I Am An Urban Homesteader, Nyah Nyah

All of us who have this dream of growing our sustenance in our backyards and on balconies and in parking strips know that we cannot have it all. We cannot have easy access to urban jobs and good quality theater and amazingly diverse ethnic food and have acres of orchards and billowing crops and a star field that stretches forever undimmed by light pollution.  So we build the best compromise we can. We pull out a rhody to make room for a fruit tree, look at seed catalogs while on boring conference calls, hide an illegal chicken coup behind the garage and work really hard to convince people that Bright Light’s Chard is so decorative that it just has to go in the flower beds.

We Urban Homestead.

Urban Homesteading. Those of us who self-identify as urban homesteaders get a lot out of the label. We get a convenient way to express our quirky gardening obsession, a handy justification for keeping small farm animals in places that aren’t agricultural, a way of quickly identifying who else might have good country wine recipes. We get a community. This community is unified only by the common desire of its members to do more for themselves on their own land. But, as I have learned today, it is unified.

Today a veritable shitstorm of anger blew flew through the urban homesteading community. The Dervaes are an urban homesteading family (or institute, or church, depending on how they are defining themselves at any particular moment) that have been building their own mini-farm for over 25 years in Pasadena, California. Recently they trademarked the phrases “Urban Homesteading”, “Urban Homesteader” and over a dozen other terms. Yesterday the family began sending “cease and desist” letters to bloggers, libraries (!) and organizations using the now-tradmarked terms. Facebook pages using the term “Urban Homesteading” were yanked.
My community’s reaction to all this? Well, let’s just say I’ve never seen a bunch of greeny hippies more armed for bear and ready for blood. Pretty universally, the Dervaes’ attempted enforcement of their iffy trademark claim was seen as a betrayal of the community, a forsaking of the values of modern urban homesteading and a push beyond the reasonable. 
Urban Homesteaders mobilized, virtually of course. The Crunchy Chicken blogger Deanna Duke’s coverage of the topic became a virtual coffeehouse where interested community members came by to share their opinion and get the latest discovery or gossip. Twitter exploded with  tweets. A Facebook page, Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) (funny punctuation to avoid getting pulled by Facebook over trademark infringement) was created and garnered over 600 members in a few hours. 
The Dervaes own Facebook Page hemorrhaged thousands of fans until the family deleted it, no doubt surprised by the vitriolic reaction to their attempts to control the community’s identifier. They really shouldn’t have been so shocked: their actions are an attempt to control the term that defines our community and the dream we all share. In claiming that control, it is hard not to feel that the Dervaes are attacking the dream itself. 
The whole situation is especially difficult because the Dervaes have been so instrumental in bringing larger attention to urban homesteading. Until today, many in the community looked to their accomplishments as an inspiration and supported them with purchases and links. I don’t think they will ever get that back.
Meanwhile, out here on my own Urban Homestead, I’ll keep sowing and growing and digging and preserving and fermenting. I’ll do it all and keep calling it urban homesteading. One day a letter from the Dervaes may show up in my mailbox challenging my right to do any of those things. Until then, their attempt to control the community has only showed me how great a community it really is. For me, nothing else has changed. I wonder if they can say the same? Happy urban homesteading.


  1. says

    @Rachal…they just want everyone and anyone who uses the terms to cite them in their writings… AS IF ANY OF US are going to send THEM our HARD EARNED and now shared traffic! The one good thing that came of all of this is the unity in teh HS community. Everyone is visiting each others blogs and pages, we're all "friending" and "following" and best of all, we're coming together to right a wrong. Oh just LET them send a letter to any of us…

  2. says

    Ack! This is so disheartening…in part because of what the Dervaes *used* to stand for, and in part because I now call the beautiful city of Pasadena home. Blech. A blight on our beauty!

    That said, the uprising of the community is so wonderful and inspiring! Don't try to attack a group so passionate about what they do…it will definitely come back to bite you in your Urban-Homesteading-Control-Freak butts, Dervaes. :)

    Thanks for sharing and for summing it up so nicely!

  3. Anonymous says

    I was attempting to be an urban homesteader when we lived in a trailer…sadly we have moved to a small apartment :o( No where to grow a thing…I am having withdrawals from gardening and we only had 3 items growing, open head lettuce, spinach and peas…sniff sniff Love all of you guys keep it up one day I will join the ranks again!

  4. Leslie says

    The information is wrong. You get a punch in the face. Trademark law doesn’t even allow for half the things you say. False information and rumors will get you in trouble. Trademarks are only for businesses and not other uses and harms no one. My bother is an IP attorney and laughs at the comments he has seen about this issue! Relax…and take a deep breath! This outrage is inappropriate.

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