Urban Homesteading


Our super lawyer, Corynne McSherry, Intellectual Property Director of the EFF,  has a blog post up on the EFF site: Riding the Fences of the “Urban Homestead”: Trademark Complaints and Misinformation Lead to Improper Takedowns summarizing the situation and the important issues at hand–issues that affect all of us. That post also has links to a letter she sent to the Dervaes Institute on our behalf.


This has been such a big flap I suspect most of our readers know this by now, but for those of you who haven’t heard the news, the Dervaes Institute (the operators of the popular website, Path to Freedom) have trademarked the terms urban homestead and urban homesteading, and in the last week or so, have started to enforce their trademarks. Follow this link to Boing Boing for a concise summary of what’s been going on. (ETA 2/23: This two part article at Agrariana seems currently to be the most complete summary available. ETA 3/2: They have a round-up of most writing to date at Seasons in the Soil)

We’ve landed in the middle of all this because in 2008 we wrote a book titled The Urban Homestead. Because they apparently believe this title infringes on their trademark, the Dervaes Institute has interfered with our ability, and the ability of our publisher, Process Media, to promote the book. We are by no means the only people affected by their actions, but we can only speak for ourselves.

We want to take this moment to tell you how grateful for all the the kind and super-supportive comments, emails and conversations we’ve had over this last week. It’s hard to describe, but we’ve received so much love from you all that it’s been like being bundled in a warm blanket. We’ve been busy, and we’ve been taking this seriously, but we haven’t been worried or stressed. Thank you for all your positive energy.

It’s also been wonderful to see how this has all served as a galvanizing action to bring the homesteading community together. We admire how the Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) page on Facebook stepped into the gap and created a place for people to gather. Today it’s hosting a day of action, in which its members (nearly 4000 strong!) are all posting about their own urban homesteads. Check it out if you can. Join in if you can.

But back to business.

The one thing we didn’t know last week was who was going to help us fight for our rights, because unfortunately it seems legal action is necessary. We’ve had good news.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has stepped forward to represent us and our publisher, Process Media. We couldn’t be happier.

Who is the EFF?  They are a leading civil liberty group dedicated to protecting freedom and privacy in the digital domain. They’re the guys and gals on the white horses. When you read about something idiotic going on and you say to yourself, “Someone has to do something about that!” — more often than not, the EFF is that someone.

Just check out this page on their awesome work, and you’ll know why we are honored, amazed and thrilled that they’ve taken us on.

We’ve had many people ask us how they can help. Right now, the very best thing you can do is send a few dollars to the EFF as a gesture of appreciation. Two-thirds of the EFF’s budget comes from donations, so your donations will help them shoulder the costs of taking us on–not to mention all their other excellent work.

Again, thank you so much for your support. We love you all.

Leave a comment


  1. Go Kelly! Go Eric! This would be a fight I’m willing to support on principle. The fact that you are directly affected because of the title of your book only makes me that much more willing to pitch in. A donation to EFF is on its way. It would be nice (and a smart move on their part) if they back down before you really need to carry through with legal action. But somehow I just don’t see them taking that course.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, I didn’t realize it was going on.

    I think the thing that bothers me the most about the situation is how it is so counter intuitive of the community atmosphere that surrounds urban homesteading. Taking ownership of a word and idea that you didn’t invent also turns my stomach.

    I’ll be interested to see how it all turns out.

    Best of luck!

  3. Glad to hear it! My hope is that they back down but I’ll be really surprised if they do. Good luck and I will go and donate to EFF!

  4. Right on guys! Good on you for keeping your wits about this whole thing. We support you 100%.
    If we didn’t already have the book I’d go out and buy it to show my support..perhaps someone I know needs a copy…..

  5. Glad you are getting good advice. My husband, who knows something about trademark law, looked at the TM application (easy to find on-line). Basically, they lied about their use and history of the terms. You’ve got a good case. Go get ’em.

  6. I participated with a post today. If I get “the letter” I will frame it. Shame on them (the family whose name I no longer say :D) Kudos to you!

  7. The absurdity about the Dervaes Institute’s claim that it’s better they have the trademark than an evil corporation, is their assumption that evil corporations suddenly appear in the world fully formed, as if they weren’t at one point started by an individual or a small group just like them.

  8. As I did not have a hard time believing the Dervaes family did this I decided to check on Google Books.

    I found legal references dating back to 1875 defining ‘urban homesteads’, Seattle Times ran articles by Aliesan and her urban homestead in the 70s, there was an Urban Homestead program in Chicago 1985, The Crisis (magazine) April 1975 p 132 Urban Homesteading – apparently a program supported by the NAACP to bring people back to cities to live, work and restore them to a safe productive place.

    Is the Dervaes legal team going to go after all these publications and their authors? I find it a little elitist of this family – who have done a true service to show people how to really use their home & land for good but under circumstances few of us in a true urban environment could participate in the way they have – to think they own the rights to the phrases urban homestead and urban homesteading. I also find the loophole that allows them to go after usage dating before the trademark was allowed is something that should be corrected ASAP

    Good luck in your endeavors.

  9. Made a donation in your honor. Thanks for all your great work, I read the blog at least every other day and find inspiration often.

  10. Great news, glad to hear lawyers are taking this up to represent you – once people had their livelihoods threatened by this outrageous action by the Dervaes they stepped into a whole new world. I was concerned about their action because it made me realise how quickly someone could shut down what I do – this fight is for a lot of people around the world.

  11. I am very closely acquainted with a nice couple in your neighborhood who would be more than happy to offer cocktails as a means of relaxation whilst keeping this entire issue outside of the lounge.

  12. Glad the big guns have finally arrived, in the form of the EFF. WILL be making a donation to them, as they’re preserving all our rights by fighting for yours. Keep your spirits up, and hang in there!

  13. Glad to hear the EFF will be representing for you all. I’ll be sending a few bucks their way. And thanks for all the great info that I have gleaned from your blog, as well as your book. in fact, the book is apparently so useful, that someone who “farm sat” for me walked off with it after their stay. I’ll be sure to pick up a fresh copy 🙂

  14. I was so glad to see the EFF’s letter on your behalf! The Dervaes’ power grab was wrong, wrong, WRONG, on so many levels.

    Ball’s in their court now…what will it be? Will they do the smart thing, or just keep digging themselves into their hole? Do let us know ASAP if they permit Facebook to restore your book pages.

  15. The whole thing is so crazy. Until this all took over the Path to Freedom blog I assumed they must be pretty chill folks, but clearly not; either that or they’ve had some unfortunate legal advice. I hope cooler heads can prevail (on their side!) before things go to litigation.

  16. about to make an eff donation. also subscribing to your blog. I’ve been wanting to make my 1/8 urban acre (which includes a pottery studio) more sustainable and farm as much as I can on it. Y’all have been a big part of my education. And it astounds me how people can start out with the best intentions and become so misguided and grabby along the way. Sustainability isn’t about “grabby.” Keep up the good work.

  17. I was happy to read about the EFF representing you. I can’t understand how the Dervaeses (whom ironically are always going on about needing donations because they don’t want to soil their integrity with allowing advertising on their page…) could do this, or think that it will benefit them. I am disgusted by their actions and will be sending the EFF a small donation in your (and really all of us urban homesteaders) honor.

  18. I’m posting today about what it means to be an urban homesteader, and am so relieved that you guys have some legal representation on this. I’m looking forward to your next book, too 🙂 Keep up the great work. You’ve inspired so many of us to just do it, just get outside and plant something.

  19. As a regular reader and former EFF staff member, I just wanted to say thank you for recognizing EFF’s work. EFF could not do their work without donations, so the more people who know about it, the more who may donate. Thanks for spreading the word, and sorry you had to meet under these legal circumstances.

  20. Good lord. What are they going to do, demand a recall on all your books? And seriously, the term’s been used since a hundred years before any of that family (in its present or near-recent form) came to be, they still claim they invented it and have the right to trademark it? Seriously?

  21. Wait…WHAT?? Did they trademark before or after you published your book? If after, well that is just ridiculous. If before, well ok, but I don’t see the harm…I really don’t get it!

  22. We love the Blog formerly known as Homegrown Evolution.

    I will never use the name of this family in a post or comment (Harder than you might think since I have posted about this whole fiasco). I will never refer to their website. I will never do anything that could benefit them. I also pledge to slap a ™ on every imaginable phrase and word combination to make merciless fun of them.

    Unless, they come clean, apologize without equivocation or Weasel Words ™, and admit they were Grade A Cottonheaded Ninnymuggins ™ to start this whole mess.

    In the mean time you (Kelly and Erik) have handled this with absolute grace. None of us could do worse than to buy a copy of your book and send donation to the EFF to support Urban Homesteaders and Urban Homesteading everywhere.

    For the record I started blogging shortly after reading the first edition of The Urban Homestead. I never even heard of these other folks till last week. I think that alone speaks to the contributions to the community and selflessness of your actions.

  23. You have 100% of my support! Emotional support that is. Financially? I just bought your book off Amazon today. I want to get that print before the title (hopefully never) changes.

    I know you’ve been told this, but this should never have happened to begin with. This country is full of people that believe they are superior in one way or another. It’s unfortunate our goverment failed to protect us on this. Someone who is supposed to be smarter than the Dervaes is responsible for this. Ownership of words should be illegal or at least more closely monitored.

    Dervaes, if you’re reading this – I don’t think you’re the bad guys at all. Just a bit misguided in making a very ballsy move. Good luck to both sides and may peace come out of it for everyone.

  24. i like reading both of your blogs, so i am very suprised that the derveas would do this sort of thing. i think that it is crazy to think that you could own a phrase or a term to describe a lifestyle. This sounds like Monsanto owning patents on seeds and punishing others who havent payed them the right to use ‘their’ seeds. I thought the derveas were against Monsanto and all that company stands for. i have a small urban homestead in calgary, alberta and i love reading your book, plus many other people besides the derveas family on how to make my life more sustainable.

  25. This post made my day! I’m so glad EFF has stepped up to the plate for you. The Take Back U-H(S) fb page was so serendipitous, and I’m honored to get to play a part in this community and in taking a stand for justice. We’re behind you, and if you need any help please just let us know! ~April Alexander

  26. WTF? That’s crazy! I am sorry you are affected by this. Man some true colors sure are showing! I am glad EFF is involved, keep us posted!

  27. I’m so glad to hear this. I had been wondering how this would affect you and your book, and judging by what I’ve presumed by reading between the lines, this is not the first time you’ve found yourselves being attacked. Such a sad, useless situation all around.

  28. Hey guys. Jamie here from the Backwards Beekeepers club. I can’t imagine how the Dervaes managed to trademark this without an objection. They were able to sneak it past. On an interesting note their site seems to be offline.

  29. I just went to their site. On the top left corner is a not saying they will not sue bloggers for using “urban homestead.” I just blogged about my urban homestead.I also included a link to your blog and the post about this trademark business. Maybe I should trademark “tomato plant.” No? okay.

  30. I cannot imagine that the Dervaeses will get away with this. Must be some kind of prank!
    I used to be a big fan of the Dervaes initiatives regarding homesteading. However, the ridiculous claiming of the term “urban homesteading” has changed that. Core to the urban homesteading philosophy is the sharing of ideas within the community. Urban homesteading is about sharing, not claiming! This clearly reveals the true face of the Dervaeses! All the best to you Eric and Kelly! Greetings from The Netherlands!

  31. I am donating to EFF in honor of your situation, and will buy a book, too. And I’ll read it while I gaze out of my window and envision the coming spring here at my little URBAN HOMESTEAD!!

  32. Hi fellow Urban Homesteaders!

    I’m another urban homesteader thats backing you. Urban homesteading is part of our history and the future of our planet, not a marketing tool. I appreciate the free exchange of ideas, and think its pretty hypocritical of a site that promotes the “path to freedom” to take the path to dollars. I gave up on them a while ago, not only because of the crappy site (haven’t checked in a while) but because I sensed they where going down the commercial path.

    Cheers to Root Simple (aka HGE), the EFF and free urban homesteading!

  33. So glad to hear you’ll have the legal resources to take this on. It’s ridiculous, as you know, and needs to be contested.

    Unfortunately for you, you’re being forced to have to fight the good fight. I much preferred there not being a fight..

  34. First, let me say that I have been a fan of this blog for a long time, though I must admit I have been negligent on the comments!

    Second, you have my support – 100%. I think what the Dervaes family is doing is reprehensible. I am not an urban homesteader. Yet. But, I am working towards it and from what I have learned, the core of the urban homesteading movement is made up of community and relationships. Their actions negate everything that TRUE urban homesteading is about and I find that inexcusable. I know I might all sound harsh, but I personally know another organization that was directly affected by this and it makes me very upset.

    The other, and blatantly obvious, problem with this is the fact that they DID NOT coin the phrase. That phrase was in use LONG before they ever came around. What makes them think they have the right to do this? As if it’s not bad enough that the government and Monsanto and the FDA and USDA are consistently encroaching on our freedoms, we now have to put up with this BS?

    I better sign off now before my blood boils anymore. Keep fighting for what you think is right and know that you have A LOT of people backing you up.

  35. Hi there,

    One side benefit of all this controversy is that I discovered your site and your book. I just ordered your book as I am an urban homesteader and can always learn more about this process.

  36. Wow, that is really lame. I had no idea. I’m going to delete my Freedom Gardens account today out of principal. No one can own the term, and it’s ridiculously not in the spirit of urban homesteading for them to even try.

    I’m off to finish off a batch of candied kumquats and dream about this summer’s homesteading adventures. I wish you all the best in getting the Dervaes off your back!

  37. It strikes me that they are going to have a hard time defending the mark. First, it’s descriptive. Second, they are not the senior users of the mark. I hope EFF can make Swiss cheese out of their trademark rights. Good luck and keep us informed.
    Your friend, a gardening, blogging, trademark and copyright lawyer Charm City Legal.

  38. If I remember correctly, Dervaes complains about people like Monsanto that make patents on seeds they found in nature, owning something they didn’t invent. Is he now doing the same thing with 2 words he didn’t invent and that those who are growing food at home need to use? How will we call urban homesteading? urban home-steading?
    It’s almost ridiculous. And I was thinking a couple of days ago about how he raises one of his tools in a sign of rebellion and ‘freedom’…
    I feel burglarized…

  39. I’m not an attorney but I do work in an area that deals with trademarks. It’s my understanding that a trademark is a graphic that can’t be used in exactly the same form without the “TM” attached. You can use the word (or series of words), you just can’t use it in the same font (in the case of words) as Dervaes does.

    I’m surprised Dervaes was able to have such an old phase trademarked. Even more surprised that they went after others in the same community. I live in Southern California and was considering going to Pasadena to see the Dervaes site (I’ve heard a lot about them). Not now.

    From Wikipedia:
    Trademark infringement is a violation of the exclusive rights attaching to a trademark without the authorization of the trademark owner or any licensees (provided that such authorization was within the scope of the license). Infringement may occur when one party, the “infringer”, uses a trademark which is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark owned by another party, in relation to products or services which are identical or similar to the products or services which the registration covers. An owner of a trademark may commence legal proceedings against a party which infringes its registration.

    In many countries, but not in the United States, which recognizes common law trademark rights, a trademark which is not registered cannot be “infringed” as such, and the trademark owner cannot bring infringement proceedings. Instead, the owner may be able to commence proceedings under the common law for passing off or misrepresentation, or under legislation which prohibits unfair business practices. In some jurisdictions, infringement of trade dress may also be actionable.

    Where the respective marks or products or services are not identical, similarity will generally be assessed by reference to whether there is a likelihood of confusion that consumers will believe the products or services originated from the trademark owner.

    Likelihood of confusion is not necessarily measured by actual consumer confusion, though normally one of the elements, but by a series of criteria Courts have established. A prime example is the test announced by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in AMF, Inc v Sleekcraft Boats, 599 F.2d 341 (C.A.9) 1979. The Court there announced eight specific elements to measure likelihood of confusion:

    1. Strength of the mark
    2. Proximity of the goods
    3. Similarity of the marks
    4. Evidence of actual confusion
    5. Marketing channels used
    6. Type of goods and the degree of care likely to be exercised by the purchaser
    7. Defendant’s intent in selecting the mark
    8. Likelihood of expansion of the product lines[1]

  40. Trade marking the phrase urban homestead is like trade marking the word shoe. It’s ridiculous! I have followed “their” work for quite some time but was NOT aware of this recent development. After I leave a message of disapproval on their website, I will no longer visit or forward it on to my friends. I don’t have a copy of your book but am on my way to Amazon to purchase a copy to show my support. I am sorry for your trouble and hope it all ends well and that “they” change their minds and see the lunacy and mean spirit in their actions.

  41. I am an attorney and urban homesteader and the Dervaes insult both personalities. I love the Monsanto analogy posted above. It is utter hypocrisy to control a phrase whose very purpose is independence and self sufficiency.
    Am glad to see the facebook movement. Maybe a bumper sticker: Dervaes – The Monsanto of Urban Homesteads

  42. I support you as well and will be carrying your book in my store. Let’s get those sold so that you can fight the fight. Honestly, how ridiculous that back to the lander’s are having to fight at all. If anyone had told me in the 70’s when we started this that we would be up against this sort of crap in 40 years, I would have laughed myself sick.

  43. This is ridiculous. I discovered that other website when I conceived, in my own bright little mind, this idea of urban homesteading and punched it into Google. Not a lot of results back then, but if I thought of it and they thought of it and you thought of it…why should anyone own a term that describes where we grow our food for ourselves on our property? This is like trying to trademark the term ‘centrally located’ or ‘just around the corner’. Bulls*&t. I was a huge fan of what they’ve got going on, right up until now.

    • Hi Lauren

      It goes slowly! The most recent news is that our attorneys have filed a motion for summary judgement, which is a public document (and a thing of beauty). The pdf can be found on the TTAB website somewhere, but I don’t have a link.

      If you Facebook, James Bertini of Denver Urban Homestead posts updates all the time. It’s the place to go for the scoop.

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