Today has been an interesting day to be watching fellow urban homestead-types get wound up into a tight ball of rage spiked with solidarity and mixed with a dash of disbelief. It started this morning when bloggers started to report that they had received what were described as “cease and desist” letters from representatives of the Dervaes Institute (a family run farm/school/business in Pasedena, California) for their use of the terms “urban homestead” and/or “urban homesteading.” At the same time, Facebook was deleting any group containing those phrases. It seems that for reasons that may have been at least in part noble1, the Dervaes Institute had managed to trademark those terms along with several more:
- Barnyards and Backyards
- Free the Seeds
- Freedom Gardens
- Freedom Seeds
- Grow the Future
- Homegrown Revolution
- Little Homestead in the City
- My Other Supermarket is My Garden
- One Trowel Revolution
- Path to Freedom
- Path to Freedom [as logo in script]
- Peddler’s Wagon
- Reject Resist Revolt
- Revolution Solution
- The Path to Change the World Begins at Your Door
- Urban Homestead
- Urban Homesteading
- [pictoral logo of a trowel held aloft in a fist]
Some of those are valid — those which are legitimate company and product names — others, including both urban homesteading and urban homestead are simply laughable. As many other people today have pointed out, while the Dervaes have been working at urban farming for decades, they by no means birthed the concept. My own parents did the same things — we had a big vegetable garden, we made preserves, we had chickens — along their same timeline.
To be fair, the letters were not “cease and desist” but were rather forthright instructions on how to properly note the registered trademark for the term(s). You’ll note that I have defiantly resisted doing so, above, even on those I believe are reasonable trademarks because frankly I’m pretty annoyed by the whole thing.
By definition, “A trademark is any word, phrase, symbol, design, or any combination thereof, used to distinguish the products or services of one person or organization from those of others.”2 I can’t imagine any way in which the phrase urban homestead could be used to distinguish the products or services provided by the Dervaes from those of any other urban homesteader — can you?
Jules Dervaes claims that he only sent the letters to commercial ventures “that rival us”3 in order to protect their brand while they travel and give seminars. Are you kidding me? That’s like someone trying to trademark “social networking” because it’s the subject of their lecture.
The term “urban homesteading” is an authorized subject heading in the Library of Congress catalog although, interestingly, it is related to urban renewal and if you do a search of government documents for the term, you’ll find a lot of city planning documents from the 70s and 80s. However, at the same time, the back-to-the-land movement was using the term to describe city-dwellers digging up their back yards, planting gardens, and figuring out how to raise livestock and can tomatoes — the term was used in an early issue of Mother Earth News4 — and it has been in common use almost constantly ever since.
I don’t know where this will go but I hope someone sorts it out soon.
Suggested Further Reading:
- “(Urban) Homestead Act 2.1,” Grow & Resist
- “An Open Letter to the Dervaes’,” The Noodle Book
- “Urban Homesteading trademarked…” TechDirt
- “Oakland Homesteading School Caught in Trademark Tussle,” The Bay Citizen
1The Dervaes have claimed they wanted to protect these terms from being used in greenwashing campaigns by big corporations. I actually get that, but I think their approach was poorly thought through.
2Guide to trademark
3telephone interview update to Oakland Homesteading School Caught in Trademark Tussle
4Issue 65, Sept/Oct 1980