California Family Leaves Unwanted 'Mark' on Urban Agriculture

Square-foot gardening is just one method for growing vegetables in your yard. (Photo: David Owen/Flickr)

You may have witnessed the green blogosphere emit one huge WTF? over the past couple of days with news that the Dervaes family, the owners of a small urban farm at their home in Pasadena, Calif., trademarked terms including “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading” in October of last year. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a blogger, gardener, public institution or longtime urban homesteader — you better not use those terms without proper credit because, as it turns out, the Dervaes family (or their legal team, rather) will come after you.

This is the second completely ludicrous instance of supposed trademark infringement in recent weeks. In December, lawyers representing artist Jeff Koons sent cease-and-desist letters to a Canadian manufacturer and a San Francisco gallery/store for making and selling bookends that resembled his famous “Balloon Dog” sculptures. Koons claimed that the businesses violated his intellectual property rights. This of course, raised the question: “Does Jeff Koons own what a balloon animal looks like?” Ultimately, Koons must have decided that he doesn’t; last week he dropped the charges.

So back to the Dervaes family and the URBAN HOMESTEADING® and URBAN HOMSTEAD® issue. Over the past couple of weeks, numerous organizations and blogs have received lettersrequesting that they please remove or replace the “UH” terms (with things like "modern homesteading" or "urban sustainability projects") since they've been used without proper trademark notice. As Anais Dervaes points out, the said letter is not of the “cease-and-desist" nature and bloggers are not being sued.

Reads the opening of the letter:

This notice is to inform you of important matters regarding the published works and/or brand names of Jules Dervaes and Dervaes Institute. We are extremely supportive of members of our online communities; fans of our websites, writings and photographs; and others who help to spread information regarding sustainable living. However, we must also guard against the unauthorized use or exploitation of our intellectual property for commercial gain. From the beginning, our work published online and in other media has been copyrighted and trademarked. We have now secured registered trademarks for certain unique names and images. By protecting our intellectual property we are better able to ensure that our work is presented accurately and contributes to our sustainable living projects and educational initiatives. As you may know, the Dervaes family has been practicing sustainable living in Pasadena, Calif., since 1985. Our work has been documented and shared online at and other websites since 2001, receiving national and international media attention. Additionally, we produced an award-winning short documentary film about our project, called Homegrown Revolution, which has been featured at film festivals around the world and on Oprah’s 2009 Earth Day television special. Over the last 25 years, our family has created a wealth of intellectual property in the field of sustainable living. Through the Dervaes Institute, we have been committed to freely educating others about the practices and benefits of self-sufficiency.
We realize that your use of Dervaes published words and/or trademarks may have been inadvertent. We are generally able to resolve any such uses without involving our legal counsel. This would require that you update your websites and articles to properly cite our works. For example, the writings of Jules Dervaes about sustainable living are original protected works in which Dervaes owns exclusive rights. Content from the Dervaes websites, including text and photographs, are also protected works.
So which organizations have had the pleasure of receiving this infamous, furor-inducing letter? According to OC Weekly, they include radio station KCRW-FM 89.9's "Good Food With Evan Kleiman," the Santa Monica Public Library, and the Institute of Urban Homesteading

Writes a totally fired-up Gustavo Arellano at OC Weekly:

They've [The Dervaes family] gone as far as to sanctimoniously lecture the world on their website (you'll have to look it up, because no way in hell I'm linking to them) since the controversy broke about the intricacies of trademark law to, as they put it, "cut through the mob of misinformation ... of course, urban homesteading is 'old' but we used it in a new and unique way and that is what is registered." Actually, no. The Dervaes aren't just going after people who have ripped off their writings (a perfectly legitimate legal move, mind you) but ANYONE using the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading."

In addition to URBAN HOMESTEADING® and URBAN HOMESTEAD®, the terms PATH TO FREEDOM®, HOMEGROWN REVOLUTION®, and FREEDOM GARDENS® have been claimed by Dervaes trademark machine.

Naturally, there’s been quite the uproar since this fracas began. There's an online petition to "Cancel Trademarks on Urban Homestead and Urban Homesteading" and a Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) Facebook page. The Dervaes family has been forced to shut down its own Facebook page and issued a frustrating press release in the wake of a flood of angry phone calls and e-mails.

What a STUPID MESS®. For recent updates on this ever-evolving, increasingly infuriating story, LA Weekly, GOOD and OC Weekly are fine sources. TreeHugger's Colleen Vanderlinen also makes a beautiful point, saying that "I just don't understand how trademarking phrases that have been in existence since at least the 1970s (if you're being conservative) and that they didn't invent, protects their intellectual property. If that's the case, I'm so going to trademark 'Detroit gardener.' I am one, after all. And I am totally unique."

Although it's not too hard to get all riled up over all of this — what's your take? — it's also kind of a sad. From what I know of the Dervaes family and their endeavors, they are well-liked and influential in the "UH" movement. They've been doing great things. Now, they're instant villains thanks largely in part to the Internet and some questionable decision-making. Perhaps they should start a new venture with Judith Griggs of Cooks Source magazine? Or maybe they should just do the right thing and give URBAN HOMESTEADING® and URBAN HOMESTEAD® back to the people where they rightfully belong.

Via [GOOD], [TreeHugger]