The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Urban homesteading as a cultural movement

Bottle feeding a goatI'm sure several of you are interested to hear Rachel Kaplan's take on the Dervaes' attempt to protect their trademark on the term "urban homesteading."  Since she's written a book by that name, I figured Rachel had been contacted by the Dervaes family, and I was right.  She emailed:

Yes, we were contacted by the Dervaes (or our publisher was). And my collaborator, who runs the Institute of Urban Homesteading, got a cease and desist letter asking her to stop using the phrase in the name of her Institute.

Our publisher is working on the legal front with all of this right now, and hasn't even disclosed to us his strategy, but he (and we) and everyone we know feels strongly that urban homesteading is a cultural movement owned by the many, and not the few, and that the Dervaes' claim is lacking in merit. We are continuing our work in the world, and of course the publication of the book, on which we have worked so hard.

We believe this has even become the issue it is because this is a cultural movement--so many people are interested and involved in this. We are hoping for an amicable resolution to the struggle, but it remains to be seen how the whole thing plays out.

After our own experience seeing the diversity of people interested in homesteading topics at the Organic Grower's School, I have to agree with her.  I hope that the themes become so mainstream that the Dervaes family has no hopes of maintaining control over the term "urban homesteading."

Our $2 ebook shows you how to create your own job so you have time to homestead.

This post is part of our Urban Homesteading lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I just wanted to say again that I absolutely agree that "urban homesteading" is a cultural movement. In terms of social learning, that's how change happens -- we can see now that "green" is everywhere, and people who, five years ago, never recycled, didn't care about industrial waste, or toxins in the environment, etc, ad nauseum -- now everyone is talking about how "they were green before green was cool." [I saw that on a Beer Store transport truck this afternoon!] Social change is about the creation of the "new normal" -- when people like the Dervaes attempt to put themselves out there as the forerunners of the movement, they undermine the movement. In order for it to take hold, everyone needs to be able to think they got there themselves. Rob Hoskins, in his Guide to Transition, spends time talking about how activists need to be inclusive as "mainstream" folks make small changes and get on board. Trying to own the movement is the best way to alienate people, and kill the movement.
I have said before on this blog that I don't blame them for wanting to do well financially, or be rewarded for their work. They could have become a real cultural icon in that they led the way. There is money to be made in other ways when you're as established as they are. I really wish they'd give up.

I sent a purchase request for this book to the Toronto Public Library and referenced the author's private site as the place to buy from.

Comment by J Fri Apr 8 19:43:41 2011

That's such a good comparison. It sure would be strange if whoever had come up with the term "recycling" had trademarked it and told us we all needed to tell our neighbors to "turn that plastic in so that it can be made into a new plastic bottle."

I'm sure the authors will really appreciate you sending in that purchase request, and I agree --- it's always good to buy books from the source if possible!

Comment by anna Sat Apr 9 08:04:23 2011

Do you know anything about how this idea / definition of "homesteading" originated? I'm curious because when I hear the word I think of the older definition first and of the Homestead Act. It seems like it's currently being used as a word for "gardening and then some;" to describe a lifestyle choice that, according to this author's argument, can be pursued anywhere, if one puts one's mind to it. That's a really interesting use of a word which, if I understand it correctly, was previously used to describe the legal process of acquiring personal property in the west after the government moved the Native Americans out. I guess the similiarity between the historical idea of homesteading and the idea of urban homesteading is that both involve improving the land, although definitions of what improvement consist of have changed.

It's a very evocative word -- gets at notions of self sufficiency, creativity etc. more than "gardening" or "farming" alone. I've just been wondering if you know when and how it got reappropriated.

The things we randomly wonder about at night when we can't sleep.

Comment by Heather Sun Apr 10 12:44:17 2011

We had a vaguely similar discussion in this post's comments:, and I linked to this definition from Wikipedia of homesteading:

Broadly defined, homesteading is a lifestyle of simple self-sufficiency. As of 2010 the term may apply to anyone who follows the back-to-the-land movement by adopting a sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle. While land is no longer freely available in most areas of the world, homesteading remains as a way of life. According to author John Seymour, 'urban homesteading' incorporates small-scale, sustainable agriculture and homemaking.

I think that "homesteading" meaning gardening and some self-sufficiency wherever you're at came about earlier than the 2010 time noted in the Wikipedia article because we were familiar with the term when we started our blog in 2008 and subtitled it "Homesteading and Simple Living." It seems to be a bit of a retitling of the back to the land movement, which is what I understood it to be called during the seventies. So, maybe someone repurposed "homsteading" sometime in the interim?

Comment by anna Sun Apr 10 15:05:55 2011

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