Monday, February 21, 2011

Urban Homesteading ala Us

I may be taking just a wee bit too much pleasure in this whole Dervaes trademark fiasco. But then for us the shine wore off their halos some time ago and frankly, a healthy dose of reality might be just what they needed. Never pays to believe your own press, especially when a lot of it is self-generated.

The short story is that the Dervaes of Pasedena have trademarked several phrases including the widely used term Urban Homestead. While people are willing to concede that things like Path to Freedom and Little Homestead in the City are unique to the Dervaes, they most certainly are not willing to give up a phrase that captures the spirit of an entire movement and has been around for decades before the Dervaes started including it in their press releases.

When the family sent out 16 what they insist are not cease and desist letters (that sounded an awful lot like cease and desist letters) the perverbial crap hit the Facebook fan. Their hubris in insisting that they had used the phrase in a 'new and unique way' and therefore were entitled to protect their intellectual property was followed by a hailstorm of criticism and an entire Facebook page dedicated to Taking Back Urban Homesteading.

And here is where I find myself slightly tickled by their plight. There are those of us who for years have been wary of the Dervaes constant self-promotion and marketing but were hesitant to criticize one of the most recognizable faces of the sustainability movement. Now that the floodgates have opened we find ourselves in very good company and able to finally express our misgivings. It seems obvious to us all that the emperor has no clothes….and never did.

Though their website shares their adventures in growing most of their own food, running a household with minimal energy, making biodiesel from used cooking oil, and keeping chickens and goats, it is not the first to do so and it is hardly unique. The main difference as far as I can tell between their website and others is the appalling lack of helpful instruction. They have become so enamored of their image that touting how amazing they are has taken precedence over sharing any kind of meaningful information.

But even I am surprised by how poorly they have handled the fall-out from their initial misstep. Playing the victim, shutting down their Facebook pages and closing comments on their website has only served to make them look surly and childish. They’ve gone so far as to accuse their detractors of harassing and threatening them (without proof). To paint everyone who had a complaint with the same broad stroke is unconscionable. Many who felt they deserved an explanation for their actions were huge supporters of the family and it’s endeavours. Was it fair to lump them all into a mob of unruly, ignorant, thugs? Me thinks thou does protest too much.

If you are truly being abused (seriously?) how about using comment moderation to weed out the nutcases and allow for a civil discussion with your readership. Slamming the door in our faces doesn’t exactly help your cause…and it’s not a good business move. All those nice folks who buy your seeds and donate to your website will likely take their money elsewhere now that they’ve seen how poorly you play with others.

The Urban Homestead community is a big one, and as it turns out an articulate and intelligent one at that. This diverse group of individuals has become a force to be reckoned with because of the Dervaes blunder. What could have divided a community has actually helped to bind it more solidly. The Facebook page Take back Urban Homesteading is close to 4000 likes as I write this. Not since Monsanto did....anything.... has a community rallied behind a cause with such fervor. I think I love these people.


MommaofMany said...

I agree. I thought something was off about the when I first found a link. Like they were a little commune or something. I looked through their site and never returned. I think they have shot themselves in the foot with this move!

*the captcha below is 'beduckin' as in "be duckin the rotten tomatoes flying your way, Dervaes Family"

Maureen said...

....tee hee:)

Tho I would say 'shot themselves in the head' is more accurate. I'm not sure they will ever recover as far as their business goes. They will have to rely on relatives and people who can't read for continued support.

And as one brilliant blogger commented, "Just how sustainable is your lifestyle if you depend on handouts to keep it going?"

Manuela@TPOH said...

Yes, they have very little useful info on their site and when you ask them a Q in their comments, 9 times out of 10 they never answered. Their site is mostly to hawk the stuff they sell and to post about various mentions of them in the media. Totally disappointing because they could be such wonderful mentors. Enjoyed your post!

Maureen said...

Thank you Manuela, I have had the same experience. I actually praised a solar dehydrator purchased from their site and they quoted me in a post. But when I brought up a minor problem with it and asked for advice, total silence.....ugh.

ps. LOVE your blog!!!

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I have always thought they were just another example of LA's (via Pasadena) obssession with fame. They have always irked me. All about ego, all about pushing their wares, blah blah blah. This act does not surprise me in the least, nor does their response to it. Just so typical of those desperate for fame out in this area.

But what did surprise, and quite frankly repulse, me was their trademarking of Victory Gardens. Yes, Urban Homesteading has been in play since the 70s (at least). But Victory Gardens? You're going to trademark a portion of our very history now? What's next? Gonna just trademark all of WWII?

And I'm most irked by the fact that they went after bloggers while purporting that the move was to keep the likes of Monsanto out of our way. Um, really? BLOGGERS? Jackass is as jackass does. As I said on the FB page, I think they should trademark something a little more accurate--Urban Douchebags. ahahahah

Maureen said...

I don't usually use texting shorthand...but LOL!

Maureen said...

...and I must have missed your comment on the FB page. I'm sure I would have LIKED it!

diane said...

I just got caught up on your blog and I LOVE IT!
I've been absent from blog world lately and am trying to make my way back in.

I love all the posts on LEMONS! Dried lemons, lemon zest, pectin, etc. Amazing stuff. Really amazing. I love reading about your home and what's going on in your kitchen. You're an inspiration!

Maureen said...

Thanks Diane...the love is definitely returned:)

Jason said...

Yeah, I had to dive into this fray as well. In my research, it became obvious that they were overstating their trademark, which only protects their use of the phrase "Urban Homestead" in so far as it applies to a very limited set of commercial applications.

- Dan said...

Very well said. I've always wondered about that family's practices, because even though they seemed to be getting a ton of attention, I've seen many more bloggers' efforts that seemed to fit the sustainability bill a lot better.
I'm betting they started out with the best of intentions, but got sidetracked by fame and profit. Too bad.
And now their arrogance. Ugh.