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!

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