Sunday, February 20, 2011
I am an urban homesteader
I used to read the blog put out by the Dervaes family in Pasadena, California. Over time I found that I couldn't relate to them: their garden is the size of my entire lot; they don't have office jobs (or so it appears); they live in a warmer climate where gardening seasons are longer and central heating is not as necessary as it is in the Pacific Northwest; they're vegetarians; the adult children live with their father. They do a lot of cool things but many were not accessible to your average working professional.
I started my own blog, in fact, in response to what I saw as a dearth of information for people like me: people want to live as sustainably as possible without wearing scavenged burlap sacks, quitting their jobs to free up time to make biodiesel, and hooking up their decorative whirly-gig collection to generators to power their ration of 20 minutes of electricity each day.
I don't necessarily think of myself as an "urban homesteader" - the image conjures up (at least for me) something far more organic-carob-eating-hippie than I am - but I recognize that the phrase easily describes my lifestyle. When I talk about my blog and hobbies, I do tend to use that term to describe my values and activities. People know what "urban" means, and they can readily imagine what "homestead" activities are.
Recently the Dervaes family of Pasadena, CA laid claim to the "urban homestead" term by trademarking it. To protect "their" property they have sent 18 "normal and professional" letters to public libraries teaching classes about urban homesteading, a farmers market doing sustainability outreach to city-dwellers, a school, bloggers, business, publishers, and even a radio station. Each of these was shocked to get what is essentially a cease-and-desist letter.
The family claims that the cease-and-desist phrase has been made up to demonize them. If that's the case, why did they get Facebook to block pages that mention or promote urban homesteading on the grounds of trademark infringement? If that's not ceasing & desisting, I must be in need of a dictionary. A quick google search shows that the term and lifestyle has been around since at least the 1970s, despite the Dervaes' claim to be the "Original Modern Urban Homestead".
To the Dervaes family I say this: the community of urban homesteaders is vast and diverse. We have much to learn from and teach one another. Keep teaching your classes, raising food sustainably, and doing good works in your community. You've done a lot of good but in this regard, you're wrong. "Urban homestead", in all its trademarked variations, is not your sole intellectual property, nor should it be. It is a general term that describes a specific type of lifestyle and core beliefs. That you were able to convince the trademark office of your right to the term is shocking. No wonder there's been so much backlash.
Sustainability is still fledgling in many parts of the country. On the West Coast we've been lulled into a false sense of security, believing that everyone recycles, everyone drives fuel-efficient vehicles, and everyone shops at farmers markets. It's not the case. Your actions against those who share your passion for urban solutions to food supply issues have made the hurdles to sustainability that much higher. Rather than encourage us - your fellow urban homesteaders - to forge onward in our efforts, your linguistic land grab has alienated entire communities of people who would otherwise share your ideals.
Keep your trademarks on Path to Freedom (R) and the other phrases that are clearly and obviously specific to the Dervaes Institute activities and outreach. But "urban homestead" is too general a term to call your own: it belongs to all of us, and therefore none of us.