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.