Urban homesteading

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Urban homesteading can refer to several different things: programs by local, state, and federal agencies in the USA who work to help get people into city homes, squatting, practicing urban agriculture, or practicing sustainable living techniques.

Urban homesteading and affordable housing[edit]

Urban American cities, such as New York City, have used policies of urban homesteading to encourage citizens to occupy and rebuild vacant properties.[1][2] Policies by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development allowed for federally owned properties to be sold to homesteaders for nominal sums as low as $1, financed otherwise by the state, and inspected after a one-year period.[3] Homesteading is practiced in Detroit, but as of 2013 zoning laws prohibit such activity despite talk to encourage more urban agriculture and combat the shrinking population.[4]

While such policies have provided affordable housing for homeowners entering an area, homesteading has been linked with gentrification since the 1970s, especially in neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side of New York City.[5]

Urban homesteading and agriculture[edit]

According to UC-Davis, "an urban homestead is a household that produces a significant part of the food, including produce and livestock, consumed by its residents. This is typically associated with residents’ desire to live in a more environmentally conscious manner."[6]

Aspects of urban homesteading include[7]

Urban homesteading practices can conflict with current city zoning regulations and homeowner’s association by-laws.[8]

Urban homesteading is associated with urban agriculture. Urban Homesteading can also be referred to as Backyard Homesteading and Hobby Farming.

History of urban homesteading[edit]

Having an allotment or vegetable garden has been common throughout history, notably, victory gardens during the WW1 and WWII eras, immigrant gardens, the Integral Urban House, and the inner-city community gardening movement in the 1970s. The "back-to-the-land" movement of the 1960s, exemplified by numerous groups such as Tennessee's The Farm, has recently been reformed into a "back-to-the-city" movement.

A wealth of urban homesteading books (Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne, Erik Knutzen; The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan; Urban Homesteading by Rachel Kaplan, K. Ruby Blume; Toolbox for Sustainable City Living by Scott Kellog) have been published in the past decade. All over the world, people have found ways of growing their own food in inner-city urban areas.[9][10][11][12]

Trademark controversy[edit]

In 2007, the Dervaes Institute applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register the phrase "urban homesteading" as a service mark.[13] In 2008, the institute followed up with a second service mark application, for the phrase "urban homestead".[14] "Urban homesteading" was registered, but only on the Supplemental Register, on June 2, 2009.[13] "Urban homestead" was registered on the Principal Register on October 5, 2010.[14]

In February 2011, a controversy arose concerning a letter the Dervaes Institute sent to authors, bloggers, and organizations using the term "urban homesteading" in which they were asked to not use the terms "urban homestead" or "urban homesteading" without permission or attribution.[15][16][17][18] On February 14–15, 2011, the Dervaes were successful in their attempts to disable several Facebook pages using the term. This caused outrage in the urban homesteading community and a backlash against the Dervaeses.[19][20][21][22][23][24] Three of the entities whose pages were disabled, including authors Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne, Process Media and Denver Urban Homesteading filed petitions to cancel the Dervaes Institute's trademarks in the US Patent and Trademark Office in April 2011.

On 21 February 2011, Corynne McSherry, Intellectual Property Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (which is representing authors Coyne and Knutzen and publisher Process Media), sent a response to the Dervaes Institute and published the letter on the EFF website.[25]

On 4 April 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a Petition to Cancel the trademark on "urban homestead".[26]

On 7 April 2011, Denver Urban Homesteading filed a Petition to Cancel the trademark on "urban homesteading".[27]

On 10 April 2013, Denver Urban Homesteading filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Colorado against Dervaes Institute, Jules Dervaes and Mignon Rubio Dervaes seeking to cancel the trademark "urban homesteading," an injunction to restore its Facebook page, and damages.[citation needed] In 2014, the lawsuit was thrown out based on lack of personal jurisdiction and some Colorado statute of limitations. In December 2014 a lawsuit against Jules Dervaes, Dervaes Institute and Mignon Rubio Dervaes is filed in California.

On 4 November 2015, URBAN HOMESTEADING” TRADEMARK CANCELLED BY FEDERAL COURT Denver, Colorado, November 5, 2015 Today in a pre-trial ruling a federal court in California cancelled the trademark for “urban homesteading” which its owner had used to disable a number of Facebook pages in 2011 by claiming infringement. This ended a nearly five-year legal struggle by a small farmers’ market in Denver, Colorado named Denver Urban Homesteading to cancel the trademark which began when the farmers lost their Facebook page and contacts with customers in February 2011.

The trademark was owned by the Dervaes Institute of Pasadena, CA, self-described in California incorporation papers as a “religious society” and operated by Jules Dervaes and members of his family. After Facebook pages around the country disappeared on February 14, 2011, the urban homesteading community united in protest against the Dervaes Institute, starting two new Facebook pages and a petition on change.org demanding cancellation of the trademark. Court filings show that the Dervaes Institute had issued cease and desist letters to book authors, book publishers, farmers’ markets and even a public library.

In April 2011 Denver Urban Homesteading began legal action at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the trademark. According to owner James Bertini, the USPTO refused to consider the merits, even though it was obligated to hold a single hearing and cancel the trademark quickly because it was listed on the “supplemental register” rather than on the more common “principal register.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) fared no better. Bertini said that they commenced legal action at the USPTO to cancel the Dervaes Institute’s trademark for “urban homestead,” as well as for “urban homesteading” but couldn’t get that agency to decide their case, either.

Then, in 2013 the farmers’ market sued to cancel the trademark in Colorado federal court, but after another delay - this time of one year - the judge refused to consider the case for jurisdictional reasons. So in December 2014 Denver Urban Homesteading sued in California where a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California canceled the trademark because it is generic. Generic words and phrases cannot be registered as trademarks. The case number is 2:14−cv−09216.

Denver Urban Homesteading was unable to afford a trademark lawyer so owner James Bertini, a retired general practice attorney represented the market himself. He was motivated to cancel the trademark not only to get back the farmers’ Facebook page but also as a matter of public interest since other Facebook pages had been disabled. Bertini said that he prevailed over five law firms and nearly a dozen intellectual property litigation attorneys that participated on behalf of the Dervaes Institute in those legal battles. “No small business should have to go through five years of litigation to cancel a trademark that shouldn’t exist,” Bertini said. “A small business cannot afford this burden.” Indeed, according to Bertini, his didn’t, and the farmers’ market was closed this year due to the extensive time required for litigation and travel to California for court-required meetings.

Bertini said that his research shows that this is the first time a trademark on the supplemental register was cancelled in a pre-trial order. However, he still has to go to trial in December to obtain damages. He needs to find an attorney licensed in California who can be associated with him in order to complete the case.


  1. ^ Urban Homestead Program. "Directory of New York City Affordable Housing Programs". Furman Center. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "Urban Homesteading Assistance Board programs". Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  3. ^ deCourcy Hinds, Michael. "BALTIMORE'S STORY OF CITY HOMESTAEDING". New York Times. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  4. ^ Petersen, Kevin. "Room to Grow: Detroit Takes the First Steps to Legalize Urban Agriculture". Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  5. ^ Lees, Loretta; Slater, Tom; Wyly, Elvin; Wyly, Elvin (2008). Gentrification. New York, NY [u.a.]: Routledge. p. 9. ISBN 978-0415950374. 
  6. ^ Kristen Reynolds, University of California Small Farm Program, February 2009, Urban Agriculture in Alameda, CA. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  7. ^ UNV-Reno Co-operative Extension Service, 18 September 2009, Urban Homesteading: Sustainable living in the city. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  8. ^ Everett Sizemore, 18 January 2010, Backyard Chickens and Bureaucrats: The Regulatory Hurdles for Urban Homesteads. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  9. ^ Jaime Gross, 23 April 2010, That Big Farm Called San Francisco. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  10. ^ Niles, Meredith (2008-07-16). "Urban homesteading in Washington, D.C.". Grist (Grist Magazine). Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  11. ^ Clark, Justin (2008-05-01). "http://www.naturalhomemagazine.com/Garden/2006-05-01/Pasadena-paradise.aspx?page=3". Natural Home Magazine (Ogden Publications). Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  12. ^ Eskeland, Imme Dirks (2008-04-22). "Grønnsakshage som enøktiltak". Aftenbladet (in Norwegian) (Stavanger Aftenblad AS). Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  13. ^ a b U.S. trademark registration application serial no. 77/326,565, filed November 15, 2007, registered June 2, 2009 (supplemental). Accessed April 2, 2014.
  14. ^ a b U.S. trademark registration application serial no. 77/574,809, filed September 23, 2008, registered October 5, 2010. Accessed April 2, 2014.
  15. ^ Felicia Friesema, 18 February 2011, LA Weekly, Dervaes Family Trademarks "Urban Homestead" Term: Legal Battle Follows. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  16. ^ Twilight Greenaway, 17 February 2011, The Bay Citizen, Oakland Homesteading School Caught in Trademark Tussle. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  17. ^ Wendy Priesnitz, 17 February 2011, Natural Life Magazine, Creating Change or Controlling Words? Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  18. ^ Anais Dervaes, 16 February 2011, Dervaes Institute Blog, Urban homestead trademark matter, and copy of controversial letter. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
  19. ^ Food Renegade, Take Back Urban Homesteading
  20. ^ Granny Miller; A Journal of Agrarian Politics Philosophy and Practice St. Jules and Our Ladies Of Pasadena; Urban Homestead Saints or Greedy Self-Serving Sinners?
  21. ^ Technorati The Green Movement Trademarking Controversy and the Dervaes Family
  22. ^ OC Weekly Adam Parfrey of Feral House Fame and the Electronic Frontier Foundation Prepare to Challenge Dervaeses over "Urban Homestead" Trademark
  23. ^ Transition Voice Urban homesteeds, war horses with mulch
  24. ^ Sierra Permaculture Urban Homestead THIS!
  25. ^ 21 Feb 2011 EFF Letter to Dervaes Institute
  26. ^ Petition to cancel 'Urban Homestead' trademarks
  27. ^ Petition to Cancel 'Urban Homesteading' trademarks

External links[edit]