Monday, February 21, 2011

Urban Homesteading, on an Urban Homestead

I am an urban homesteader. You might be, too. If you live in a city and grow or produce some of what you eat, that's urban homesteading. If you like to make things from scratch instead of buying them at the store -- cleaning products, candles, cheese, soap -- that's urban homesteading. If you use solar power, capture some of your bathwater to irrigate your garden, or repurpose old items -- that's also urban homesteading.

Who invented urban homesteading?? I know that sounds like a ridiculous question. The truth is that people have been homesteading in cities for as long as they've been living in cities. Growing gardens, raising backyard chickens, canning vegetables and jam -- these are things that people have always done, wherever they've lived.
At any rate, one thing most people can agree on is that the prevalence of urban homesteading is good thing -- both for individuals and for the health of the general society. There are tons and tons of websites and blogs, plus a fair number of books and magazines, that address this topic. As someone who incorporates urban homesteading into both her personal and professional life, I think that this is terrific. The more people talking, teaching, and sharing about urban homesteading -- and all of the sustainable, healthy activities that go with it -- the better!

The reason that my identity as an urban homesteader (and likely yours, too) is in question can be found in this article posted on the OC Weekly website. A family in California has trademarked the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading" (among others). And, very unfortunately, they've set about the task of shutting down the Facebook pages of writers and businesses who incorporate the words "urban homesteading" into what they do, and they've sent what are essentially cease and desist letters to other organizations as well. Including, for example, the Santa Monica Public Library, because they offered a free event on urban homesteading.
The presumption that someone can "own" the commonly used term (which folks have found references to dating back at least to the 1970s) of urban homesteading has -- shall we say -- not gone over well. Let me be clear that I support everyone's right to the protection of their specific writings and photographs. However, we are NOT talking about blatant plagiarism. We are talking about a widely used phrase that many people feel accurately describes their lifestyle. Plus, unfortunately, the family pursuing the trademark has a history of not just claiming ownership of the words "urban homesteading," but of the factual information about urban homesteading itself. No one owns the fact that beets can be planted 4 inches apart or that chickens enjoy eating curdled milk. Similarly, no one owns the basic tenants of living sustainably in an urban setting.

Sadly, this family's actions have consequences that go beyond picking on bloggers or public libraries. For example, the city that I live in has just one year-round farmers' market. It is a locally owned small business, and the folks who sell at the market are local small farmers and producers. This market has "urban homesteading" in its name, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the California family that is claiming the trademark. However, since the market's name contains the words "urban homesteading," its Facebook page was summarily removed this week. The page had thousands of customers connected to it, and the market's owner used the page each week to talk about the products the vendors were bringing to market, special events, etc. The market -- and, by extension, the local farmers and producers -- are going to suffer because the market's owner has lost the main way that he communicates with his customers. That is real, tangible damage to folks' livelihoods. Not ok at all.

There is a Facebook group that has been established to organize those who oppose the trademark and its subsequent shutdown of websites. Also, if you'd like to post a review of their business on Google, you can do so here. There are also a number of other folks who have posted on the "I Am An Urban Homesteader" theme:


US Recall News said...

I think the best thing we can all do is to contact any family, friends or acquaintances we have who live in or near Pasadena, CA and ask them to contact every single restaurant that buys food from this family. Hit them where it counts - their pocket book - since that's obviously what they are trying to grow (not veggies, these days).

To do so, there would have to be an alternative for these chefs. So if we can find another local, organic source of the foods provided by this family (who I refuse to even name anymore) and let the food establishments know that people are no longer patronizing their restaurants as a result of the actions of their providers...

Well you get the point. The same is true in anything. We can't rely on government or non-profits, or anything else. It's all about putting our money where our mouths are - literally.

Too bad I don't live in Pasadena.

~*~The Family~*~ said...

Love your goat picture! Ours like to snuggle like that too even after they get way to big to sit on our laps.

Heidi said...

love it. and thanks for addressing the real damage that the Dervaes have done to a fabulous organization in the Denver community. you're right, so not ok.