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.