Date posted: February 17, 2011

And They Discovered America

Categories: Community | 9 Comments

I have got a major gripe with folks that claim to have invented urban farming or homesteading. This is because before there were hippies or hipsters, there were people surviving, and still are, on what they can grow on the land they inhabit. The tradition of raising animals for food and growing food in an urban setting is NOTHING NEW. Many of us are from families that have upheld this way of life for generations. Ethnic communities have practiced and still practice a great deal of “urban homesteading” but if you ask them what it is, they will give you a blank look. Its called living. My grandparents did not brag to their San Francisco neighbors because if the news fell on the wrong ears someone might complain to la policia. The grow/raise your own lifestyle is only recently cool.

That said, it seems arrogant, inappropriate and disrespectful to claim to have created it. I mention this all again because I recently read about an organization in Southern California, Path to Freedom, that has trademarked:







LITTLE HOMESTEAD IN THE CITY® (pending) and also, THE TEN ELEMENTS OF URBAN HOMSTEADING [sic] copyright has been filed with the Library of Congress.

Apparently, in their race to make claim, they have forced Facebook pages of people using the term to shut down. This includes the Oakland based Institute of Urban Homesteading (this reminds me of when the U.S. attempted to patent the healing properties of tumeric in the 90’s, a root with properties that have been known to Indians for thousands of years).

Their website states that “If your use of one of these phrases is not to specifically identify products or services from the Dervaes Institute, then it would be proper to use generic terms to replace the registered trademark you are using. For example, when discussing general homesteading or other people’s projects, they should be referred to using terms such as ‘modern homesteading,’ ‘urban sustainability projects,’ or similar descriptions.”

What really gets me is their definition of an urban homesteader. What they call their 10 Elements:

1. Grow your own food on your city lot. (More than 50% of your diet, organically, with visually appealing landscaping.)

2. Use alternative energy sources (e.g., solar, wind) in conjunction with energy efficiency and conservation measures to reduce usage.

3. Use alternative fuels and transportation (bicycle, walk, public).

4. Keep farm animals for manure and food. Practice animal husbandry.

5. Practice waste reduction. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without, compost it, re-purpose it.

6. Reclaim greywater and collect rainwater. Practice water conservation and recovery.

7. Live simply. … in the manner of past eras. Develop back-to-basics homemaking skills, including food preservation and preparation.

8. Do the work yourself. Learn to do home and vehicle maintenance, repairs and basic construction.

9. Work at home. Earn a living from the land or hand work done at home. Develop a home-based economy.

10. Be a good neighbor. Offer a helping hand for free. Urban homesteading is a community-based way of life, not a business opportunity. Be a neighbor, not a business person.

Again, meet my grandparents Frank and Lupe, and their parents, and their parents. For that matter meet the family of my husband, The Pallanas from India. They waste nothing and my father-in-law was raised on homegrown food. Every time I implement an energy reducing tactic, optimize a harvest and preserve it, he tells me it reminds him of his mother.

For the record, the organization is based in Orange County. I’ve never gotten my own farming and homesteading information from Orange County sources. They only information I follow in Orange County is the writing of satirist Gustavo Arellano.

I am, to say the least, disappointed by their claim. Their path to freedom is an old story of making claims to what has been owned for a long time. I thought we had learned that lesson.


  1. dylan

    I have been reading the path to freedom blog for some time. They are good people. They have mentioned in a blog post today that this is all getting blown out of per portion. They seem to support Urban Homesteading and all who do it. I dont have all the facts but i also dont judge until i have the facts. I am not taking sides but know that that family has done a lot for urban farming and the movement. I hope all these recent problems are nonsense. the important thing is to continue living how you live. PS. i just recently found your blog. I really like it. All the best- Dylan

  2. meg- grow & resist

    Thanks for sharing! I am enjoying reading other bloggers take on all of this. And I am really glad you brought up the issue that it is only now becoming ‘cool’ and that ethic communities have been doing it forever.
    A big peeve of the homestead idea (for me) is the historical trauma associated with the term and the white-washing of the movement. Agh.

  3. Sandra

    You might want to read these two pieces;

  4. esperanza

    Dylan: Thanks for the comment. I am sure the Dervaes Family are great people. However, it does not give them license to claim the legal right to practices and phrases that they in fact did not invent.

    Meg: Thanks!

    Sandra: Thanks for the articles. I especially liked the Natural Life Magazine article!

  5. Heidi

    We so think alike. argued the same things in my post tonight!

  6. Woodwife

    The Dervaes’ are in Pasadena, CA which is in Los Angeles Co.

  7. Esperanza

    Heidi: We do.
    Woodwife: Yes, I realized that afterwards but I don’t think it detracts from my point that documenting the description of your daily life does not give you the right to claim you invented the practices or own the descriptions of that daily life. In fact trademarks are not developed to protect descriptions of daily life but rather to protect unique corporate branding.

  8. Summersweet Farm

    Does anyone else find it ironic that in the course of trademarking that phrase and “defending” it, they violate one of their own ten commandments: : “Be a good neighbor. Offer a helping hand for free. Urban homesteading is a community-based way of life, not a business opportunity. Be a neighbor, not a business person.”

    Does that mean they’re not urban homesteaders any more?

  9. Lisa

    “Before there were hippies and hipsters…”

    I don’t know you. I just fell across the doorstep of your blog. But I think you’re my New Best Friend!

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