Monday, February 21, 2011

Self sufficiency, greed and "urban homesteading"

One of the bigger movements in this whole locavore/self-sufficiency/green world is called "Urban homesteading" wherein people living in cities use the land that they've got to produce food for themselves, friends, families, and whoever. People keep chickens, made compost, grow gardens. They build greenhouses and can food for the cold, dark months of winter.

Urban homesteading as a concept has gained potency in recent years, but the term itself can be traced back into the 1970s. Kelly Coyne and her husband Erik Knutzen, writers of the wonderful blog Root Simple, even wrote a book about it called "The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City." They've got a new and updated edition out soon.

So, we are somewhat distressed to learn that a group called the Derveas Institute successfully trademarked phrases like "Urban homestead," "urban homesteading" and other terms used in the nearly-forty-year-old culture of urban homesteading. This happened in late 2010. Last week, they started sending cease-and-desist letters and DMCA takedown letters to bloggers using any of "their" terms. Derveas Institute head (and family patiarch) Jules Derveas has defended the move as actually PROTECTING the culture, you see. Because he sees it that either HE can own the words, or some BigAg corporate entity can own them.

Quite frankly, I see this as a power grab. I also think that the US Patent and Trademark Office really screwed the pooch on this one, allowing a collectivized term to become the property of a group that did not originate it nor had any true claim of ownership.

Unfortunately, giant media and social networking site don't have the legal ability under the DMCA to tell the Derveas Institute off. Kelly and Erik's Facebook page got shut down and they were forced to change their blog name (They used to run 'Homegrown Evolution' which is apprently too close to the now-trademarked 'Homegrown Revolution' for Jules's taste).

Fortunately, Kelly and Erik did the smart thing and called our friends at the EFF. The EFF is an organization that fights for the rights of people in the digital realm. The EFF, being pretty much gold-plated awesome, has agreed to pick up the fight.

In addition, the community has risen up, declaring today to be "Take Back Urban Homesteading Day" with its own Facebook group. Angry letters have been written. There's a petition to revoke the trademark, all kinds of wonderful community action. Amusingly, the Derveas Institute has shut down THEIR own Facebook page, citing the number of angry comments and dismissing all the opposition as liars. They've also walked back some of their previous statements, and are saying that WHOEVER sent out the letters wasn't from the Derveas Institute, and was just trying to incite public opinion against them. Real classy, Jules.

This makes me happy on a number of levels. The phrase "urban homesteading" belongs to all of us and shouldn't have been granted trademarked status. The EFF is absolutely correct in agreeing to fight for Kelly and Erik and everyone else who has been a victim of this naked, bald-faced attempt to subvert the culture for commercial reasons. The community has banded together and some beautiful conversation has happened, in addition to a solidifying of the community AS a community. It's no longer a loose confederation of individual homesteaders, but feels more like an actual movement. I am sad for the reasons behind this evolution, but I think it's been beautiful to see.

The Raven and I are fledgling urban homesteaders. We are assembling the components we need to make a garden this year, and have talked with out landlord about where we can plant. I have pucks of dried peat for germinating my own seeds for transplant. We've got plans to build a small herbarium greenhouse just outside our kitchen. The Raven will be over the moon the day we're able to keep chickens in our yard. I don't need the Derveas Institute's permission to call myself what I am.

I'm intentionally NOT linking to the Derveas Institute. I won't directly refer traffic to them, though I encourage you to check the sources if you feel so inclined.

Viva la revolucion!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Feeling Better

Getting some of my anxieties written down last night has really helped me to relax a bit today. Part of it may be that tomorrow we'll be going shopping, but I found that I wasn't hungry between meals today, and I didn't fret about having a little snack. On the other hand, we were kind of bad locavores today. I ate some of our "medicinal" oyster crackers*, and the Bear cooked tonight's hamburger with a bit of olive oil. And we figured out (embarrassingly belatedly) that Tofutti Cuties are not actually local. At least we bought them at a locally-owned grocery store.

Today's breakfast was oatmeal with brown sugar from Bob's Red Mill. Lunch was a couple of boiled eggs from a NW farm. I had some oyster crackers and a Washington apple, and for dinner we had cheeseburgers on Oregon Grain bread from Naturebake, with Tillamook cheese and beef from Eastern Oregon, with some frozen Oregon veggies on the side. Absolutely yummy, for about $2.50 each. Rough estimate for our daily total is about $8.

Basically, we've gotten through the first week pretty well. We have a lot of the staple foods we bought last Tuesday left over, as well as some eggs and vegetables. I feel more secure, knowing that. And I'm looking forward to, rather than dreading, the rest of the experiment.

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*We both had upset tummies on Saturday, probably due to abrupt rise in fiber and butter intake, so we got some saltines and oyster crackers, as well as some ginger ale. No local crackers, but at least the soda was made in Oregon. Also, we put this down as medicinal expenses, rather than food. Kind of cheaty? Maybe.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Your Mileage May Vary

Bear and I are having very different experiences as we commence the first experiment. I'm finding myself very anxious, even fearful about our food. For me, this has rapidly become about what we can't have - about restrictions and fear, rather than about positive changes and freedom. I find myself thinking about food all the time, fretting about the next meal rather than looking forward to it.


It's been many years, but there was a stretch of time when, working full time at minimum wage, I didn't have enough money to pay rent and bills and buy groceries. There were times when I scrounged through the apartment looking for enough spare change to buy a pack of ramen noodles. There were a couple of times when I was desperate enough to go to a local food bank. They wanted to know what I was going to do differently so as not to require their assistance, and they weren't particularly kind about it. When I look back over the last twenty years, this was definitely a very low point.

Being on a very strict budget now brings back a lot of the old fear, to an extent that I never would have expected. Despite the fact that I can say "to heck with this" at any time, the $70 per week feels like a very real limit. Bear sees this as an experiment. I realized that I see this as a personal challenge, which means that the outcome of this experiment for me is not a yes or no answers to questions we're asking, it's a matter of will I succeed or will I fail?

So, naturally I find this to be a bit more fraught, more frightening.

We're eating better, more healthy food than we have for a while. I've cut my sugar intake by about half, and we've probably doubled the fiber in our diets. We're eating really good, whole foods, and a lot less processed food (although we've got some Tofutti Cuties in the freezer right now). And hilariously, I find myself craving all the fruits and vegetables that we can't get right now grown in Oregon and Washington. Putting them on the nuh-uh list makes me want 'em pretty bad.

I find myself hungry more often, but that just may be due to the illusion of scarcity. Really, there's a lot of good things to eat in the kitchen and no threat of going hungry. I'm too conscious of our limits to snack and risk running out of food before each week is over. I'm pretty sure that this particular fear is going to fade as the days go by.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this is to explore my relationship with food. The last few days have given me plenty to think about. And I promise to be more cheerful in the very near future.