESTEADING". Recently, the Dervaes family sent out "friendly" letters to businesses, bloggers, libraries, and non-profits, requesting that “If your use of one of these phrases is not to specifically identify products or services from the Dervaes Institute, then it would be proper to use generic terms to replace the registered trademark you are using. For example, when discussing general homesteading or other people’s projects, they should be referred to using terms such as ‘modern homesteading,’ ‘urban sustainability projects,’ or similar descriptions.”. But what really threw the community into fits of high passion was when yesterday, folks like K. Ruby Blume of Oakland's Institute of Urban Homesteading found their Facebook pages blocked.

Oh lordy, were people pissed! And justifiably so. Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) cropped up almost immediately on Facebook after the news broke and in less than 24 hours, 2,124 people have "liked" the page. Incredible!Well what did the Dervaes family expect? The "friendly" letter informs all of us out here in blogland that we need to cite the Dervaes Institute whenever we use the terms "urban homestead" or "urban homesteading" as these words are now their "intellectual property". For reals?

Since I started my urban homesteading (I refuse to trademark this term on principal and in solidarity with my fellow urban homesteaders) project, I have looked up to and greatly admired the Dervaes family for their accomplishments. What they have done on their little lot is truly amazing. I've gone out of my way to purchase seeds and other products from them and to promote their endeavors on my blog. I've even felt protective when folks gave them crap for writing about their religious practice of keeping the Sabbath. And I'm an atheist! I believe they have the right to claim ownership over their work, but this over the top power play for dominion over common use words that are most often utilized in a descriptive manner was just too much. It felt like a good, hard slap in the face from a beloved friend that turned out not to be a friend at all. I was hurt.

And then I was angry. Which is what happens when you feel hurt. I know this. I've spent years in therapy.

So I moved past the anger and once I did, I felt really sorry for this family that is now being bombarded with all kinds of vitriol from an intensely passionate community who feels betrayed. I couldn't withstand that kind outrage from a well-spoken, articulate mob. Yet the back-peddling on their blog, posted multiple times a day without addressing the valid concerns and questions the community has raised, only justifying and reinforcing their stance is... goodness, I'm embarrassed for them.

If they could only bury the self-aggrandizing flag and realize that all of us urban homesteaders have something of real value to contribute to the conversation. Each urban homestead is different - different projects, different configurations.. Each person or family faces their own challenges. Most of my urban farmy friends read loads of  blogs from all kinds of folks in all kinds of situations. We learn from each other.  I'm certain there is room for all of us at the urban homesteading table.

And to anyone else out there who thinks they are singular in their self-sufficiency ideas (don't even get me started on whether or not any idea is truly our own - we borrow from everyone else and we all know it), I say phooey to you. Tell that to my friend Martin, who grew up with Chinese immigrant parents. They always kept a chicken in a shopping cart out in their Richmond district neighborhood of San Francisco. Or to my neighbor who told me one day while I was out walking my goats that his Mexican immigrant father who lived only a couple blocks away kept rabbits and chickens for food over 20 years ago. And what about the Asian families in my neighborhood who use every inch of ground to grow something edible? I snapped these photos during the summer of 1993 in an urban neighborhood just north of the Boston University campus.

At the time, I called this permaculture as I had recently finished my design certificate course. My sister told me that there was a large Asian community in this neighborhood and that they always had food growing in their front lawns. I was flabbergasted by the efficient use of space. I'm sure they didn't slap any fancy labels onto what they were doing. They, like most immigrants, probably called it "surviving".

If you want to read more about the drama, you can see the Dervaes' posts on their website and find most of the blogospheres reactions at the Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) page. Who knew that age old traditions of gardening, preserving, and raising chickens could find themselves in the midst of a patent war. And why does this whole thing smack of the second grade drama my child whines to me about, "Mom, Dolores was copying me today and I didn't like it." Honey, copying is merely a form of flattery.


  1. because it is second grade drama... Anywho I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and we had one Asian family on our block and they too used their whole yard to grow ever imaginable veggie, front yard too! I would see them at swap-meets selling extra greens to others who couldn't.

  2. Very well said!! I couldn't agree more. The idea that home steading could be considered "intellectual property" just blows my mind...will someone trademark "earning a living" next?

  3. Found you guys on the FB Take Back Urban Homesteading page and am following now. I'm actually grateful to the Dervaes family for creating this dust up and allowing so many like minded people to find each other in the wilds of the Interwebs.

  4. Glad to hear I'm not the only one feeling sad and embarrassed for the D's. What were they thinking? Even if they take it back, in reaction to the outrage, they have pretty much lost the support of their Urban Homesteading community. What a shame that greed got the best of them. :-(
    And, you're right on (as usual) that there is nothing new under the sun. We're all Dolores in 2nd grade!

  5. What about all those pictures on their blog they use that are not theirs? Old canning posters and pictures, pictures of Little House on the Prairie, and many others. That's copyright issues there. I hope the true owners of those pictures find them on their site without the proper credit, acknowledgment, or permission to use them on their blog.

  6. Well said! I'm a huge fan of Path to Freedom but their recent actions seem unproductive and truly unfair.

  7. I agree with El Gaucho in that one of the really nice perks to this whole situation is suddenly finding so many others doing the same thing!

    Unintentionally.. the result of their actions is instead of becoming singularly noticed for what they do... to a LOT more people aware of others as well doing similar things.

    I respect what they have accomplished.. but literally their groundwork was laid out by others before them, and practiced by many long before they tried to lay claim to it. It feels the same as Monsanto walking in and patenting heirloom strains they got out of a seed vault.

    It is the shutdown of precious sites that upsets me.

    They seem to have forgotten the golden rule in all irony. (Also a non religious person.. but I can't find fault with "do onto others as you would have them do unto you" as a humanity guideline.)

    Still that silver lining shines brightly, and I am so happy to have found you because of it!

  8. Thanks for your post Heidi! I'm way behind on all my blogs, and I just saw yours today. I too feel sad and embarrassed for the D family. It's seems like everyone is ready to ex-communicate them. I can't help wondering if they were to back-track and apologize if we'd welcome them back to the community. Perhaps I'm naive. And more sadly, perhaps they aren't willing to make that move.