urban homesteaders urban homesteading on the urban homestead

We’ve never really called ourselves urban homesteaders, although we do own a really great book on the subject. I kind of think of this place as more zoo than homestead, but maybe it’s time to embrace it, especially now that the Dervaes family of Pasadena, CA has somehow managed to trademark the phrases “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading.”

Never heard of the Dervaeses? Allow us to introduce them to you:

(photo from http://www.telegraph.co.uk)

Meet Jules and his adult children Anais, Justin, and Jordanne. They all live together in a 1500 square-foot house on a fifth of an acre in Pasadena. Jess and I have visited their site a few times over the last couple years, and have really wanted to like them. They have goats and chickens and nearly every inch of yard and driveway growing food. They even make their own biodiesel, have solar panels on their house, and have come up with creative ways to save water. I do envy their southern Californian sunshine, but I guess the lack of rain that comes with it ain’t so great. Despite that they manage to produce thousands of pounds of really gorgeous produce every year. And they do deserve props for doing it before it was trendy.

The Dervaeses don’t need any help in the “getting props” department. Even if the media hadn’t glommed onto them as some kind of poster family for this new, bizarre thing where people grow their own food, all they seem to do is congratulate themselves. Before UrbanHomesteadGate, Jess and I had many conversations about how something was really off with these people. They seem to want to be leaders in an open-source movement that is all about community and sharing information with people who are interested, and they don’t share anything. They post lots of pictures of their end results, stamped with a giant watermark making sure you don’t try to pass off their head of cabbage as your own. If you want their help, the only way to get it is to buy their products. And it all comes with a free side of cult vibes.

Before the Dervaes family even moved to California, I was growing up next door to an incredible woman who grew mountains of food in her backyard in the suburbs of Seattle. She was giving me starts of strawberries to grow in my own yard, and teaching all the interested neighborhood kids about all the plants in her yard. My wife was growing up on a little farm in Oklahoma and eating food from her yard. They didn’t invent the idea of growing food in the modern American backyard. They didn’t coin the phrase “urban homesteading,” and they don’t deny this. They just claim to have “defined its current, specific application.” Oh really?

How can you trademark the idea of going back to our roots? Our interest in eating food from our own yard? In learning to do things for ourselves and make things from scratch? Jess came up with the perfect analogy. What if someone trademarked “DIY” and “do-it-yourself” and then went around shutting down every personal blog that used the acronym? What if they had Facebook accounts deleted, and stopped people from publicly talking about their books that had DIY in the title, even if the books were published before the trademark paperwork was filed?

Trademarking “DIY” would be completely counter to everything the modern DIY movement is about, just as trademarking “urban homesteading” is counter to the spirit of the community of urban homesteaders. The key word here seems to be “community.” The Dervaes family isn’t part of a larger community. Their community begins & ends with the four of them.

Spend a little time googling Jules Dervaes, and you realize the cult thing is not just a vibe. Their “non-profit” organization is incorporated as a church. (This blog post discusses this and has a great list of blogs and articles about the whole fiasco.) A lot of the information is self-published by Jules over the years. Read his own timeline of getting kicked out of the Worldwide Church of God. I believe there is quite a story just beneath the surface there, but I’ll let you do your own google sleuthing. Although I would like to point you to my favorite article, in which Jules tells of his plans to start a huge commune in some isolated part of South America. Uh, hello? Why own “urban homesteading” if your plan is to live an isolated, rural life? According to this article, he has even asked his kids, the eldest approaching her late 30s, to put their romantic lives on hold until this happens.

It doesn’t really matter that this family is very obviously not the family that should be the leaders of urban homesteading, because nobody should. What we need is community. What we need are mentors. The Dervaeses are not a part of our community, and the Dervaeses don’t want to mentor anybody. And that is why we will not be putting a little R inside a circle if we want to talk about urban homesteading in our blog.


Filed under urban farming

25 responses to “urban homesteaders urban homesteading on the urban homestead

  1. Yep, I’ve always found it frustrating that they are unwilling to share their knowledge and basically just hawk their stuff in their “store” and post about all the press they get. Very very disappointed in their actions (which I just find totally absurd) and agree that they are not the people to lead the urban homesteading movement. I don’t consider myself an urban homesteader but I do have a large veggie garden :) I just don’t believe urban homesteading is something that should or can be trademarked.


  2. lavandulagirl

    Your post is spot-on. Thank you very much!

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  5. This describes exactly what’s creeped me out about them. It’s too bad they chose to use their websites to showcase themselves rather than pass on information to this movement their supposedly leading.

  6. Andrea

    If you get a take down notice, I hope you post it here and send it in to Boing Boing. People hate it when you do that with their take down notices. >:D

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  9. Patrice Helmar

    I don’t like that photo where that bastard is sitting down while his family stands. Never a good sign – how totally frustrating. In my crazy state of gun totting, canned food loving, hunting, fishing, and gardening folk this smells of so much bullshit. There are plenty of people, like this family that move to Alaska to start “communes” and “churches”. The ideals of which get so skewed and distorted that it’s disheartening. The basic human instinct we all have to subsist is a fundamental Alaskan prinicpal, one that is essential to survival in the cases of many people living here. The idea that one shitty family would try to trademark a way of living better is so selfish and lame.

    • Oh I am certain you get a lot of that sort of thing up there, with all the space and isolation and escapist fantasies. But I reckon/hope they don’t trademark things in quite the same way?

  10. Great post. I wonder how bad this situation will get before they realize what a mistake this whole thing is!

    • That very question has fueled several dinner table conversations in the last week. I think it comes down to whether you think they are in it for money or glory. But it’s not like the factors at play are logical at all, so none of us can really make a rational guess.

      Thanks for stopping by. I love your blog!

  11. Hillary

    Well said, as always!

  12. caitlin

    awesome, so glad i randomly checked your blog today (because i need dinner inspiration). i am sending this to like 1000 of my friends. also maybe you should rename your blog urban homesteaders urban homesteading on the urban homestead for a few days. haha!

    • Thanks for passing it around!

      The most important question, though, is what’s for dinner?

      • caitlin

        i think its going to be some somewhat boring level lasagna unless i make aloo palak instead. it snowed like 7 inches here and i have been avoiding the grocery.

    • misterkrista

      is it possible for lasagna to ever be boring?

      (I hate how wordpress doesn’t allow really long comment threads)

      • Lisa

        Do you mean how many levels WP will nest comments or how long individual comments can be? You can change the settings to nest up to 10 levels of comments (there’s probably a plugin for even more) and there shouldn’t be a word limit, but you can get plugins to control comment length and give commenters a nifty countdown.

        • misterkrista

          What the hell! Do you have a WP blog I don’t know about? I meant the nested comments. It didn’t even occur to me to look. I have it set for 10 now. I guess I should try to find a plugin. Thanks!

          • Lisa

            I don’t keep a personal blog (maybe someday) but we use WP for our eportfolios and course sites at Macaulay Honors College, where I work. I maintain a few blogs there and help troubleshoot others, and coordinate training sessions for incoming freshmen. So if you have WP questions, I’m your girl.

            And on topic, this was a fantastic post!

  13. ellen

    wow. that is super weird and evil and creepy!!! wtf?

  14. Montse

    I once admired the Dervaes family and so wanted to model my downtown property into something similar. I learned today that they are going after people for using the term urban homesteading. Okay – that’s ridiculous. If that is indeed true, I am greatly disappointed in them and will send them a letter! If anything they should be providing as much information as they can so others can learn from them and not be put off if one decides to use the term urban homesteading! PLEASE!!!

    • Sadly, it is indeed true. I hope you’re able to talk to them about it, although be warned that they have not been very responsive to anyone asking about it. A few groups have filed petitions to have the trademark cancelled, but the Dervaes family is fighting them. It has been inspiring to see the rest of the urban homesteading community come together around the issue though. If we can’t agree on anything else, at least we agree that these ideas should be open-source!

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